Home/ Opinion / Online Views/  Mobiles for social change

Not many of us are aware of the role that mobile phones can play to trigger social and behavioural changes in India. Let us look at a few examples. Mobile Kunji has been implemented in eight districts under the Ananya programme, an initiative to help frontline health workers in Bihar to provide better healthcare services through an innovative mobile job-aid tool. An interactive voice response system-based daily monitoring system is implemented by the mid-day meal authority in Uttar Pradesh and is being used to regularly monitor and track the mid-day meal scheme in around 150,000 schools across the state through mobile technology.

The Chala Skul Ku Jiba (let us go to school) programme is run by Radio Namaskar, a public radio station in Konark, Orissa. It tries to bring back students who have dropped out of schools with the aid of mobile-based texts and a toll-free call service. The programme has succeeded in achieving zero dropout in the Gope block. Launched by ZMQ Software in 2005, Freedom HIV/AIDS comprises four mobile games targeting different mindsets and psychology of mobile users. In the first 15 months, they had recorded 10.3 million game sessions.

Kisan Sanchar is an interactive platform for scientists, agriculture experts, and institutions for sharing their technology and knowledge with 350,000 registered farmers across 12 states. The knowledge is shared in their local language through text messages and voice calls. The e-Mamtahealth application in Gujarat, enabled with mobile alerts, has more than two million pregnant women and 10 million children registered users who get critical health information periodically on their mobile through text messages and calls.

Such isolated but exemplary efforts are many. Yet, they are not enough. Most are in the test phases or have not even covered a single state. But all such mobile communication-based examples are transformational and have been thoroughly adopted by the targeted mobile users, most of them living in remote areas or non-metros. Such mobile communication-based programmes were discussed during a consultation for mobiles for Social and Behavioural Change (SBC) that we organized with Unicef last May. SBC encompasses everything related to mothers, adolescent girls, children, education, health, schools, immunization, nutrition, maternal mortality, child mortality, water, sanitation, hygiene, HIV/AIDS and child protection. Needless to mention, communication has always been the most instrumental tool for all aspects of SBC and it covers sectors, including education, health, children and family welfare, adolescents and governance.

We have more than 250 million women mobile users. In February, we had a total of 861 million mobile users and a population of 1.2 billion people. Out of the total number of mobile phone users, 333 million are from rural India and 528 million are from urban areas. Considering that not more than 30% of rural India is mobile-enabled and few have access to the Internet, the trend clearly is that our rural mobile users are comfortable with voice, text, sound, pictures and videos. The targetable mobile phone users also have phones without Internet connectivity.

Planners and service providers can provide services based on features provided in the phone such as voice, sound, texts, micro-SD card, video, helplines, jingles, music, animation, listening, recording, missed calls, photo, camera, calendar, calculator, mobile payment, recording, torch, dual SIM, keypad and hundreds of apps.

It is time for the central ministries, including health, women and child welfare, communication and information technology, private sector representing the mobile ecosystem, all relevant state ministries, international agencies, and most importantly, the NGOs, to come together to form a consortium to collectively target people with contextual mobile communication tools. We already have more than 200 organizations. You could be the next one.

Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and curator of the mBillionth Awards. He is member of the working group for Internet proliferation and governance, ministry of communication and information technology. Follow him on twitter @osamamanzar.

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Updated: 08 Jul 2013, 12:52 AM IST
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