Mantra for mass empowerment

Mantra for mass empowerment

Last week, Ravi Ghate of SMSOne of Pune called me and said it was starting NGOvarta, an SMS newsletter for and about non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and that we should immediately send it a bulletin, within 160 characters, of course, about our eNGO service.

I immediately sent an SMS to Ravi to be broadcast on NGOvarta. We spent the next two days attending calls from all over Maharashtra seeking our services. We received at least 200 calls in less than two days.

That’s the power of mobile content delivery.

In this column I will highlight two of the best examples of how mobile delivery is empowering people, particularly in villages.

The government should also enact a law to make development and delivery of mobile content and services mandatory across all ministries, especially when they are dealing directly with policy consumers.

The first example is ngpay, India’s first end-to-end, mass market mobile commerce service. It links consumers with at least 65 businesses across 10 sectors.

Using ngpay in mobile phones, users can bank, pay bills, book tickets, make donations, shop, order food and do much more.

It is a viable alternative to PC-based Internet e-commerce.

For a consumer, ngpay is free as there are no charges for download, registration and use.

Customers can complete a transaction by spending only a few paise in data usage charges, compared with an SMS-based solution that requires several messages costing about Rs3-4 each.

A consumer only pays the price of a product or service to the seller and security is similar to those found at automated teller machines. Ngpay not only won the Manthan Award last year, but also got the United Nations’ World Summit Award.

The second example is Kheti, short for knowledge help extension technology initiative.

It combines software on mobile camera phones and Web 2.0 services. Kheti provides a simple interface for a user to create a multimedia package—known as a short dialogue strip—consisting of up to six pictures and an audio track of one-and-a-half minutes. Farmers use the Kheti system to take snapshots of crop problems, and add a small audio description.

This can then be sent to a website where trained advisers can view the strip and offer advice.

Kheti has had a feasibility test in the Sironj Crop Producers Co. Pvt. Ltd, a cooperative of small farmers in Madhya Pradesh.

In this trial, five members of the cooperative provided Kheti services to coop members in 25 villages. In three months, over 200 queries were handled and some significant risks to harvests and household economies were mitigated.

Kheti is a strong contender for the Manthan Award 2009.

Considering that every month India is adding 10 million mobile phone subscribers, more work is required from the government and businesses to develop the mobile phone as a versatile delivery platform.

Also, in development and welfare schemes where beneficiaries are scattered all over India, mobile integration and reporting will allow for greater transparency in government services.

For more details on awards and case studies, go to

Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of Manthan Award.

Mint is a partner of the Manthan Award 2009.

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