Women & digital inclusion

Women & digital inclusion

Among the most successful Manthan awardees have been projects conceived and driven by women entrepreneurs. In 2007, Saloni Malhotra, 26, didn’t have the money to travel to Delhi from Chennai to collect her Manthan Award. She had won the award, for business innovation, for her rural BPO start-up DesiCrew, which was struggling at the time.

A year later, Malhotra called up this columnist to ask if and how she could help support and sponsor the Manthan Awards process in 2008. I was moved, but also curious about how well DesiCrew was doing, given the turnaround in her circumstances. She told me her venture, now based out of four districts in Tamil Nadu, had leapt in revenues from Rs20 lakh to Rs2.5 crore. This year she expects to close at Rs3.5 crore.

She is just one of the many examples of the impact ICT and digital tools can bring to people, especially women, in rural areas. And this is the sort of impact that the Manthan Awards are constantly scouting for each year. Following which we try to enable creative people such as Malhotra to grow and do justice to their vision. Today, she employs 170 people in a firm that has several takers: clients, governments and emulators.

This week I’d like to highlight other such examples of Manthan Award winners, all women achievers who run model social enterprises that are viable and replicable.

Madhura Chhatrapaty, 63, from Bangalore set up the ToeHold Artisan Collaborative that works with at least 500 artisans. Co-owned by these artisans, the project won the Award in 2005 for using online tools to generate business for their products: Kolhapuri chappals. The artisans use a local area network, along with Internet connections, a website and web cameras, to make custom-designed products for clients in the US, Europe, Australia, Turkey and Japan. Starting from a revenue base of Rs15 lakh in 2005, it expects to close at around Rs50 lakh this fiscal. Fermin Pocha was leading a normal life with her family in Nagpur when one day she and husband Khusro Pocha witnessed a road accident. Even after being rushed to hospital, a young boy lost his life due to lack of information on his blood group. Deeply affected, the Pochas started the website http://www.indianblooddonors.com. In 2005, Khusro Pocha went on stage to collect the Manthan Award for best e-health practice. He said in his acceptance speech: “For many years we have been struggling to make this initiative survive but this is the first time we have been recognized."

Today, the website connects users across multiple countries and offers the service via mobile phones. These examples show how ICT tools and applications, if deployed in the right context with the right understanding and support, can trigger social and economic change. The Manthan Awards is an attempt to recognize such projects where they are meaningful, and motivate the people involved.

Next week: The case of Norti Bai from Rajasthan and how her alma mater, the Barefoot College, has integrated ICT and digital media in daily life.

For more on the awards and the case studies mentioned, go to www.manthanaward.org

Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of the Manthan Award. He is also a member of the task force formed by the ministry of communication and information technology to give recommendations to boost the IT & ICT manufacturing industry.

Mint is a partner of the Manthan Award 2009.

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