New Delhi: Twenty-seven social entrepreneurs from South Asia and Asia-Pacific were given the Manthan awards on Friday in recognition of their efforts to improve the lives of people using digital technologies. The awards, given by the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), saw over 400 nominations from countries including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Nepal and Australia. The awards were presented in 13 categories including health, agriculture, financial inclusion, community broadcasting, journalism, science, governance, and culture and tourism. Mint is the strategic partner of DEF, which hosts the Manthan Award.

Citizen Matters

Category:e-News and Journalism

Promoter:Meera K, Co-founder

Country: India

Citizen Matters is an online community news magazine focusing on local information on civic issues in Bengaluru.

“People living in the system need to understand the city, and why the system is so broken. We realized nobody is looking at that space," said Meera K., co-founder. The website makes use of a mix of professional journalists who can investigate issues, citizen journalists who know their neighbourhoods and problems, and experts who write columns.

“In a city with such a big population, issues are complex. We need to pay attention to these issues, and answer the why and how," said Meera.

Stories go through a rigorous editorial review before being published. The website has done extensive investigative reports on waste management, a major issue in the city. Meera says funding an initiative like this is a challenge as the scope is very local, but the team has established a trust called Oorvaani Foundation which collects donations from individuals. “World over, public-funded journalism has done so well. We need that kind of space in journalism in India to support public interests," Meera said.

Shotz7

Category:e-Entertainment and Games

Promoters:Garima Misra, co-founder and Amitabh Shrivastav, Co-founder

Country: India

Shotz7.com offers a collection of short films by independent filmmakers from across the country. The website, which aims to help aspiring filmmakers, was founded by Garima Misra and Amitabh Srivastav. While Misra is a business graduate, Srivastav has a degree in fine arts from Benaras Hindu University. Both of them, however share a passion for cinema that brought them together for this project. They provide a platform to showcase the works of directors and writers who otherwise remain in obscurity.

Familiar names and faces from Bollywood like Harsh Chhaya, Tinu Anand and Pradeep Sarkar are associated with this initiative. The website contains hundreds of short films which are accompanied by the rating they have acquired by viewers. Apart from acclaim, artists also receive monetary benefits to sustain the whole process.

“For every ‘view’ generated by a movie, we pay the filmmaker a certain amount," said Misra. Shotz7 has a tie-up with the telecom operator MTS. It allows free streaming of these movies for its subscribers.

Siyara

Category: e-Science and technology

Promoter: K.D. Sandaruwan, University of Colombo School of Computing

Country: Sri Lanka

Siyara is a harbour vessel traffic and monitoring system which can be used to manage harbours and vessels in a commercial environment. K.D. Sandaruwan who is a co-investigator at the modeling and simulation research group in University of Colombo School of Computing, developed 3D vessel traffic and monitoring system, while working on various kinds of simulation solutions. “One solution was a ship handling simulator; so we developed a wide variety of commercial harbours in 3D mode and then we studied how to handle their service, scenarios and other aspects. Based on that experience, we came up with new ideas for the system," said Sandaruwan. They have installed this system at Colombo harbour, one of the busiest harbours in South-east Asia and another system is to be installed soon in southern Sri Lanka.

Starting this system was not easy as certificates had to be obtained from the International Maritime Organization, and many criteria had to be fulfilled. “We had to install this in a harbour like Colombo and then get feedback for three years, and only then can we get certifications. We are from Colombo University, we don’t have experience trying to commercialise such mass solutions," Sandaruwan said.

Hello MP

Category: e-Inclusion and localization

Promoter: Syeed Ahamed, CEO

Country:Bangladesh

Institute of Informatics and Development (IID), an NGO in Dhaka, started a mechanism through which a member of Parliament can connect with his constituents. Based on a simple video conferencing mechanism, this initiative lets an MP sitting in Parliament answer the questions of someone residing in a faraway village.

“This initiative is very cost effective. Each MP has hundreds of villages under him, and via these calls he can meet real people and address their issues," said Syeed Ahamed. The benefits flow both ways: people can air their grievances directly to the person in power and the MPs have material to base their manifesto for the next elections.“We connect four villages in one session. After a session is over, we come back in a month to review whether the MP has implemented his promises," said Ahamed.

Swaraloka

Category: e-Inclusion and accessibility

Promoter:Lakshman Jayaratne, Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo School of Computing

Country: Sri lanka

Swaraloka is a University of Colombo project for the visually impaired in Sri Lanka. Headed by Lakshman Jayaratne, a senior professor in the university, the tool makes use of musical notes to improve communication for the visually impaired. The music notations, which are in printed form, are processed and two intermediate files are generated. One is for notes and other is for the taal (rhythm) These are then converted into audio files which are finally combined for the visually impaired.

After the conception of the idea, Jayaratne’s team visited schools for the blind in Sri Lanka and sought advice from a few experts before beginning implementation. “We have found that the visually impaired understand these notations better than Braille language. We are planning to take this forward to a PhD level of research," said Jayaratne.

Seed Certification MIS

Category:e-Agriculture and ecology

Promoter:Madhya Pradesh State Seed Certification Agency

Country:India

Seed Certification MIS is a portal developed by the Madhya Pradesh State Seed Certification Agency (MPSSCA) so that farmers can apply for certification of seeds grown by them in a more convenient way. Seeds are sold only after they are certified and undergo procedures required as per the government of India. “Earlier for farmers, from the growers application to the final packing certification, there was a system of hard copies to be submitted by farmers, and reporting was also done by hard copy or at the most email," said Sanjay Tiwari, executive director of MPSSCA. “It was time consuming, and seed growers had to give the charges using cheques, demand drafts or even cash. So we thought for the ease of farmers, to develop a process which would cut down the time," he added. Tiwari and his team also wanted to make the process convenient for the farmers, so that they could send in their applications from home, or close to home.

Farmers’ ignorance of the internet and lack of access were a challenge initially, but the farmers slowly learnt to use the portal. “Now they have learnt to use this service, and made this whole process cashless and paperless," said Tiwari.

Buddy4study

Category: e-Education, learning and employment

Promoter:Ashutosh Burnwal, Founder

Country:India

Buddy4Study is a scholarship information portal for students, teachers and parents. “Problem here is that there are crores of funds which are lying unutilized and do not get disbursed because of the lack of applications," said Ashutosh Burnwal. Burnwal realized that many students did not know how to use the internet, and hence were not able to download the application, fill the form and pay for it. Buddy4Study team started by creating a repository for scholarships, then started notifying the registered users through SMS and email alerts when a scholarship was available, and then helped them fill out applications online.

The portal has a wide range of scholarships including sports, cultural, merit-based, need-based, school-level, college-level and international scholarships. “If there are any scholarships available for Indian students, it will be available on buddy4study," Burnwal added. The former marine engineer belonged to a family with limited resources and realized that if his brother could have any scholarship during his school days, then he could have gone to a good private college, but the family would not know about such options. “I believe in the power of education," he said. There were challenges in starting the portal as Burnwal was not familiar with the internet. “Understanding how the internet worked was my first big challenge. Then I had to build a team with the right kind of people with similar vision," he said.

Gift of New Abilities

Category: e-Inclusion and Accessibility

Promoter: A.G. Ramakrishnan, Professor, Indian Institute of Science

Country: India

The Gift of New Abilities, a project started by A.G. Ramakrishnan from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to enable the blind to access printed text.

The printed work is first converted to e-text which can be then converted to an audio file or printed as a Braille book. “The development of tool requires a lot of engineering," said Ramakrishnan. A professor at the Medical Intelligence and Language Engineering (MILE) department, Ramakrishnan faces a dearth of students as he keeps losing them to fancy career prospects abroad. “They don’t want to work on Indian languages," said Ramakrishnan.

But it was the love for same languages that attracted Shiva Kumar, architect and chief programmer of OCR, to this project. “When I found out about Professor Ramakrishnan’s work in the field of Indian languages, I decided to pursue my passion through this initiative," said Kumar.

Worth Trust, an organization in Chennai, converts printed books to Braille for blind students. More than 500 books have been successfully converted through this technique. “We have served 150 visually impaired students as of now," said Kumar.

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