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Bangalore: Four years ago, while Nokia Oyj was looking to gain a broader and deeper presence in India, the Finnish mobile phone maker came across a business idea that would enable it to make money as well as establish a reputation for being a socially responsible company.

In July 2009, the company introduced Nokia Life: a mobile phone-based service that allows customers to access information on agriculture, healthcare, education and entertainment for a monthly fee. The service provides daily agriculture prices, tips on crops and fertilizers, aids to education courses, English-learning programmes, tips on avoiding diseases, among other things. The service, which is available in English and 11 regional languages, is now used by about 30 million Nokia users across India.

“We did quite a lot of consumer research and what came out of that is: Nokia should do something that impacts the livelihood of people. Sixty to seventy percent of the country still depends on agriculture," said B.V. Natesh, director, Nokia Life, emerging markets services, India.

Nokia Life is on the short list for the Manthan awards.

The service went live after Nokia first tested it in 13 districts in Maharashtra. “What came out of the pilot is that while Nokia is a trusted brand, there is a need to create a wider ecosystem to get information from," Natesh said.

Nokia, then, signed up with non-profit organizations, government agencies such as National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, school boards, as well as companies such as Biocon Ltd and Procter and Gamble Hygiene and Healthcare Ltd to build a vast storehouse of data and information. “For example, agriculture consumers trust seed companies, government agencies for information. So we broadened our ecosystem of sources," Natesh said. “We understood that there was a need to set up an aggregating platform but that platform needs to be managed by experts."

The company has over 150 people working on the service, including a full-fledged research team which works on improving the user interface of the app, among other things. It also hired experts such as retired professors in agriculture, healthcare and education to parse its content and ensure accuracy.

As an instance of the social impact of Nokia Life, Natesh points to the company’s collaboration with a non-profit organization called Arogya World, which focuses on diabetes prevention, and Biocon and others to reach out to one million people in India to spread awareness about diabetes. The former Wipro Ltd executive said the initiative is on track to achieve the goal by the middle of next year. According to initial surveys, 80% of the people who have been reached through the initiative say they gained awareness of diabetes symptoms, he said.

The service has enabled farmers to obtain market prices for their goods and get daily weather updates, Natesh said. “Some government agencies give us access to their sites; some send us information through fax and email. We update the prices from mandis (local markets) once a day," he said.

But Nokia Life is not a corporate social responsibility initiative—it is meant to make money. Nokia charges a flat fee of 60 a month for its agriculture services and 30 a month for others. Natesh declined to disclose the profit or loss figures related to the service.

After the success of Nokia Life in India, the service has been rolled out in China, Indonesia and Nigeria. The company plans to launch in a couple of other emerging markets soon, Natesh said.

In the future, Nokia will provide information on more categories in agriculture, healthcare and education. “In agriculture, we are looking at covering poultry and fisheries. In education, we are looking at assessment programmes and offering more courses," Natesh said.

Mint is a strategic partner of Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan Awards.

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