The Inaugural Session began with a small presentation by Mr. Osama Manzar,, Founder & Director – Digital Empowerment Foundation. He is the Chairman of Manthan Award south Asia & Asia Pacific Award. The presentation
was aimed at familiarizing everybody with the mission of Digital Empowerment Foundation. Mr. Manzar shared that digital literacy through panchayat, youth and women is very important and in fact it has grown very quickly, even quicker than the traditional offline literacy. He further shared that DEF was started 9 years ago with a sole mission to take information technology to the grass root level and not at all to sell it. Today DEF is present physically in over 20 destinations across India, with project accumulation of 4000+ over all the SAARC countries. Mr. Manzar admiringly said that no gathering can be more diverse than
the Manthan Awards which has equal participation from villages and cities. Then he presented some facts about the level of digital penetration in India. The most interesting was the fact that the 250,000 panchayat of India select almost 3 million people as government official every 5 years. But almost none of them are online. In the age of transparency, RTI act etc. this is a very shocking thing. Then he came up with figures in sectors ranging forum business to health to education and everywhere the ICT penetration is very low. Mr. Manzar, with an urge to work together in this direction, then left the podium for the panelists to take over. He then briefly introduced the other panelists.
The first panelist to arrive on stage was Ms. Debjani Gosh, MD – Intel. She said that one of the most game-changing initiatives by govt. of India was the
National Optic Fiber Network (which was launched recently) and she could not thank Mr. Ravi Shankar enough for not only conceptualizing this initiative but also deploying it in a record time. Talking about the BPL population in India, she said that anyone who eyes India whether as a market or whatever, he has to take care of this large segment and seek to fulfill the gap
of the haves and have-nots. As far as the role of Intel is concerned as a corporate, she said that in sync with the NOFN initiative of Indian govt., they have started “Follow the Fiber” initiative with DEF. Under this initiative they are trying to set up training booths in villages and will e-literate at least one individual; from every family of village, which by the way also happens to be the goal for national it agenda. In short this needs to be a combined initiative to ensure that the technology is made relevant for rural households and to ensure that there is an impact. She profoundly says that we can do this but not sustain it until and unless we have change agents on the ground, who rightfully believe in the power of technology and what it can do.
She concluded by restating the need for partners who can repeatedly undertake the efforts taken by the likes of DEF and Intel.
Next speaker on the dice was another lady from yet another from the largest Internet Company; Ms. Jayashri Ramamurti,, Head of People Operation, Google India. She started by exclaiming that times we live in is very exciting and that last decade has been the decade of telecom penetration. As a result there has been significant
increase in the productivity in all sectors of life, especially for the lower strata of society. Quoting the humungous growth that will take place in the number of internet users in India by 2015; she said that Google is committed to solve the digital divide that exists in the country. They aim to do so by closely associating them with entrepreneurships and startups. She said that their role is three fold in India: first to build great products, second is to induce more people on the cloud and also to develop the Indian ecosystem to harness the power of web. They are also committed to bring more and more SMEs on the web over the years by helping them build websites which are quick, easy and free to setup. The evolution of YouTube and Gmail as the source of knowledge in the vernacular languages is an amazing opportunity that we must look forward to. She concluded by giving her best wishes for Manthan awards and saying that it was an amazing platform to share best practices in e-content and innovative use of ICT.
Mr. Osama then called Mr. Brian Cute,, CEO, Public
Interest registry (PIR) .ORG on the podium and asked him to throw some light on his upcoming product “.ngo”. Mr. Brian was extremely happy to be the part of Manthan awards for their second consecutive year. He wished all the best to Mr. Osama for the 10th edition of the awards and said that it would be great milestone for the DEF. he said that for the past 12 months, they and DEF have been conduction numerous workshops with grass root level organization in order to bring them online. The other more prominent aim of doing so was to test the possibility and viability of a new address .ngo for the organizations across the
world. With their outreach program, conducted along with DEF, PIR were able to identify the issues and in fact the positives that are likely to be associated with .ngo network. They learned that having such an address/home for NGOs would raise the level of trust about such organizations. Along with offering the domain name, PIR is also aiming at providing a directory service
for all certified NGOs across the country. This would give them a platform where they can be found and an opportunity to create a profile about them. He concluded with his best wishes and an assurance that within next 12-18 months they will be live with their .ngo portal.
Next gentleman on the stage
was Mr. Jonathan Bill,, SVP Business Development and Innovation, Vodafone India limited. Mr. Bill simply said that the facts shared by Osama aptly portray the severe condition in which Indian economy is. It is so complex that one may
find it very difficult to determine a start point. Still we need to set priorities for ourselves. As a community we should think as to what 2 or 3big initiatives we can take or otherwise we would face the risk of doing multiple small things at the end without much of impact. Also we need to think of ways to provide more and more commercial opportunities for the lower end strata. He concluded by saying that revenue oriented approach is required for the long term perspective.
Mr. Manzar then invited Mr. R. Sukumar,, Editor –
Mint, on the podium. Mr. Sukumar said that he can’t remember as to for how many years DEF and Mint have been working together and some of his senior officials work more for DEF than his own newspaper. The first point that Mr. Sukumar raised was synonymous to that of Jonathan Bill: charity is not a sustainable model. You need to device a way in which the initiatives taken by you are
self-sustainable, which is only possible by having a revenue oriented approach. Secondly he pointed out that whenever people speak of internet based services, they usually think in global terms, while in reality it is a very local phenomenon. Over the years they have tracked projects that used web and have made a huge impact on the local communities. Lastly he said that the challenges of digital divide that we are facing need the application of innovative ideas and some good capital investment from the Centre.
Mr. Manzar next invited Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director, Association for Progressive Communications (APC) on the podium to share some points from her long experience. She started with the risks and opportunities associated with this increase in access of web in past decade or so while still recognizing the challenges associated in Indian context. She said that the biggest opportunity of digital literacy was to create society of media literates i.e. people who know how to use channels of multimedia more critically and positively. On the other hand the risk associated was that in spite of the growth in the web users, we may still be on the information consuming end rather than the producing end,
which is very critical to creating digital literacy. Another great opportunity associated with the digital literacy front is the awareness about citizen rights. Anriette pointed out that once people are literate, whether digitally or in other way, they can understand their rights send stand up to raise their voice in case they are violated. This medium can be used to enhance the governance in the country, typically when such mammoth steps like localizing government to the grass root level has been done. She concluded by saying that we need to look at all these opportunities holistically and try to create not only consumers of information but also many more content generators.
The penultimate speaker to join us on the dice was Mr. Rajnesh Singh,,
Regional Bureau Director from The Internet Society (ISOC). Mr. Rajnesh said that throughout his life he has been building businesses and selling them. Thus the perspective which he lends to all those facts and figures put forward by Mr. Manzar is huge market potential and that too across number of sectors. One thing that Rajnesh has enjoyed while working with Osama sir and DEF is the actual developments and activities that are taking place at the grass root level. The very initial purpose why ISOC joined hands with DEF was to train people from local communities who could deploy, operate and maintain community wireless networks. But the focus has now expanded to youth and women. He believes that both youth and women have been strong change agents, not only for
India bit across the world. He concluded by saying that given the efforts made by government, corporates and NGOs we still need to do more to empower people because it is only then we will reach our full potential.
Mr. Osama then
invited the last speaker for the session, the very honorable N. Ravi Shankar, MD, BBNL & administrator, USOF, DoT, Ministry of Communication & IT, govt. of India.. Mr. Shankar said that he would talk about the much awaited and talked about National Fiber Optic Network for villages. He said that as other panelists have emphasized the need to develop and generate content, it’s
his duty to tell that how this content will be communicated to the masses. Mr. Shankar said that the necessary implication of the digital; empowerment or literacy is that we are going to be connected every time. He said that technology was essentially a change agent; in the industrial era, the engine was a change agent while in the information era the search engine is going agent.
While addressing the village based audience in Hindi occasionally, he said that the basic infrastructure for the NFON has been laid down while the service providers are also almost ready. This is a huge partnership and even the content providers have a huge role to play. They in fact need to develop content in more and more vernacular languages to enable higher penetration. He termed this whole policy as a public-private-panchayat partnership. He conclude by saying that almost 50 years back when a villager left his home he used to think that his village is his country. But with the onset of digital literacy revolution, the upcoming generations would say my country is my village.