The Manthan Award South Asia 2008: South Asia Conclave on Digital Content & Development

By Nidhi Sharma

“Technology is no longer a luxury but has become a necessity. Without technology, development will not take place”, said the Union  Minister of  State for Communications & Information Technology, Mr.  Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia  in his speech as the chief guest during the inauguration ceremony of the Sixth Manthan Award South Asia 2008 conclave. “It is equally important that traditional as well as new technology options are explored to the fullest to cater to the basic needs of millions of citizens in India and entire South Asia. The role of Information Communication Technology has to be seen in this context. ICT along with digital technology and content has enormous power and scope to address key development and governance challenges in the entire Sub-Continent,” added Mr. Scindia. He stressed the need to recognize the essence of  recognising e content practices and development models as much as possible.  The annual conclave is organized by Digital Empowerment Foundation with the conference on ‘Digital Content & Development’ and the Manthan Award Gala to recognize best digital content practices as key event highlights.

This year, the three-day Manthan Award conclave, held in New Delhi from October 16-18 witnessed tremendous activities with parallel thematic sessions, workshops, and roundtable conclaves.   Besides celebrating the best e content practices, the event provided a holistic  platform for exchange of ideas and experiences for the  innovative users and implementers of information communication technologies and tools for  development for benefit of the masses. To make the three days event more substantive,  the ICT for development exhibition  provided an opportunity for ICTD organisations to demonstrate their innovations, practices and products. The exhibition witnessed more than fifty exhibitors across South Asia from public, private and civil society domains alongside Manthan Award partners, nominees and supporters.
It was a milestone year for the Manthan Award journey, with the Award process reaching out to the South Asia in 2008 in scouting out and recognizing best ICT and digital content for development practices and innovations. Also witnessed this year are representatives from 17 countries, all member representatives of World Summit Award, participating in a big way.  The participating countries included Italy, Austria, Germany, China, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia and others. The World Summit Award is held under World Summit on Information Society, WSIS, now under UN aegis to recognize best digital content practices worldwide annually. 

The parallel thematic events and sessions were held focusing on role of digital content and technology in vital  spheres of education, learning, business, medicine, culture and entertainments.   The two event workshops delved on  role of ICT in creating rural social entrepreneurs and on  community broadcasting. For the first time, the  World Summit Award  e content summit, India 2008 was held to deliberate on key critical areas of digital content and development including policy matters worldwide and specially in India. Each of parallel thematic events came out with a set of workable  recommendations for transforming those into a plan of action at the policy level to be worked upon by  Manthan Award organisers in close coordination with government bodies and Ministries.
The focus in the inaugural session was on socio-economic divide superimposed with digital divides and role of ICT and digital content and technology in addressing these widening divides. The key speakers who shared their ideas in thoughts included the Union Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology, Mr.   Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia,   Professor Anil Gupta from Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and who is also the Vice Chairman, National Innovation Foundation, Lakshadweep Administrator Mr. B. V. Selvaraj, Editor of Mint Mr. Raju Narisetti, Country Manager of IBM, Mr. Satish Kaushal, World Summit Award Chairman, Prof. Peter Bruck, and World Ahead Director of Intel, Mr. R. Ravichandran.

The afternoon sessions on first day were divided into  three parallel sessions, i.e.,  ICONECS session on E Content in Government and Business, and  E Content for learning and Education, and  Roundtable Policy discussion on ‘ICT for drinking water and sanitation’.  The session on eContent in governance and business provided tremendous encouragement through the examples of places like Lakshadweep and Chattisgarh, where digitization and realization of the rights of those living in forests had made tremendous progress using ICT and digital content. Bangladesh showed how people in a democracy have to be informed about those who will be representing them in power. E Bay showed how large populations can be turned into entrepreneurs with the help of technology.    In the session on eContent for learning and Education it was unanimously accepted that there is need for new and effective ways of quality learning for the youth, especially in the rural areas of the country. It was also discussed about how to tackle the vast untapped talent of the educated youth who has being neglected. “eLearning as a type of education where the medium of instruction is computer technology can facilitate rural education in both quantitative and qualitative ways.  

The two key focus areas during the Round Table discussion on ‘ICT and Drinking Water & Sanitation’ were  relating to assessment of ICT training needs for water practitioners and communities and mechanisms for ICT enablement of Social Audit of Government’s Water and Sanitation Programmes.  As far as innovative ICT applications for water and sanitation sector is concerned it  can be delivered through ICT kiosks and mobile platforms are concerned the challenge lie in  their Field testing. Relating to assessment of ICT training needs for water practitioners and communities  the following suggestions/ action plan was mooted:
 Use of local language in such areas should be adopted to increase local participation.
 Data collection to be given most importance at the grass root level as this data is the base for macro analysis.
 Knowledge updation is very essential.
 Explaining people that use of technology would not end their work but will only assist them.
 Increase participation of women and children in welfare organizations.
 Improvement in the field of pilot projects required.
 Objectives for which the data is being collected should be predetermined for better data management.
 Use of sign language could be developed in this field.
 The mechanisms for ICT enabled social audit of Government’s Water and Sanitation Programme, including inputs from citizens can be feasible through: Creation of more computer literates to spread awareness among the masses and provide computer and internet access to various villages.
 The   quality check of water in various places can be done through water quality index to be  maintained on seasonal basis to make people aware of the quality of water they are using.
 There is the need to devise a data which compares the government’s reports of work done and ground reality which exists.
 The places for possible action plan are Sangam in Allahabad in northern region and any village near river Kaveri in Karnataka in the south.

Day two focused on key thematic sessions like digital content and education, health and digital panchayat and inclusive governance.The parallel ICONECS sessions focused on digital content in culture and entertainment; content in health and environment; digital content in News and Mobile tools; e-Content in Health and Environment, e-Content in Localisation and Inclusion and a Roundtable Policy discussion on Inclusive Governance through Digital Panchayats and Constituencies.

Various recommendations and action plans emerged out of these thematic sessions.  One of the recommendation was the already developed cultural web portals could be shared with UNESCO for possible support and sharing. Countries like Sri Lanka   should seek support from UNESCO and other UN agencies for the preservation of historical and cultural heritage . Further, there is urgent necessity  to have  Local Area Portals which can be accessed by all. There should be amalgamation of all contents produced by the participant organisations and individuals for the common purpose of preserving and promoting different cultures and social and economic features and variables.

There is a need to develop a portal wherein the information about all Community Radio programmes at the South Asia level could be uploaded, including the content, so that it can be shared, listened to and modified according to the local needs. The portal will also highlight the common practices, experiences in sustaining the community radio, training modules and other relevant information/knowledge in relation to the CR initiatives. Local initiatives could be documented and shared across South Asia and in the entire globe so that the local innovations could be replicated.  The Manthan Award can provide a platform wherein all these initiatives could be shared on a regular basis. The involvement of children in the process of gathering information about culture in which they are surrounded by is very important. This is in order to inculcate the sense of preservation in them since childhood. This idea has been very successful in countries like Sri Lanka.

One of the strong recommendations during the Round table session on  ‘ICT @ Health for the masses’, was-  holistic development intrinsically linked to good health, as only healthy citizens can be productive in their performance. Efforts by corporate institutions like TCS, Satyam, and other organizations working together to improve the healthcare scenario in our country can set a good example   and there are already efforts towards this. 

The Policy Roundtable on ‘Content, connectivity and Accessibility in Education’ saw the participants agreeing on benchmarking and determining the threshold points for ICT based content that would further help in defining standards for quality educational content. They found that making quality content accessible and regular assessment in the education process is very important for quality and sustainable outcome.
The ICONECS session on ‘e-Content in News and m-content’  strongly mooted the point that  technology, if used in the right way, will not just provide news and information to large populations, but create a situation where people will have unlimited scope for being informed anywhere, anytime. One just needs to make use of the high level of mobile handset penetration and make content through computers more accessible. Further, technology cannot claim to have solved its purpose if it is unable to reach out to the local level and include as many in its fold as it can. This strongly argues for a greater localization and inclusion process in digital content for development model.  

The Policy discussion  on Health and Environment led to various recommendations.   To begin with, there should be sharing of database to enhance the functioning of the various organizations. The government’s funds can be saved by questioning the organizations on their working and informing the government about the progress in the work. Expenditure gets doubled when different organizations are working on the same problems. There need be effective coordination and networking between agencies  for working in a better way. Money should be spent on creating awareness about health issues and a better environment. There should be copyright of the data of the hospitals and very importantly, there should be negotiation with the vendor (in these cases corporate) to reduce implementation cost.

The strongest point unanimously agreed upon during the Policy Roundtable on ‘Digital Panchayat and Inclusive Governance’ was  in a country like India where most of the population resides in villages, one cannot ignore the fact that empowering the villagers would lead to a developed India. Digital panchayats are a means to that end.  Speaking at this Round Table deliberation, Padmashree Anna Hazare, the man behind Right to Information in India ,  said “the world has come closer and competition has increased. To keep pace with the rest of the world, one needs to make use of the power of IT”. Reminding that Gandhiji had advocated decentralisation to strengthen democracy, Shri Hazare explained how IT is now the best tool for enabling decentralisation, eradicating corruption and increasing people’s participation in democracy. It is only with the help of technology that digital panchayats will help in good e-governance and overall governance functioning and service delivery

The roundtable reaped some sound results. Mr. T. R.  Raghunandan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Govt. of India spoke about various points given by him to panchayat representatives which included ideas  to fight corruption as far as funds allocated for panchayats are concerned. Mr Osama Manzar, Chairman, the Manthan Award, assured Mr Raghunandan that initiative would be taken on the suggestions given by him. He assured that Digital Empowerment Foundation, that Manzar heads,  would take hundred gram panchayats under honorary leadership of social activist Shri Anna Hazare, the man behind RTI in India. This way it would try to track corruption in various schemes with the help of guidelines given by Mr Raghunandan.  

Day three, the final day of the conclave, hosted the  World Summit Award India e- Content Summit, 2008,  workshop on ICT @ Social Entrepreneurship and the Community Broadcasting workshop. The second half of the same day hosted grassroots cultural programme and puppet shows as traditional content display and the Manthan Award South Asia 2008 Gala.

At the India WSA Summit, the moot discussion point was   technology is   outclassing the content domain the widening content gaps.

ICT and digital content experts from Germany, China, Nepal and others shared how  the situation in their countries was and gave their ideas towards bridging the digital divide with quality content. Mr. Peter Bruck, Chairman, World Summit Award Austria,  gave the concluding note by making few points. To begin with, the ICT and content network should be open, fair and competitive exchange should take place. The need is to congregate with others to become better equipped. Lighthouse events and lighthouse projects for own countries should be created. Content gap is human in nature and technology advances much faster than what humans do, and hence the more the need to unite and  keep pace.

The workshop on ‘ICT @ Social Entrepreneurship’ provided a workable  platform for viewing different endeavours undertaken in this direction and provided a scope to bring out analytical perspective on various  entrepreneurial initiatives that can be taken up for actual development at the grassroots involving the youth. It could be seen through the presentations that in present situation, technology has left no barriers for anybody, be it a housewife, a retired person, student or anyone else, to have a career as a social entrepreneur.

The presentations at the Community Broadcasting workshop led to the recommendations that  recorded content should be kept in the libraries for open access to all  . There should be Emergency community radio schemes in times of natural disasters. Moreover, the technology used for community broadcasting should be user friendly and people with disabilities should also have accessibility to the content.

The Manthan Award South Asia 2008 Gala provided the climax to the three days conclave wherein the    names of the best innovators, practitioners and implementers of  ICT and digital content for development across South Asia were announced.   These are the people and organisations that had not just recognised the challenges, but also put maximum  hard work to create new roads for development across communities. Besides  33 winners, there were many shortlisted candidates whose efforts in bringing positive changes in the lives of so many were found to be commendable.

The Award gala witnessed special guests presence in Shri Anna Hazare, Prof. Anil Gupta, Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Mr. B V Selvaraj, Mr. R. Chandrasekhar, Mr. Sanjeev Bikhchandani, and Prof. Peter Bruck. Also,  the occasion was resplendent with the presence of experts and intellectuals from not just various fields, but 17 countries as well. They made the evening memorable by sharing their experience and giving some brilliant food for thought. The evening started with a puppet show by artists from Barefoot College, Tilonia, who artistically explained the daily woes of rural people in the state of Rajasthan. Their song gave a local flavour to the event.

Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner, India,  stressed on the benefits of Right To Information Act 2005. He read out Section 4(1) (b) and 4(1) (d) of the said act and explained how the RTI makes the government more transparent and accountable. He, however, made the point that what is coming in between the effective implementation of the RTI is lack of public pressure on the government. The true spirit of RTI has not been realized because of this.

Mr R. chandrashekhar, Special Secretary, Dept. of IT, India, claimed that Information Communication Technology is a very important tool to meet the developmental challenges of the country. He said that there should be greater cooperation between public and private players because government cannot alone meet these challenges as it requires tremendous amount of efforts. Efforts are not seem to be enough as far as broadband connectivity is concerned. India is basically service oriented. The main aim is to reach the one billion plus population. All public and private services should be integrated.

Prof   Peter Bruck, chairman of the World Summit Award,  did put his interesting point this way –  if asked which were the best mobile companies in the world, we would be able to give an answer immediately. But if we were to tell the best digital content companies, we would be unable to do so. So these lacunae have to be taken care of. Prof Bruck explained the three main ideas behind Manthan awards. Firstly, it creates a strong belief that ICT is an opportunity and helps in engaging with the society actively. Technology is an important asset for human beings. Human beings need to have patience and tolerance in order to grow. Finally, all those who have worked hard in the field of e-content to change the society for better are recognized through the Manthan awards.

Stressing the fact that the Indian model of development should be more inclusive, Professor Anil Gupta of IIM, Ahmedabad and Vice Chairman of National Innovation Foundation, India, said that use of information technology should be done for social development rather than for commercial motive.  He also highlighted the fact that content in Indian languages   is very low and that needs to be taken care of.

Padmashree Shri Anna Hazare charged up the ambience by his speech. He stressed that if one RTI Act can bring about such a revolution then one can imagine what more such laws can do for the country. He explained that with the help of information technology, a simple villager can be connected to the whole world. “RTI is a right of the citizens and not a state’s discretionary power, so the state is bound to disclose all relevant information when asked,” he said.  Shri Hazare added that the private sector should not be kept aloof. It should also be brought under the umbrella of RTI. He further argued that “Public servants should reveal all their personal assets on internet portals. Corruption will have to be eradicated for true development,” He stressed that the sacrifices made by freedom fighters should not go in vain.

Altogether 33 winners from the region were declared winners and felicitated. The Awards were given away by the chief guests present on the occasion. 

The list of winners

1) Dambadeniya Community Radio, Sri Lanka
2) Equal Access, Nepal
3) Kalanjiam Samuga Vanoli Community Radio, Tamil Nadu, India

1) Safal National Exchange of India Limited, Karnataka, India
2) ngPay, Karnataka, India
1) Unnanya TV (Development TV), Dhaka, Bangladesh
2) Youth Voice – (Netbetar), Dhaka, Bangladesh
3), Jharkhand, India
1) Gyandarshan, – Gyanvani, IGNOU, New Delhi, India
2)  ‘Learn with fun’ – Karnataka, India
3) Kissan Krishideepam, Kerela, India

1)  ITSHED, Sri Lanka
2) Giveindia, India
3) Jeeon-IKB, Bangladesh
15) Unified Ration Card Project, Chattisgarh, India
16), Dhaka, Bangladesh


1) Arpit’s Wheel, Delhi, India
2) Digital Talking Books, Sri Lanka


1) Web Health Centre, Tamil Nadu, India
2) Integrated Digital Health Platform, Andhra Pradesh, India
3) We In Recovery, New Delhi, India


4) Project HIGH>>>WAYS…Beyond Cancer, India

1) DigitAlly, Karnataka, India
2) MEdRC EduTech, Andhra Pradesh, India

1) Hoimonti, Bangladesh
2) Lipikaar, Maharashtra, India
3) Sea Monkey, Afghanistan

1) Pratibadh (Wall Newspaper), New Delhi, India
2) CGNet, Chattisgarh, India
30) India Water Portal, Karnataka, India
1) Cell Bazaar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

1), Karnataka, India
2) VoiKiosk, Delhi/Hyderabad, India

Chairman Award for Special Recognition as Emerging State
(This is a special award from the Chairman)

Jharkhand state

Total nominations received: 284

Valid nominations: 264

Winners: 33

The ratio




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