Digital Inclusion

digital inclusion

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6th year, the journey continues…

The journey of the Manthan Award has crossed the 5th mile and we are celebrating its entry into second innings of a decade. The sixth year of the Manthan Award is bigger, wider, inclusive and as diverse as the Indian Sub-continent. By now it has almost covered the country of size as India and has reached out to its South Asian neighbours notably Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Its extensive coverage is as vast to recognize digital innovations in as many as 13 categories covering every aspect of our living ecosystem influenced by technology and vice versa– from education to health, commerce to livelihood, language issues to localisation, environment to agriculture, governance to entrepreneurship, broadcasting to mobiles, and blogs to social networking.

It is inspiring to recall the wavelength of the Manthan nominations scaling up from hardly 100 nominations overall in 2005, to a figure crossing 1000 nominations as best digital practices as repository. Further, listing the 2009 nominations is a heart warming experience given the innovations and diversity of digital applications and yet existing in isolation without recognition, crosslearning and cross-experimentation. Here, it is important to note, there is no dearth of digital ideas to fructify and experiment and grassroots innovations can prove experts wrong. This is all the more reason to recognize, encourage, mentor and sustain bright ideas for making human lives better and brighter.

The more the old tag the more the responsibility to carry through and meeting expectations for the younger lot. The Manthan Award has provided requisite advocacy and knowledge support and encouraged Sri Lanka to initiate national digital content movement beginning with its national digital award programme, anchoring support by Digital Empowerment Foundation, the foundational pillar of the Manthan Award. Bangladesh and Nepal are all set to have own versions of digital programme by 2010 and the Manthan platform ready extending all possible support inputs. It is very much desirable then, that this digital programme variant find place in the rest of South Asian national communities.

Very much related is the satisfaction accrued from the externals faith in the Manthan jury and selection process so much so that Canada’s IDRC coming on board DEF and the Manthan Award platform to conduct its flagship IDRC India Social Science Research Award 2009, celebrating IDRC’s silver jubilee presence in India. The 2009 Manthan Award platform hosts the IDRC India SSRA 2009. This bond of extensiveness no doubt, has propelled UNESCO to explore DEF and the Manthan platform in picking best nominations from the Manthan Award for the UNESCO-IPDC Prize for Rural Communication.

Having listed all these achievements for the Manthan Award, what is significant is the nominees of Manthan Award, the people, the projects, and the innovations who make this award big, important and prestigious. And, what we relish most about Manthan Award is the bonding with the award fraternity, linkages with them, and long term association for finding common ground to connect for bigger, better and sustainable goals. One common ground emerged is the exchange platform created where all the Manthan nominees and projects are being updated and encouraged to exchange ideas and projects online and do peer- learning through Another notable development being the recent thrust in the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology, India, through the Department of Information Technology to create a Digital Knowledge Center (DKC), a national digital repository of bright and sustainable digital innovations and practices for the public domain in video case study framework.

Here, one cannot ignore the minds and hands working behind the DEF and the Manthan Award pillars and making it sustain and grow. You must be wondering how the team that works behind the Manthan Award would be? Well, no big surprises. We have very
basic team to put together this award, but what is un-common about the Manthan Team or rather the DEF team is the sheer believe that digital content and ICT can really change the lives of the people and help the economy leapfrog to match the world economy.

My warm acknowledgement to my dedicated team of young and bright minds in Priyanka Chauhan, Neeraj Singh, Md.Niyaz, Ravi Kanta, Shahid Ahmad, Anubhuti Dayal, Shaifali Chikermane, Pritam Sinha, Vikrant Mishra, Satya Prakash, Shweta Birla, Sanjeev Kumar, Jasbir Singh, Syed Kazi, Manoj, and Ankit, and many who worked with us, left us, but we have their best wishes.

I must also reveal that we have a list of great believers, who keep our momentum always charged, and my sincere acknowledgement goes to the DEF board members, advisors and the jurors – whom you can interact with through the pages at the end of this book.

Not to forget that, to achieve as great establishment as Manthan Award, we need a huge resource, and that does not come without proving the worth of it at a very large vision and its endorsement by those who can support it, invest in it and do not ask any question. We have always recognised the contribution of such organization. DEF and the Manthan Award warmly acknowledges and recognizes this years supporting hands in Nokia Siemens Networks who agreed and believed in the Manthan objectives and came on board as Co-Organiser. , My sincere acknowledgement also goes to Gujarat Knowledge Society for being one of the first among the lot for partnering for the Manthan Award cause. The support from Intel, TCS, Edurite, Internet & Mobile Association of India, IGNOU, various government organizations from Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, ISRO, Gujarat, CEMCA, Barefoot College, UNESCO, WSA, GAID, and so on have been warm and timely.

With this the Manthan Award platform hopes to receive continuous support, guidance, inputs and warmth not only from India but from well wishers in South Asia and beyond to enlarge the nascent digital movement for desirable outcomes. Let us connect for the larger vision of knowledge and digitally enabled societies worldwide.

Dearest readers may ignore any errors and omissions in this book as humanly mistakes and enjoy the flavour and flow of digital diversities thereby.

Warmest regards,

Osama Manzar
The Manthan Award


Preparing For A Digital Economy: Digital Content – Creation, Distribution, Localisation And Accessibility

As we embark on our journey in the digital world, appropriate digital content is increasingly becoming more important across sectors and there is an increasing demand and need for creating the right content that is relevant, useful, accessible and available in the local language and context. In the public domain, information such as weather information and content relating to education and health and public services are a must rather than just a need. The creation of new commercial business models for content development, production, and delivery are posing new policy challenges for governments to provide the market and business environment that supports development of new digital content goods and services, promotes competition and benefits users.

In a country like India, which is marked by unique diversity of having 22 official languages across 35 States and more than a billion people, the idea of creating relevant content in the local language that is all inclusive is indeed challenging. The problem is compounded by the fact that though most of our population does not speak or understand English, more than 90% of our digital content is in English. Digital content creation is a challenge that needs to be addressed by Governments and Businesses alike. The emphasis lies in publishing localized content that is specific to the community needs and provides an avenue for discussion and dialogue in native languages via the Internet. This is essential for digital inclusion.

Content distribution is as vital a challenge as Content creation. There are a growing number of models both in existence and in development that seek to bridge the ‘digital divide’ and engage marginal or excluded communities in the ‘knowledge economy’ by using new technologies and specifically the Internet. The challenge is to develop an appropriate access model for rural and geographically remote areas to obtain ICT services. Telecenters across the world and Common Services Centres in India seek to bridge this gap. Apart from Internet, there have been innovative uses of Community Radio, FM and Television to ensure digital content is distributed across a larger crossection of people. Such technologies also enable providing cheap and alternative methods of communication within and between communities. It has the potential of allowing access to  information and knowledge that can improve the lives and livelihoods of individuals and the community as a whole. This will also enhance economic development and alleviate poverty through educational and economic opportunities created by technology. It also helps to identify new ways to generate wealth and provide new markets and distribution channels, reduce transaction costs and aggregate demand and buying power. These are the signposts of the new economy that have created a whole new way of businesses to grow and fast forward growth and development.

Digital content is becoming ubiquitous today thanks to the rapid strides being made in Broadband penetration. It has been established world over that E-government, e-health and
e-education are some of the most important industries to benefit from advancements in broadband infrastructure. The realities of the economic crisis has led to countries realizing that broadband infrastructure is not merely important for the direct social and economic use of citizens, but it is equally important for the digital economy and includes critical sectors such as healthcare, education and smart grids.

Many governments around the world have shown leadership in developing online services with recent developments shifting focus from these traditional online services to new initiatives like incorporating social media tools into e-government services, particularly those aimed at communicating directly with citizens and implementing cloud computing services in order to cut costs and improve upon ICT system infrastructure. The Internet and associated Web 2.0 technologies has further broadened the quality and possibilities for remote education and the ‘virtual classroom’. Initiatives like Tele-education are becoming increasingly important in training health professionals in remote areas.

Other factors accelerating the emergence of the digital economy include the spread of new hand-held user devices, expansion of wireless networks including 3 G networks. These innovations in many societies have triggered a virtuous circle in which supply and demand drive each other and move together towards new frontiers for applications. This emerging market is characterized by cross-industry convergence and alliances between digital content producers, television, cinema, the music industry, major Internet portals,IT enterprises and consumer electronics manufacturers in a search for synergies, critical mass and access to consumers.

In a country like India while the focus has been largely on laying out core IT infrastructure under National e Governance Plan including a network of broadband enabled Common Services Centres across the country, there is a need to leverage the infrastructure created for not only delivery of public services but also to meet the goals of digital and financial inclusion. There is a great opportunity for us in leveraging our ever-increasing mobile penetration for pushing relevant content and services through the mobile platform.

Apart from the initiatives taken by Government, the efforts made by Non Governmental Organizations like Manthan and Digital Empowerment Foundation is indeed creditable, as they have focused on Digital Content creation in a sustained manner. While a lot of effort and thought has gone into the need of creation of digital content, we also need to focus on digital preservation and archiving. In this regard the idea of creating a digital repository in the form of a ‘Digital Knowledge Centre’ needs to be carried to its logical end.

I am sure the 2009 edition of the Manthan Award platform will continue to encourage digital and content innovators and developers. I hope the two days conclave deliberating on key digital and content area issues will equally bring forth key inputs, ideas and thoughts, which could be shared by all for further analysis and action.

With this, I congratulate the award winners and call upon them to carry forward their good works. It is also heartening to note that a large number of E Government initiatives are amongst the awardees. I also laud the efforts of the organizers for the efforts made in brining to focus the digital movement in South Asia.

With best regards

R. Chandrashekhar
Department of Information Technology
Ministry of Communications & Information Technology
Government of India


The Manthan Award – Richness & Diversity of Digital Content for Inclusion

The Manthan Award is an India & South Asia initiative within the larger framework of World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and World Summit Award (WSA) framework. It is an invitation regional programme of New Delhi based Digital Empowerment Foundation that started in 2003-04. The idea behind the Manthan Award was to not only focus on the technology and its implementation, but the kind of impact it had on people. The focus is not on technology per se but on digital technology enabled innovations of content and services. The impact focus is on the last mile advantage in meeting development and governance through viable information and communication packages. Through this Award platform the best use of digital applications and innovations in India and South Asia is at the centre of regional contest in as many 13 categories involving all 8 South Asian countries including Afghanistan.

The Manthan programme all began as a national contest in India but extended to South Asia in 2008 due to the region’s similar socio-cultural-economic landscape and near to uniform scope and challenges in digital deployments. Today the Manthan network is proud of having more than 1000 members as part of the larger Manthan fraternity. This unprecedented success is due to the strong networking of digital innovators, practitioners, government officials, departments, institutes, academic institutions, corporate agencies, civil society, local and national media and others. The Manthan Award is an outcome of an ongoing efforts of all these stakeholders connected to each other annually.

Technology provides framework – Content delivers substance

Technology offers tools and platforms to deliver goods. While the rate of technology tools innovations is faster, the usage of the same lags behind in human hands. The digital divide is then visible and gaps widen. Creation of content and production of content enabled applications is then pertinent to assist in filling this gap. Content can deliver substance and enable optimum use of ICTs and increase bandwidth of ICT reach and content outreach. The content gap is also a reality. Content speed cannot reach technology pace and diversity of human needs, consumption and other accessibility conditions including costs. The content gap can be bridged through higher investments, policy support, addressing accessibility factors including costs, local content meeting local cultural and economic trends and so on. Diversity of content innovations and applications is all the more important. The creativity gap in South Asia is obvious due to nascent digital environment. The thrust is very much needed on localised content creativity and applications. Government, industry, civil society must come forward to give a big push to the content environment making content diversified, innovative, need based, accessible and affordable in terms of infrastructure and delivery points.

Bridging Digital & Content Gap – the Manthan Award providing Opportunity

The key challenge is in meeting information needs of the timing millions in South Asia. Information poor is as grave as economically and socially disadvantaged. Content and services then is pertinent. Content applications and innovations holds key. Equally important is widening the outreach of such practices and applications for larger learning and sharing. This is another means to bridge digital gaps wherein one part of the world learns and exchange from another. And the Manthan Award platform is providing a wider regional platform for cross learning and exchange of ideas and practices by recognising innovators and producers.

Content Diversity is Must – Highlights from 2009

The statistics of the 380 nominations received in 2009 and one unearths a tale of sensible use of digital technology and content solutions across 13 thematic categories. In the case of Afghanistan, it is Radio Tamhas alias ‘Radio Connect’ and from Pakistan it is Sehat First. While Radio Tamhas has a simple linked its radio content to the internet for global outreach of the local news, SehatFirst is providing self-sustainable franchised based tele-health services in remote areas of Pakistan.

The Bangladesh innovation story has contributed in 14 nominations. Two key highlights are, taking info and entertainment services to the last mile through the rural tele centres, and Jigyasa 7676, a simple solution over telephone on any agriculture issue a farmer might have. Adding broadcasting strength, Nepal sent 3 in 7 nominations in the Community
Broadcasting category; Other worth mentioning are Open Learning Exchange, Nepal’s effort in promoting education through open source and e-Pustakalaya scheme, making library available everywhere. Wikigovia in Sri Lanka is about bringing the agricultural community in the country together using digital means and content platform.

The Indian applications are as diverse as the country., is an online amalgamation of all the available information and an online database of critical information on each parliamentary and assembly constituency including the profile of the contestants. The Jaankari e-Gov project of Bihar provides for all public information and services under the Right to Information (RTI). The Video Volunteers programme in Goa is empowering grassroots community through community video programme assisted by video volunteers. is about community transparent microfinance programme for marginalised women in Karnataka.

The Madhya Pradesh Forest Department has moved from `e’ to `m’(obile) and have literally integrated all the technologies together vis-à-vis Space Technology, Global information System, Mobile Computing, Communication Technology, Satellites based education & training (EDUSAT), Web, Internet and other web 2.0 technologies. What ones get as a result: fully digitised location based complete monitoring based data of 95000 sq/km of the state forest area! The Chattisgarh project Craft Revival Trust (CRT) is as much revealing as the urgent need for digital means towards cultural preservations. The effort of Gujarat Technology University is as challenging that even IIMs could not tried an effort, conducting Gujarat Common Entrance Test, GCET 2009 fully online for admissions to MBA and MCA courses in all government affiliated Institutions throughout Gujarat.

From Innovations to the Next Level – The Manthan Award and Beyond

The goal of the Manthan Award is to break creativity barrier and bridging gaps between innovations, recognition, replication and sustainability of ideas and projects. It aims to bring to the fore the enormity of digital diversity and cross learning for cross exchange and benefits. It is about encouraging innovations, creativity and multi-stakeholder linkages. The next level of the Manthan Award is very much relevant then.

The drive is towards connecting the Manthan fraternity through, an online networking and exchange forum for content applications, content and services. Creating a digital repository in the form of ‘Digital Knowledge Centre’
through audio-video content case studies of sustainable practices from the Manthan platform is another variant of the Manthan.

Such efforts are continuous and must be a never ending exercise. The challenge of sustainability of ICT projects is always there and for the Manthan platform this is more challenging binding the fraternity into a common knowledge network. The support from all stakeholders is relevant and timely.

At a higher level, the policy thrust, the political and administrative will, the interest and concern of private and civil society as well as academic set ups to support, encourage content creativity and diversity and making content and services available, accessible and usable in meeting common needs of the common man is fundamentally important. Content and digital inclusion goes hand in hand and there cannot be second thought to it.

Osama Manzar
Founder & Director
Digital Empowerment Foundation

ICT and India: Reducing Transaction Costs and Improving Governance

What ICT offers is a huge advantage to an emerging economy with scarce resources and a large constituency. It is indeed the knowledge economy that enables the maximum utilization of available factors of production, especially where labour as an input is abundantly available. The state of ICT knowledge affects the success rate of turning potential new ideas into practical ones.

Dr Amir Ullah Khan

India is an exciting economy today. It is also a very young country populated by youngsters. The buzz in the air is that the 21st century is going to be China’s and India’s. India particularly seems to be well situated because of its structural advantages. The young population with its energy and consumption orientedness and higher savings, a rapidly expanding labour force and a set of institutions that have now matured through some experiments in indigenous democratic strengths that has evolved into a unique political economy today. A new class is emerging banking on dynamism and entrepreneurial ability, the trade sector getting prominence and a strong media that is applying the kind of pressure on the political class that is undeniable. The demographic transition must reap its dividends if all this is nurtured. If not, it could lead to chaos and disorder and civil strife the beginnings of which we already see in Naxal affected districts in the infamous red corridor. Fifty per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25. Another 150 million will get added to the workforce in the next decade. However, despite being this huge and growing demographic stratum, young people have too often been seen as a burden rather than an asset, a group to be taught but not to teach, and to receive but not to give. Developments in ICT are dramatically changing this paradigm. After all, young people, the first generation to have grown up with the Internet, have a lot to offer-energy, enthusiasm, and above all the expertise to help bridge the digital divide.

What ICT offers is a huge advantage to an emerging economy with scarce resources and a large constituency. It is indeed the knowledge economy that enables the maximum utilization of available factors of production, especially where labour as an input is abundantly available. The state of ICT knowledge affects the success rate of turning potential new ideas into practical ones. It enables more effective storage, processing and communication of knowledge. ICT is not just Internet and computers, it also includes writing and telephones, and that is what makes ICT a special policy tool and where physical transport is costly because of all factors related to availability of roads and vehicles, modern communications offer a most efficient alternative, especially in poor countries.

Using ICT affects positively the performance indicators of the firms and institutions that do invest in IT. Greater ICT use is associated with better performance and institutions that use ICT earn higher profits, employ more people, lower transaction costs and reach out to many more people that otherwise.

The knowledge economy of today’s digital world offers tremendous opportunities for youth and is accompanied by some serious challenges. On one hand, the digital age enables innovation and capacity building with real time price discovery. On the other hand, it severely handicaps those not included in the knowledge economy. To bring about inclusion and to bridge the digital divide, it is imperative that policy making allows for capacity building through innovative education leveraging public private partnerships and educational institutions. This will channelise youth energy into a productive, efficient and dynamic society. IT is not a way of doing business, as yet, in India. The irony is that management, clerical and marketing employees have greater access to computers and internet than skilled workers. However, ICT often acts as a substitute for lack of resources and direct connectivity to markets. Using ICT affects positively the performance indicators of the firms and institutions that do invest in IT. Greater ICT use is associated with better performance and institutions that use ICT earn higher profits, employ more people, lower transaction costs and reach out to many more people that otherwise.

Therefore, if some governments do not invest in ICT intensively, it must be because of constraints that prevent them from adopting the best available technology. The major barriers to ICT use are opposition from various vested interests unions, irregular power supply and lack of skilled personnel, in that order. ICT usage impacts the economy and brings about a new manner in which work gets done in particularly the development sector. As has been seen across the world, there are huge costs associated with market or government transactions. And ironically, it is the less developed countries have relatively high transaction costs. These high transaction costs prevent markets from functioning and as a result, certain kinds of goods and services may be severely underprovided. This can affect long-run development, not just short-run efficiency and here is where ICT can dramatically reduce transaction costs. It is important to note that governance structures and the manner in which they use ICT could utilize technology could streamline activity and Using ICT affects positively the performance indicators of the firms and institutions that do invest in IT. Greater ICT use is associated with better performance and institutions that use ICT earn higher profits, employ more people, lower transaction costs and reach out to many more people that otherwise increase productivity. While IT helps individuals in an overall sense, it is possible to bring about organizational changes that completely recast the way operations are handled within the society. Not only does this improve governance and productivity, it also changes the organization of people and skills. Penetration across departments and sectors results in networking advantages. The benefits of using ICT show up only after there is a critical mass of firms and units that get computerised. Therefore, some constituents will wait for this critical mass before they spend on ICT infrastructure. It is here that the government can play a very positive role in overcoming this sluggishness in the adoption of ICT. If most government dealings are through the use of ICT, people get an immediate benefit of using ICT themselves and are encouraged to invest regardless of whether others are doing it or not.

Dr Amir Ullah Khan, Director Research at the Bangalore Management Academy, Fellow at the India Development Foundation, Delhi and Adjunct Professor at the Edith Cowan University, Perth

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