An analysis from the entries of Manthan Award South Asia 2008
Our constant urge to carry forward the objectives of the Manthan Award have led Digital Empowerment Foundation to facilitate outreach of the Award process to the South Asia level from the year 2008. The objective behind this move is to facilitate in creating a common thread of network and cooperation in the domain of Information Communication Technology and digital content for development in the region, a region that shares not only common historical and cultural affinities but otherwise shares many common social and economic limitations. The result, a bigger and better ICT and digital content fraternity in the region, with nominations from 8 countries, involvement of e-Content innovators and practitioners from across South Asia including Afghanistan.
It is an established fact that there exist a vast digital divide between the developed and the developing societies. This divide is equally glaring within the developing societies. Thus the ICT and digital gaps are both inter and intra. Same is the case in South Asia. Within the region there are varied interventions in ICT and digital domain. But what is missing is the chord in most of the cases for learning and sharing from each other’s interventions and experiences. It is here, the outreach of the Manthan Award platform to the South Asia level is expected to address ICT and digital content for development gaps in the region in terms of sharing and learning, in terms of ideas, experiences, policy, and institutional matters.
The Manthan Award process is a sincere attempt to give a big push to the issues in digital content for development. For 5 years now this process have seen both horizontal and vertical expansion in terms of recognition, felicitation and a huge network of over 1000 organisations, thus creating a vast network of Manthan Award fraternity. It is firmly believed that the expansion of this process at South Asia level with give a new meaning and importance to this initiative at practice, administrative and policy level in the domain of ICT and digital content for development in the region. From now onwards, every country in the region has a stake in the Manthan Award processes, to churn out the best ICT and digital content practices and innovations and facilitate in its replication, scaling up and value addition to address social and economic gaps for communities.
Here, we would like to express our awe and appreciation for the level of ICT and digital practices being attempted and experimented upon in the region as being revealed in the country wise nominations for the Manthan Award South Asia 2008. Of special mention is the efforts being made in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal followed by Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Maldives. We must say it was very motivating for us to see Afghanistan participation in the award process despite its own social, political and economic limitations and finally the lone nominee winning an award in its very first instance.
The following is a country specific brief account of the trends in ICT and digital content as reflected through the nominations and award process of the Manthan Award:
The need to spread internet literacy and that too in local language in Afghanistan is a need felt reality. The lone Afghani nomination entitled ‘Sea Monkey’ – font developed in local Pashto language is a reflection of this. This is an indication that as English language is not popular, there is an urgent need to spread computer literacy and the local Pashto language as a chosen language vehicle to spread ICT and digital content in the country even in remote areas.
A look at the nominations from our Eastern Neighbour and the instant comment could be – ‘Bangladesh is a country of innovations despite constraints’. A testimony to this is the quality of nominations from the coastal country. The nominations spread across categories from e-education to community broadcasting and livelihood. The impressive point is six out of the 13 nominations from Bangladesh emerging as winners, making the country’s success rate almost 50%.
All might not be winners, but Creative Canvas, Win Corporate and World Net, and Cell Bazaar all drew admiration for their e-content practices. Mention must be made of Cell Bazaar, the practice being lauded for its mall concept inscribed in the mobile applications for buying and selling.
Overall, the diverse nominations and winning practices from Bangladesh is an eye opener to the fact that ICT and digital content could work wonders in a country like Bangladesh, besotted with multiple challenges in social, economic and political frontiers. This shows that the more difficult the living conditions are, the better the human mind and efforts get directed towards surmounting the hardships.
Nepal sent 3 nominations which were in the categories of Community Broadcasting, E-Localisation and E-Culture and Development. Out of those, Equal Access won in the first category because of its inclusive approach to make information available wherever the end user might be staying. The work being done by the other two nominees is also commendable. The nominations from Nepal is expected to scale up by next year, once the country settles politically and is better positioned to use ICT and digital content innovatively. Otherwise, Nepal desires more of ICT and digital content interventions beyond the Community radio networks to have a multipronged approach towards technology facilitated development.
Pakistan is a country that would require a wholesome approach in ICT and digital content practices. The country is still to have qualitative as well as quantitative practices in ICT. For Manthan Award there were two nominations from Pakistan in e-health and e-Culture and entertainment. This could be a point to demonstrate that the country has vast scope to ideate and experiment in ICT and digital content practices to address its own social, economic and governance challenges. An integrated approach towards development in Pakistan must have technology and digital inputs as fundamental elements of holistic and all round growth for the communities.
@ Sri lanka
The nominations from Sri Lanka gives an interesting picture of a country making hard hitting efforts in deployment and usage of ICT and digital content tools and applications despite political and social turmoils at times. The island nation had the maximum number of nominations with the count of 18. Three of these won in different categories. It must be brought to notice that most of the nominations, as far as their work is concerned, were in some way or the other linked to the ethnic violence that has engulfed Sri Lanka for long now. Other issues of development have also affected the ICT and digital content initiatives. The winners, be it Gemidiriya Foundation, Dambadeniya Development Foundation Community Radio or Information Accessibilty for the Print Disabled, have taken excellent initiative to improve the lives of those in need with the help of innovative means. The other nominations also deserves praise for its efforts to bridge social, cultural and economic gaps.
Although the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan was represented with a single e-News nominee, the landlocked country has a long way to go with more development work and innovative use of technology. Bhutannewsonline is a good effort by Bhutanese citizens in the USA and yet more needs to be done to facilitate ICT and digital practices in the Himalayan Kingdom to overcome geographical, social and economic divides.
Maldives is a typical case of a country with little ICT and digital practices. There was only a lone nomination from the Oceanic country. Maldives is a challenging case for the entire ICT fraternity as to how to facilitate and connect the island country and its citizens into various ICT and digital networks and activities for greater intra and inter information and communication framework
India’s diversity is equally reflected in its various ICT and digital content practices. The Manthan Award for four years now have witnessed to diverse ICT and content practices from India, the Award so far was India specific. For this year, there were 226 nominations out of which only 22 nominations were shortlisted and considered for recognition, placing the success rate at roughly 10%. This indicates the difficult and quality testing of nominations by the e Grand Jury of the Manthan Award. This also reflects the fundamental point that despite numerous ICT and digital content practices, the quality interventions can only provide the much needed input in giving out result and impact oriented output.
Long way to go
All ICT and digital content interventions in South Asia are nothing but recent trends of one – two decades in experimenting and experiencing in old and new technology tools and applications to meet diverse and multiple challenges across communities in one of the most underdeveloped regions of the world. The outcomes are equally diverse in terms of its impact and utility in meeting expectations of the common man in addressing their day-to-day needs. In this, the role of the public, private and the civil society agencies have been active in enabling and facilitating technology tools towards development and empowerment. In all various ICT led development efforts, the challenges have been equally glaring and hard. The turmoil witnessed is in social, political, cultural and economic domains all of which have contributed in slowing down various technology approaches.
Despite upheavals and limitations the so many ICT and digital practices in the region deserves replication, upscaling and recognition at the end of the day. Despite constraints, the various technology practices across the region have come handy in providing the much needed succor for all, especially for the common citizens in overcoming their traditional developmental hurdles and see a new hope through a facilitating help from technology tools, devices and applications.
The Manthan Award process is about taking these digital efforts forward for larger benefit across the board. The need to recognize and felicitate the hard efforts across the region have been tried to be fulfilled through this platform. This is not only to bring together in one common platform the winners and stakeholders, but also to carry forward the innovative works and practices for further replication and implementation as per need based social, cultural, economic indicators emerging out from the countries in the region.
Irrespective of all these, the region as whole has a long way to go in ideating and implementing qualitative and impactful ICT and digital content interventions. What is desperately required is a multi pronged approach at all levels including at policy levels leading to a desirable and result oriented ICT and digital content interventions. On top of this, involving the stakeholders is a must with the needs and voices of the communities taking the centre stage in designing and implementing any ICT and digital programme. It is ultimately the communities who really decide on what and how of technology must determine their fate and needs.
This special publication is thus an effort to bring out all the above, the tales of winners and their practices, the voices of practitioners and experts, the issues and ideas that holds importance in ICT and digital efforts in South Asia.
Hope you all have an interesting and thoughtful reading as well as enjoy the creativity of ICT and digital content for development
Syed S Kazi and Pritam Sinha
DIGITAL EMPOWERMENT FOUNDATION