“India cannot wait for access. We need to do it here and now”
Aruna Sundararajan- Adminstrator, USO Fund, DoT,
Ministry of Communications and IT, GOI

Welcome Note by : Osama Manzar, Chairman, Manthan Award Asia Pacific & Founder Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation

  • Smt. Aruna Sundararajan, Administrator, USO Fund, DoT, Ministry of Comm. & IT
  • Sukumar Ranganathan, Editor, Mint
  • Laurent Le Danois Attaché – Development Cooperation, Delegation of European Union to India
  • Rajnesh Singh, Regional Bureau Director for Asia-Pacific, Internet Society
  • Dave Stewart, VP – Sales & Marketing, Public Interest Registry
  • Chat Garcia Ramilo Deputy Director, APC, Manila
  • Dr. Anantha K. Duraiappah Dir. MGIEP
  • Soumitra Ghosh, CEO, WISH – Wadhwani Institute of Sustainable Healthcare

With great humility and at the same time great pride we at Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) heard these words being explicitly stated by a very senior official of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of the Government of India at the Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi on December 4, 2014.

The occasion was the annual Manthan Awards, which we at DEF instituted way back in 2004 to identify and reward just those individuals and organisations who are inspired by this motto, driven by it and have taken bold, innovative steps to do it here and now – provide Internet access to people in India and elsewhere, empower them and demonstrate in practice how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can bring about socio-economic transformation.

We are humbled because this is the 11th time we were organising the Manthan Awards which we created and implemented only to uphold this motto, only to realise this mission. This is the mission that has driven us at the DEF for the last 12 years of our existence and we are humbled to know and see that the Digital India programme launched by the Indian Prime Minister and the views of senior officials of the Government of India now reflect that this is not only our mission as humble citizens of India but it is also a national mission that the Indian government itself has taken up in real earnest.

We are proud because we find ourselves vindicated. The 11th Manthan Awards once again identified and rewarded ICT interventions in development that seek to provide Internet access to people here and now not only in India but across 36 countries throughout South Asia and the Asia Pacific. In this corner of the world, we have been doing something for the last 11 years that is now getting national and international recognition in an increasingly and explodingly satisfying way. We at DEF do not want to rest on our laurels but we are proud nevertheless. This recognition, we are sure, will drive us to achieve further excellence in the years to come in our attempts to bridge the digital divide and provide Internet access to people, here and now.

As usual, the day-long glittering Manthan Awards function this year too was graced by the presence of dignitaries from various countries and fields. All dignitaries present were in praise of the thought process underlying the awards and the way they were contributing to bringing about digital inclusion in the everyday lives of people in one way or the other.

The awards, which were fiercely competed for, by almost 400 entries from 36 invited countries in13 categories ranging from education, women and children, health and inclusion and accessibility were kick-started by Osama Manzar, Founder and Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation. “We have a very decimal role in what we are calling Digital India,” Manzar said in his inaugural welcome speech that was followed by a panel discussion onthe topic “Access for All”.

Focusing on how digital innovation serves as a tool for universal access, the session discussed and explored the various ways the Government and civil society organisations can work in tandem to enable 80 percent of the regional and urban population to have access to social schemes and exercise their rights.

Reflecting on the idea of the Digital India programme, Ms.Sundararajan, said that even today 80 percent of the country is not connected to the information highway. “The biggest problem is lack of access. Access is what the Government needs to focus on but it is too big an issue for the Government to take on solely. We all need to participate to realise the Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India.”

Explaining the way Government is looking at the vision of Digital India, Mr.Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary (e-Gov), Department of Electronics and Information Technology (Government of India) said that the Government is trying to provide access to ICT for all citizens. He stated that it is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure that all people are empowered digitally so that they can use ICT to access all government services. He felt that internet kiosks and mobile platforms are some of the ways civil society organisations can help the government provide citizens better access to government services.

As conscience keepers of the polity, media personality Mr. R. Sukumar, Editor of the Mint brought the citizen to the centre stage of the discussion about how the government wants to provide access. He also put the government on notice. He said “This is something that has to happen at some point of time but if it does not happen in the next 5years we will not need it anymore as either we will be left far too behind the rest of the world or the citizens will find a way to empower themselves. But I am confident that this will definitely happen in the next 5 years. “

Citizens got more people in their corner when MrLurent Le Danois, Attache, Development Cooperation, Delegation of the  European Union in India, spoke about how right to information can be right to entitlements. He emphasized on the necessity of bringing people who live at the bottom most layer of the pyramid on the same platform like everyone else. He pointed out that often civil society underestimates the bigger goal of RTI and uses it to trouble the government although it can be used for disclosure of information. He concluded that if civil society and government work together we could look at achieving bigger goals like these.

Mr. Dave Stewart vice president, Public Interest Registry, who spoke next talked about the latest task that PIR has undertaken which is to bring all validated NGOs from across the world online. Mr. Stewart said, “It is a challenge and it has many more challenges related to it.” He talked about the necessity of entitlement of access. He was insistent, that the portal where all validated NGOs could register, will be a great opportunity for all NGOs worldwide and give more credibility to valid NGOs. His views brought to focus the need for civil society organisations to validate themselves to be in a position to be effective partners of the government in the task of providing access to all.

Taking the discussion deeper to highlight the specific benefits of connectivity and access to all, Mr.SoumitroGhosh, CEO, Wadhwani Institute of Sustainable Healthcare (WISH), talked about the necessity of connecting all primary health centers. He said “primary health sectors in the country have been completely neglected and health workers at the ground level are facing a whole lot of problems because there is no common platform.” He threw light upon the  role that telemedicine can play in improving the quality of primary health care and also increasing its reach..

Dr. Anantha K. Duraiappah, Director, MGIEP,UNESCO, talked about how we can look at IT as one of the channels for sustainable development. He pointed out that ours is a country with maximum number of youth. Although the numbers are great, 4 percent of children in the country never get into school and 58 to 60 percent drop out of primary schools. He talked about how ICT tools can be used to bridge this gap in India.

Chat Garcia Ramilo, Deputy Director, APC. Manila, spoke about the scenario in South East Asia. She said, “Access has inclusivity and that is very important.” She mentioned that having a public access model is very important. She laid stress on the importance of e-government services and how it can empower common citizens of any country.

“Yes it is happening in due course. Things are progressing,” said Rajnesh Singh, Regional Bureau Director of Internet Society (ISOC) to end the panel discussion with a note of optimism.

Wrapping up the discussion, Mr. Manzar concluded by noting that “technology by itself cannot solve problems.” He touched upon the views of all the speakers to highlight the general consensus among speakers representing both the government and civil society organisations that “we do need to move towards a society where access is available to all.”

The panel discussion was followed by Mr. Dave Stewart, Vice President, Public Interest Registry inaugurating the Manthan Digital Bazaar. More than 100 innovative digital applications were on display with a focus on scaling up communities by NGOs, Community Radio operators, Wireless, Broadband and Social Media startups. This platform that DEF has created with the idea of providing an opportunity to some of the best ICT innovations from across the Asia Pacific region to network and ideate on ICT evolution for development, attracted exclusive pavilions from the Public Interest Registry, W4C (Wireless for Communities),Chanderiyaan, representatives and winners of the Best of mBilllionth Award 2014, Best of Manthan South West India 2014, e-NGOChallenge Award 2014 and Mobile for Good Awards 2014 apart from rural artists and artisans.

After the inauguration of the exposition, the assemblage dispersed into 4 parallel summits of 13 sessionscomprising more than 50 presentations spread throughout the day. These presentations by the various competing entries focusing on their innovations were chaired by experts from within the area and the people interested in knowing more about any of these entries in any of the 13 sessions got an opportunity to interact with the innovators, ask questions and clarify their doubts. For any of these sessions, the audience was free to give their suggestions and recommendations.

At the end of the presentation sessions, the actual Manthan Awards gala event began where the prizewinners were announced and their prizes handed over. The event was anchored and moderated by renowned author and consultant in knowledge management and ICT4D, Dr.MadanmohanRao.

But even before Dr. Rao could begin the proceedings, Mr. Manzar in his welcome speech conjured up some very surprising magic for the audience comprising distinguished guests and other honoured guests. He introduced a real magician Mr.Ishamuddin who has won global acclaim as an Indian street magician. Mr. Ishamuddin performed on stage to enthrall the audience before the start of the prize-winning announcements that created magic moments for the winners. The distinguished jury, after days of grueling sessions had, out of almost 400 entries, chosen 67 finalists from 36 countries after evaluating each of their innovations over various assorted parameters. Of these 27 emerged as winners from their respective categories, while 11 were declared as runners up, six of the nominations earned special mentions. The felicitations and prize presentations to the award-winning recipients were done by various guests of honour present at the event, each celebrities in their own respective fields. In their acceptance speeches, award winners spoke of the great role that the Manthan Awards have played over the years in inspiring and encouraging individuals and organisations to think of all kinds of ways to use ICT for people’s empowerment and in providing access for all.

The day that celebrated “Access for All” ended with all participants getting access to a highly enjoyable but relatively frugal dinner that further enabled all to access each other.

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