e- Governance & Institutions

Make e-Governance part of mainstream and not an add-on

e-Governance-&-InstitutionsOn December 2, 2015, New-Delhi based non-profit Digital Empowerment Foundation organised the annual Manthan Awards at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, to identify and felicitate digital innovators, who use ICT for the betterment of the masses, across Asia among an esteemed audience of likeminded professionals, innovators, sponsors, government officials and industry experts.

Over the years, Manthan Awards has created a repository of thousands of unique innovations. Now in its 12th year, Manthan Awards decided to be a little different and go the ‘unconference’ style at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on December 2, 2015. Instead of a formal presentation from the stage to an audience seated in an auditorium, innovators were asked to talk about their e-initiatives in a village-themed environment, complete with a well, charpoi, kulhad wali chai, haystacks and bamboo shoots. Amid this set up, Finalists of the 13 awards categories gathered to share lessons, achievements, best practices, challenges and recommendations for the road ahead.

Revolutionising governance

One of these 13 categories was e-Governance for which the Jury had shortlisted seven Finalists. Led by the Former Secretary of Information Technology under the government of Sikkim, Rajesh Verma, the session began with a friendly introduction, followed by each Finalist introducing the audience to their initiatives.

Demi Solutions has created a unique and innovative solution to capture, convert and cleanse data by utilising solid business process backed by a technology innovation called Data Digitisation. It is a process by which physical or manual records such as text, images, video, and audio are converted into digital forms in cost-effective and minimum time-consuming manner. Demi Solutions firmly believes that digitising information makes it easier to preserve, access, and share.

GIS-based Decision Support System for Encroachment Detection on Waqf Properties in the Waqf Management System of India Project is the initiative of the National Informatics Centre to protect such properties from vested interests. This Web portal provides updated information about Waqf properties, through GIS and decision support system, for detecting any encroachment.

TrackChild commenced by the Department of Women Development and Social Welfare is a national portal, designed for tracking and the ultimate rehabilitation of “missing” children. It maintains a Web-based child protection management information system and plans to develop an integrated and comprehensive live database of children in need of protection.

IChangeMyCity.com is an online platform conceptualised by Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy. The USP of this website is that it enables people to network locally to address common grievances, allows people to connect online which more often than not leads to offline civic engagement, which in turn influences civic agencies to respond, and works towards improving the quality of services and infrastructure right from the local neighborhood level.

An Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) from Sri Lanka, Progress Tracker from Bangladesh and e-POS-Aadhaar enabled Public Distribution System from India were also appreciated for their efforts in the area of e-Govermance.

But it were Track Child and Data Digitisation that impressed the Jury with their unique, sustainable and impact-oriented approach and were, thus, announced Winners. IChangeMyCity and GIS-Based Decision Support System were given Special Mentions.

Improving lives at grassroots level

The interaction between the Finalists and the audience of the e-Governance category also saw a comprehensive discussion on various government institutions and units operational at the village level that have adopted the e-Governance system. The participants unanimously agreed that facilitating e-Governance through digital infrastructure can help ASHA workers in their intervention and advisory activities; local police can conduct investigation by cutting barriers of space and time; anganwadis can learn about the best practices in nutrition and hygiene; health workers can keep track of latest innovations in the field of medicine; doctors can treat patients, irrespective of geographical and commutation barriers; and panchayats can better manage law and order.


However, there is still a lot more that needs to be tackled. Several suggestions and recommendations came up during the discussion. These included:

  • Establishing broadband or wireless kiosks at different locations
  • Encouraging greater digital literacy
  • Providing vocational training
  • Developing special Web content for differently-abled individuals
  • Promoting greater use of ICT tools at all levels — starting from the bottom most — in civic bodies and panchayats.

We hope people in the administration and the government are taking notes of these recommendations!

e-Business & Financial Inclusion And e-Science & Technology

Using technology to serve the remotest of remote

e--Business-&-Financial-Inclusion-And-e--Science-&-TechnologyHosted by a New Delhi-based not-for-profit organisation called Digital Empowerment Foundation, the 12th Manthan Awards 2015 was organised this year at India Habitat Centre in the national capital on December 2, 2015.

Unlike all previous years when innovators gathered in a formal atmosphere to share slide show presentations with an audience in an all-day event, this year the awards threw the spotlight on the best digital innovations in an ‘un-conference’ style. The afternoon gave participants an opportunity to learn, interact, share, engage and absorb with likeminded development professionals, thought leaders and experts in the field.

e-Business & Financial Inclusion was one of the 13 categories, and the Winners of the category were Dharavi Market, Paytm-One97 Communications Ltd, and Financial Inclusion. E- Bozar, meanwhile, was chosen for the Chairman’s Distinction Award.

Identifying the best solutions

The Finalists of the categories e-Business & Financial Inclusion and e-Science & Technology brainstormed on finding the best possible solutions to help the masses with innovations in these fields.

Finalist Smart eHomes from the e-Science & Technology category participated in discussing the benefits of ICTs in the field to change the benches at the grassroots.

Dharavimarket.com cleared notions and misunderstandings about life in slums — slum dwellers are not criminals or beggars, they too have robust enterprising skills and intimate community life.

Paytm, meanwhile, spoke about its focus on creating a platform where millions of small, medium and large merchants can sell to millions of customers from across the country in a seamless manner.

Taking forward the conversation, Financial Inclusion illustrated how it is engaged in providing banking services to people in villages and urban areas using biometric devices.

Conceptualising for a connected world

The brainstorming session started at the micro level, where the participants discussed their projects and gave insights about the change ICT can bring at the grassroots keeping in mind their projects implementation and, soon after this, the cross cutting discussion between the participants kick-started. The discussion for building a concept initiated from micro to meso to macro level among the participants. The most intriguing thing about this session was that there were participants with a very strong perspective from each verticals business, finance and science technology.

Sijo Joseph from e-Science & Technology category discussed how innovations can bring savings to the village life which would increase the efficiency. He also added that smart cities and villages should improve the quality of life to provide connectivity, and to save cost, manpower and energy. It was a great sight to watch unanimous people conceptualising and analysing their respective ICT-based solutions for a better world and towards building solutions.

Participants quoted assuredly that it is the age of information and communication technology, and the application of ICT tools in various social, economic and administrative fields is on the rise. ICT use and their participation in growth-related activities are strongly linked. For example, businesses that use the Internet to collect sales orders have higher rates of exporting, innovation, and entering new export markets. ICT can enhance both the practical and theoretical aspects in any range.

Ishita Anand and her team from Bitgiving, along with Bidyut from E-Bozar, threw light on topics like innovators, engagement in funding, access to market, certification and sponsorship, among others. The group mentioned that financial inclusion is something that is multi-level and multiple different things should be put together to bring out the innovation in terms of money going to the target audience but, especially, mentioned to make them producers themselves in their own way.


Several suggestions were also made by participants and audience members. These included:

  • Establishing broadband or wireless kiosks at different locations
  • Encouraging greater digital literacy
  • Setting up e-banking kiosks across the country
  • Creating easy interfaces for e-banking mobile apps
  • Developing special Web content in various Indian languages
  • Promoting greater use of ICT tools at all levels

The participants meticulously enjoyed the informal style of the sessions and praised the technique used for discussion.


Making medical help available on the touch of a thumb

e-healthOn December 2, 2015, the 12th Manthan Awards South Asia & Asia Pacific 2015 was hosted at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, amid much fanfare in a village-themed environment.

Manthan Awards, organised every year by Digital Empowerment Foundation, provides a platform to digital innovators to bridge the future using information communication  and technology with change-makers uncovering their exceptionality, creativity and inspiration.

Now in its 12th year, the Manthan Awards was hosted in an ‘un-conference’ style’. Instead of a formal presentation from the stage to an audience seated in an auditorium, innovators were asked to talk about their e-initiatives in a village-themed environment, complete with a well, charpoi, kulhad wali chai, haystacks and bamboo shoots. Amid this set up, Finalists of the 13 awards categories gathered to share lessons, achievements, best practices, challenges and recommendations for the road ahead.

The winners in the eHealth category were TraumaLink Bangladesh Expansion, Run Tropica, and BPL LifePhone+. The first two particularly impressed the Jury.

Unique ideas

TraumaLink is a volunteer-based emergency response system built to tackle the barriers of travel time and cost for traffic injury victims. To measure the quality of its service, it currently focuses on a few key metrics including the percentage of accidents responded to, crash scene response times, and volunteer retention rates.

‘Run Tropica’ project commenced by the University of Colombo’s School of Computing aims to develop a prototype product of an active video game virtual rehabilitation system that targets physical therapy of the lower limbs of the user. ‘Run Tropica’ is a 2D infinite runner where the player’s performance is based on their ability to collect items and how far they can run before dying. By implementing gamification into a rehabilitation process, the project looks to improve motivation and persistence among patients.

They were presented with their trophies amid an esteemed audience at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on December 2, 2015.

Creating an informed society

The application of ICT and telemedicine is an excellent idea for remote areas where there is a shortage of health sector manpower, and, thus, integrating ICT in the health care system could contribute to universal health coverage and strengthen the weakened health care delivery system in India.

Over a period of time, politicians, policy makers, academics and many others have discussed the potential role of ICT in influencing the health and well-being of the poor and marginalised sections of the society. Its potential contribution to poverty alleviation, sustainable development and health care enhancement has been pointed out by the UN Millennium Development Goals framework and by many other organisations. Appropriate technology, if used, for health care support and proper information, it can empower health care workers at primary health care units in a cost effective manner for sustainable improvement of health care in remote areas.

ICT is not a readymade fit, particularly when technology is expanding every day. ICT always needs to be contextualised and, above all, needs a commitment to be used. Thus, capacity building and the process of creating an informed society are crucial for its implementation, especially in the health sector.


Some of the recommendations made by the participants for the growth for the benefit of e-Health included:

  • Establishing broadband or wireless kiosks at different locations
  • Encouraging greater digital literacy among health providers
  • Connecting village-level health services with district-level hospitals

We hope those working in the health sector are taking notes!

e-Entertainment & Games

Easy access to rich recreational content

e-Entertainment-&-GamesNew-Delhi non-profit organisation Digital Empowerment Foundation organised the annual Manthan Awards this year at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on December 12, 2015.

Manthan Awards is a highly coveted platform where digital innovators, who use ICT for the betterment of the masses, are felicitated in front of an audience of likeminded professionals, innovators, sponsors, government officials and industry experts.

In an effort to usher a change, in its 12th edition this year, Manthan Awards South Asia and Asia Pacific decided to adopt the ‘unconference’ style for its annual event gala and awards.

Amid a village-themed environment at India Habitat Centre, Finalists of 13 awards categories gathered to share lessons, achievements, best practices, challenges and recommendations for the road ahead.

Promoting art

One of these 13 categories was e-Entertainment and Games for which the Jury had shortlisted two Finalists, and both were announced Winners at Awards Gala later in the evening.

The session for the category, earlier in the day, began with a friendly introduction, followed by both the Finalists introducing the audience to their e-initiatives.

Chai Stories is an initiative of the Boxx Studios to give a platform to artists, who are not part of the mainstream entertainment industry, to showcase their talent. Under this initiative, the Boxx Studios release short films every Friday. So far, 55 short movies have been successfully released online with the investment of approximately Rs. 5 lakh.

Sangeethaya.lk is another initiative that aims to preserve, promote and enhance the music culture in Sri Lanka. So far, over 1,000 service providers have registered with them and the website has received around 45,000 likes on its Facebook page. It offers equal opportunity and exposure to all music equipment sellers, instrument exporters, music production companies and video production companies to market their talent and products.

Easy access and rich content

It is interesting to see how access to entertainment has become increasingly wide today. Earlier, people had to commute to watch a film, see a musical performance or witness a comedy/dance show. With the growth of the Internet, all of this became available online at the click of a mouse button. Innovators have now taken a step even further and introduced all kind of recreational material on mobile phones, just a touch away. ICT is ever-expanding and new digital tools are being created on a daily basis today. If we have come so far, imagine what these tech enthusiasts and digital innovators can do in the years to come.


There are several e-initiatives that cater to the rural population, and even allow content over SMS rather than mobile app or Internet connection. However, there are only a handful of them.

  • It is time innovators think of ways to produce content in regional languages, make them available even to the poorest of poor in the remotest of remote areas and allow sharing of content.
  • Content, in fact, is the most important aspect. The need to create easy access to entertainment content is as important as the selection of the content itself.

Let’s hope innovators are taking notes.

e-Education, Learning & Employment

Breaking barriers in mainstream education

e-Education-Learning-&-EmploymentFor the past 12 years, Digital Empowerment Foundation has been proudly organising the annual Manthan Awards. Every year at Manthan, digital innovations are celebrated and their innovators are honoured amid an esteemed and likeminded audience.

This year, Manthan Awards was held in an unconference style at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on December 2, 2015, without compromising on its agenda of bringing together digital innovators and industry experts on one platform to create a unique fusion of development. Instead of formal presentations, the 57 Finalists came together to share ICT-inspired suggestions and ideas for problem solving in their category area through hand-drawn flip charts, posters and oral skills.

One of the eight sessions, the one on education, was moderated by Meeta Sengupta, a writer, speaker, consultant and advisor on education and skills, and Dr. Suresh Reddy, director of SRF Foundation. The session revolved around the role ICT can play in bringing changes in the fields of education, learning and employment indices in a village. Finalists participating in this category were Madhura, Ofabee, i-Saksham, Zoya Learning Labs, JAAGO Online School, Career Cliniq Smart Tutor, and Swayamsidham Education Portal.

After a brief introduction by the moderator, each Finalist gave the audience an introduction to their work. Some of the unique innovations have been listed below.


i-Saksham provides in-situ education, skill development, and information services in unreached areas through sustainable community learning centers, run by locally skilled youth with the aid of digital technology and content.

OfaBee Tutor, an initiative of Enfin Technologies India Pvt. Ltd., is a cloud-based training and learning platform for test preparation training institutes to create online courses.

MILE Laboratory of the Indian Institute of Science under its project Madhura aims to develop a good quality, natural text to speech programme for South Indian languages to enable and empower people with visual and vocal disability to learn and communicate easily and more effectively.

The goal of JAAGO’s online school project is to overcome geographical barriers that exist in Bangladesh to provide quality education to students living in remote areas.

Zaya’s ClassCloud products and services enable blended learning without the need for connectivity, thus, opening up a type of learning to a mass market of students who were otherwise being left out of education technology altogether.

By the end of the introduction, the excitement to contribute from one’s experience and learn from other’s was overwhelming. The discussion drew the attention of passers-by and made them stop to listen to the discussion.

It was here that the participants and audience mutually agreed on the need to gouge out possible solutions against barriers on the path to change through ICT in the teaching and learning atmosphere at the village level for successful employment.

Outcomes and solutions

The seven Finalists came up with points that can help in scaling up the existing technologies and make them reachable to students at grassroots level. Among some of the solutions was the idea to develop a network of educational NGOs for effective communication, sharing of ideas and helping each other achieve their goals while achieving a common objective.

Looking at the complex interfaces of some of the existing technologies, the participants realised that in order to increase teachers’ participation, interfaces need to be simplified enough to reduce their work pressure against the common perception of “increasing burden”. This point went hand in hand with the topic of language barrier and how making the best quality content available in local language can be useful as learning is always easier in one’s mother tongue.

The outcomes of the session were listed, ranked through voting and video recorded. The enthusiasm of the Finalists led the moderators to give a thought to sending the video to Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani through social media.


Further discussion on ways that can help enhance ICT in education in rural areas was concluded on the thoughts that:

  • CSR funding is paramount to all efforts being made in the field of education today
  • The potential of ICT can be further harnessed to seek funding
  • Both government and non-government organisations should compliment each other’s contribution to education

In today’s age, ICT is an integral part of the mainstream education system. It can help students, teachers and parents, especially in rural parts of the country where rapid growth is much needed.

e-Agriculture and Ecology

Indian farmers need a common information platform

e-Agriculture-&-EcologyDigital Empowerment Foundation organised the 12th Manthan Awards at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on December 2, 2015. In the last 12 years, besides honouring the best digital innovators, Manthan has created a rich repository of over 2,000 digital innovations from across Asia while bringing together young innovators and industry experts on one platform to create a unique fusion of innovation and development.

This year, by adding a little cultural flavour and village-themed ideas to this grand event, the Manthan Awards were held in an un-conference style.

Amid a colorful evening, complete with Rajasthani folk music performance, scintillating table performance and nukkad natak, 57 Finalists sat on moodah and khaat, sipped chai from a kullad and discussed possible solutions to tackle challenges in their respective category.

Collaborating for a better world

The Finalists of eAgriculture and Ecology category — SankalpTaru, Paddy Procurement, Plant Trees Online, e-KrishakSahyogi, AGMARKNET, Horticulture Crop Pests Surveillance — came together and discussed ways to eradicate poor circulation of solution-driven mobile apps in the countr, and gave a brief introduction about their project.

SankalpTaru Foundation aims to develop and manage reforestation and environmental conservation projects across India. IPE Global in partnership with the government of Odisha has launched the Paddy Procurement Automation System, which is designed after studying the functionalities of the paddy procurement centres. Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals or ISAP has developed an applet-based decision support system named e-KrishakSahyogi, which means an ‘electronic companion of the farmers’, to address the problem of inaccessibility of useful and timely information related to pests and diseases for small and marginal farmers.

Tackling the barriers

According to the participants and Senior Manager of Qualcomm Anirban Mukherji, who was also the moderator of the session, the plaguing issue in this field is that though there are several ICT applications available across India to solve problems, language has been a major barrier in the effective and efficient circulation of these applications.

For example, an application developed in Tamil Nadu in the local language is tremendously helping in solving several problems of farmers in the state but the same application is not used by the farmers of Karnataka. To tackle this problem, the participants of this category conceptualised a solution, which is a common platform for all the solution-driven applications, that is available in multiple languages or can be translated in several languages, orally or in written form. This conceptual platform will make information available to everyone, irrespective of their location, language, technology, and platform it was originally developed in. The platform will connect the farmers and expert, and will also contain curated knowledge-sharing content in the form of text, audio and video.

ICT revolution has played a big role in development of agriculture and ecology sector. For solving further problems, concepts conceived by the problem solvers should always be encouraged.


Some of the recommendations made by the participants for the growth for the benefit of e-Health included:

  • Establishing broadband or wireless kiosks at different locations
  • Encouraging greater digital literacy
  • Creating a common platform for sharing knowledge
  • Allowing content to be read in or translated into various languages

We hope those working on innovations in the sector are taking notes!

e-Women & Empowerment

Manthan 2015 – churning the pot of gender disparity

e-Women-&-EmpowermentEvery year, the Manthan Award recognises and celebrates digital innovators who use ICTs for social empowerment across South Asia. The awards event this year also included an ‘unconference,’ where, instead of prepared presentations, the winners and finalists of the awards categories gathered together to share lessons, achievements, best practices, challenges and recommendations for the road ahead. Here are some takeaways from the brainstorming which I had the opportunity to facilitate, on women and digital empowerment. The winner of this category was FeminismInIndia.com, and special mentions went to UN Women and Project Sampark (Telenor India).


FeminismInIndia.com has published 250 articles on women’s empowerment by 57 writers, and has 2,000 followers on Twitter as well as 15,000 on Facebook. “Many authors have been inspired and committed enough to write with their real names and not anonymously,” said founder Japleen Pasricha.
The United Nations has created a one-stop site for holistic information on women and empowerment. 11,000 users from 190 countries have registered, according to Anju Pande, Program Specialist at UN Women. Content is available in five languages, on topics ranging from workplace issues and entrepreneurship to policy formulation and statistics.

Mobile operator Telenor India has launched an initiative called Sampark, to support women’s access to mobile phones and accounts. “The initiative covers 89 villages, and has roped in over 40,000 new women subscribers,” according to Ashima Kukreja, Head of Social Responsibility at Telenor India.

Their call centre, called DIAL, employs 35 women. Forty women promoters offer handholding skills to bring more women on board the mobile network, via a programme of systematic socialisation. The initiative has been supported by industry lobby GSMA as well.

The discussion at Manthan 2015 included other women entrepreneurs such as Ritu Gorai, founder of Jamm’s, an online support group for mothers. Jamm’s has also offered haircuts for underprivileged children and bought canes for the blind, according to Gorai.


These achievements have not been without their challenges, according to the award-winning women entrepreneurs. The foremost challenge includes the male mindset of bias against women’s rights, denying them the basic rights of ownership of mobile phones or access to telecom services. There are also women apologists for such male power, under the guise of protecting culture and tradition.

Women also need training in the use of the wide range of digital technologies, and more data is needed on the tech adoption, online communication and content creation activities of women. More representation of women is also needed in lofty initiatives such as Digital India.

From an implementation point of view, project practitioners cite that it takes a lot of effort and skill to identify the right kinds of change agents for community empowerment. There are also social media restrictions which hamper the use of imagery about violence against women.
Finally, social media is a double-edged sword, opening the door to empowerment as well as online harassment, stalking, bullying and cyber-crimes against women.

Best practices

The women activists also shared a range of best practices which work well towards digital empowerment. Social media campaigns via Tweetathons and Twitterchats can be very effective. Branding, effective imagery and the choice of champions (‘sheroes’) have helped amplify the messaging.
Offline techniques like street plays and other interventions have carried the cause to wider audiences. Involving men and boys have shown how they can also contribute to solutions. Communication campaigns have worked better when they are focused and not too broad, with specific outcomes and implications in mind. Partnership with other organisations, such as youth communities, has helped connect with other audiences.
Good examples of such empowerment initiatives include Graam Vaani (with programmes such as ‘Do you think Rani should go to school?’), Safety Pin (safety app for women) and Khabar Leheria (village news about women).


The brainstorming session ended with a specific set of recommendations for the development community, policymakers, corporates and aspiring social entrepreneurs. At the highest levels, all major corporate and national policies need to have gender sensitivity and inclusion embedded in them, and not tackled as an afterthought.

Regular monitoring, accounting and enforcing of gender inclusion in these initiatives need to be carried out in a systematic and transparent manner. Better data on women in tech needs to be gathered and disseminated.
At an industry level, more cooperation is called for between the hardware, software and telecom sectors. At a deeper level, more involvement and enrolment of women are needed in STEM education. At the rural level, more women need to be involved and trained as heads of community service centres.

Decision flows in urban and rural organisations and community networks should be clearly mapped, so that gender roles can be identified and allotted in an equitable manner. Women should be regarded not just as consumers or users of digital media but as content creators and tool developers as well.

Finally, such forums should extend beyond the usual ‘Delhi circuit’ to the far corners and remote areas of India, and the outcomes of such deliberations should be made available in local languages as well.

These recommendations were displayed and presented at the Manthan 2015 conference, and the winners were acknowledged and honoured at the awards ceremony. We look forward to the implementation of such recommendations on a priority basis, and to tracking the progress made by the next Manthan Awards in 2016!