Towards technology for wealth-creation

Date:   Saturday , March 31, 2007

The first International Conference on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Solutions for Socio - Economic Development (ISED – 2007), organized by the ICT Research and Training Centre of CDAC Bangalore concluded on March 13. The conference brought together development practitioners, researchers, and technical and social scientists who dwelt on the possibilities and prospects of using ICT for development of the standard of living of particularly the rural masses.
The conference did much in terms of providing an arena for knowledge sharing, with many like Peter Knight, director e-brasil project (who came all the way from Brazil), pleased to have found a platform that looked at the issue of use of technology for societal upliftment. For many though, it failed to spur thoughts on how such technologies could have more of a people focus.

Swami Bhaveshananda, faculty member of the Ramkrishna Mission’s Vivekananda University said, “Hardly any of the models (of pilot projects showcased in the presentations) focused on the human resource development component.”
Dr. Baharul Islam, Chairman and CEO of South Asian Development Gateway, seemed to agree, “India’s greatest strength is her human resource. Unless ICT finds a way to generate wealth, primarily among the youth, all this talk of bridging the digital divide is senseless.”

Incidentally, his talks were among the most hard-hitting and had recall value. While one of the talks focused on the ills (corruption, political vendetta et al) in the name of community information centers in the North Eastern states of India, the other sought to address the skewed government policy of developing ICT as a sector rather than focusing it on developing people’s economies.

In terms of people-inclusive models, K.M. Sharma of NABARD showcased the e-grama project, currently running in Davangere district of Karnataka. Under the project, Village Information Centers are established by educated unemployed youth of each village, which in turn employ other people at the local level to dole out various service offerings.
Dr. M.V. Ananthakrishnan, faculty member at IIT-Bombay, on the other hand, shared his experiences of developing educational resources for the rural sector, using the repository of examples from the recipient’s surroundings to teach them basic concepts. “The excitement on part of the children of having learnt via interactive multimedia, and that too using examples from the environment around them was a treat,” he says.

Among other presentations that left an impact was one by Prof. P. Krishna Reddy of IIIT Hyderabad on e-Sagu – an IT based agro-advisory system piloted in Andhra Pradesh. The project employs educated locals as village coordinators; they visit farms and take photos of the crops/ pests, send them across to IIIT-Hyderabad (where the project is being run from) by courier. The pictures are uploaded online, remedies/ views sought from agricultural scientists and the same is sent back to the coordinator who then hands out the ‘solutions’ to respective farmers.
The presentation set off discussions among the audience members, who debated on the sustainability of the model, since it sought to charge the farmer for the services. It was a few of the presentations though that went beyond the scope of technology development, into the self-sustainability arena.

The conference was divided into various sessions viz. ICT Interventions in Education, Agriculture and the rural sector, e-Inclusion issues and Technical and Infrastructure Challenges for ICT Usage, and was accompanied by a poster competition and an exhibition of various technologies developed by participating agencies and NGOs.