Technology for social change

Mohammed Iqbal

A unique helpline selected for 2008 Tech Awards Laureates

Phone-based helpline used for guiding rural communities in local dialect

First launched in agriculture sector in September 2006 in 2,066 villages in HP, Haryana, MP, UP

JAIPUR: The Tech Museum of Innovation, U.S., has selected Lifelines – a unique telephone-based helpline service providing critical knowledge and livelihood information to villagers in several States across India – for the 2008 Tech Awards Laureates.

The helpline is operated by the One World International Foundation in collaboration with British Telecom and Cisco. It has been recognised as one of the 25 innovators rewarded every year for applying technology to benefit humanity and spark global change.

The Lifelines-Education Project launched in Udaipur district of Rajasthan is working as an effective knowledge delivery service to provide critical academic support to teachers and students in the rural areas of the tribal-dominated region. The project was started on a pilot basis in September this year.

One World South Asia-New Delhi Director Naimur Rehman said after reviewing the project in Udaipur over the weekend that the Foundation wanted to help the rural communities by linking them with web technology and giving ordinary people an opportunity to get answers to questions which were key to improving their lives.

Mr. Rehman said the project would be extended shortly to other districts in the State to help out the rural communities.

The Tech Awards – a signature programme of the California-based Tech Museum of Innovation – made its selections from among hundreds of nominations representing 68 countries. Established in 2000, the Tech Awards recognise 25 laureates in five universal categories – education, equality, environment, economic development and health.

One laureate in each category received a cash prize of 50,000 U.S. dollars during the annual awards gala organised in San Jose, California, this past month.

Mr. Rehman said the Lifelines service was introduced as a digital inclusion initiative to give advice and guidance to remote and rural communities through the medium of voice in the local dialect. Lifelines at present reaches out to rural communities in over 4,600 villages across the country with information in the agriculture and education sectors.

The service was first launched in the field of agriculture in September 2006 in 2,066 villages across 25 districts in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. After its tremendous success, a phone-based academic support service for teachers was launched on a pilot basis in Rajasthan and West Bengal.

Mr. Rehman pointed out that the project had been implemented in Rajasthan with the partnership of UNICEF and the State Government, while the Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Quest Alliance and USAID had extended their support in West Bengal.

Rajasthan Education Commissioner Shubhra Singh and UNICEF education specialist Sulgana Roy accompanied Mr. Rehman during his visit to Udaipur to review the functioning of Lifelines.

The projects selected by the Tech Museum of Innovation address multiple humanitarian efforts, including narrowing the digital divide, expanding renewable energy, improving multilingual education and empowering women in developing countries.