A couple of weeks ago, I came across Kentaro Toyama’s thought provoking article, “Can Technology End Poverty?” What Dr. Toyama put forward and beautifully concluded was that yes, technology is important for everyone, but the kind of impact it will have on development depends largely on digitally deprived people’s access to technology, the capability to use the technology and the motivation to use the technology for development, not just for pure and unadulterated entertainment.
Then, last week, I had the opportunity to attend the 7th Convention of Grameen Gyan Abhiyan, held at Guzdev Auditorium, Pherozeshah Mehta Bhavan and Research Centre, Department of Political Sciences, University of Mumbai, Vidyanagari, Kalina, Santacruz (East), Mumbai. The convention also raised similar concerns, that too in the light of the impending scenario of climate change, and also tried to answer the same. It was organised by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and its partners.
Addressing Poverty and Hunger through ICTs
The convention was divided into eight plenary sessions and panel discussions spread over a period of two days. The inaugural session took the participants through the journey of the National Alliance for Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre movement that metamorphosed into the Grameen Gyan Abhiyan. It also introduced the theme of the convention and reiterated the role of the ICTs in development in view of the changing climatic conditions across the world. According to Prof. Swaminathan, food, health and livelihood are the basic needs of the poor and technology can play a catalytic role in improving access to them.
The subsequent sessions discussed the role of ICTs in sustainable development, in improving the delivery of public goods, in eliminating hunger and poverty and ensuring the political will to end poverty and hunger from the world map. The panellists were of the view that ICTs are the tools for empowerment. They have the potential to cut across the barriers of gender, caste, class, region, religion, specifically in the Indian context. They also explored the role of mobile technology that appeared to be superior to computing in the area of service delivery to the poor and the marginalised. At the same time, they were of the opinion that technology alone cannot bring about development. It depends on the appropriate use of the technology. The panellists discussed an array of initiatives and technologies to support the main objective of the 7th convention.
The Way Forward
While the first day of the convention was a very long one culminating in networking dinner, the second day was relatively shorter. It discussed about addressing rural development issues through policy level implementation; and the role of research in development using the technology. It concluded with charting the way forward and recommendations. The highlight of the concluding session was an address by Shri Nitin Gadkari, National President, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
Introducing Shri Gadkari, Prof. Swaminathan mentioned that BJP is the only political party that has included his ‘Gyan Chaupal’ concept in its party manifesto and is committed towards realising it. Elaborating on the way GGA is addressing the challenges of capacity building; Prof. Swaminathan mentioned that there is a need to end the divorce between intellect and labour, a predominant feature of the Indian society, which consists of a huge number of unskilled labour.
In his speech, Shri Gadkari particularly emphasised that since energy is important to run any kind of technology, the use of alternative sources of energy, like solar power and energy generated through bio–mass is critical to spread ICT led development in the Indian rural areas. He also touched upon the issues of centralisation of power at the top when Indian policy-makers keep on reiterating the need for decentralisation. The need of the hour is minimum government interference and transparency.
Summary of the Deliberations
Dr. Basheerhamad Shadrach, Executive Director, Telecentre.org Foundation participated in the convention as a key panellist. He was also assigned the important task of summarising the two day long deliberations of the convention. According to him, the question to ponder over at this moment is – how India can emerge as knowledge led power. Describing the aim of the convention, he mentioned that the political will to end poverty and provide security in all aspects is present in India, but the main challenge lies in translating the political will into action. There is a problem related to the management and roll out of such initiatives. Therefore, we have to come up with alternative methods of project management with special focus on service delivery. It requires a new thinking on ICT for masses.
The convention concluded with an appreciation of the efforts put up by Mr. Senthil Kumaran, Director, IEC, MSSRF and his team, and the Mumbai University team, who worked relentlessly to make the convention the success that it was.