In the South Asian region, India took the lead in the telecenter movement by piloting the MSSRF-IDRC Project of ‘Village Information Centers (VICs) in three villages near Pondicherry. It was the brainchild of Prof. MS Swaminathan. The experience gained from its implementation inspired the project team to use ‘social inclusion’, ‘reaching the unreached’ and ‘voicing the voiceless’ as the guiding principles for replicating this model in other regions. During the pilot, the implementers also realized that the information needs of the people vary in terms of: a) geographical area, b) gender, and c) social & physical disabilities, so they have to create a knowledge database that can cater to specific needs and demands of the community. They used the concept of ICTs in the broadest sense and experimented with a variety of ICT tools. The pilot basically followed a bottom up participatory approach with the proactive involvement of the community as a key stakeholder.
The success of the Pondicherry pilot project encouraged Prof. Swaminathan to upscale the initiative all over India. Synergisation of various ongoing public and private sector led individual telecenter projects was an intrinsic characteristic of its upscaling. Contrary to the pilot, the upscaling was primarily a top down initiative, with the stakeholders of different sectors of the society (some of whom were already experimenting with ICT based development and empowerment of the rural communities), arriving at an informal action plan through workshops, meetings and online discussions (facilitated through the dGroup platform) for its effective implementation.
These discussions led to the identification of 5Cs, which were considered essential for launching the telecenter movement in India. These are:
Content- Creation of a knowledge database that includes both traditional and modern information.
Capacity Building- Training the knowledge workers to create appropriate knowledge database; and run the telecenters effectively.
Connectivity- Leveraging ICT connectivity in Indian rural areas.
Coordination- Coordinating the setting up of telecenters in the villages through appropriate organizational structure.
Care & Management- Developing appropriate models of telecenters to suit local conditions; and striving to make them sustainable.
National Participatory Rural Appraisal (NPRA): Involvement of Community as a Key Stakeholder
To understand the preparedness of the grassroots communities for an ICT based development through Village Knowledge Centers (VKCs), a National Participatory Rural Appraisal (NPRA) was introduced at a later stage, during the Policy Makers’ Workshop held in July, 2005. Through the NPRA, the grassroots communities shared their experiences in ICT based development. It was an important exercise in understanding grassroots workers’ perception towards the use of ICT tools for rural development. Most of these workers were already conversant with the use of various ICTs and were using them to access and disseminate value added information to empower the rural communities.
In the context of Mission 2007, the PRA was organized to enable the grassroots workers to identify rural development needs; suggest solutions in this regard; and implement the project at the village level. It was the first of its kind effort, to involve the beneficiaries as stakeholders and provided them the opportunity to participate in the decision making process of M2007, which was, earlier, the onus of the policy makers and the task forces.
International Support Group (ISG) Launch:
Another important milestone achieved in the relatively short history of Mission 2007 was the launch of International Support Group (ISG) for Mission 2007 to promote the Indian telecenter movement among the international community, and seek their support, thereby consolidating its multi-stakeholder partnership at the international level.
Presently, Mission 2007 has evolved into the Grameen Gyan Abhiyan and is engagaed in taking the knowledge revolution into each of the 600,000 villages of India.