M4D in India: a snapshot

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According to India’s telecom regulator, TRAI, India has around 500 million active mobile users. A new study by Opera Software released recently found that 49% of Indians are Mobile Only Internet Users (see this infographic for details on their useage).

What is the relevance of mobile technologies for the development landscape, given that the World Bank has estimated that more than one-third of the world’s poor live in India? This post will provide a snapshot of the “m4d” situation in India, and point you to further resources should you want to find out more about the exciting potential of mobile for development.

ICTD efforts in India have been ongoing for quite some time.  In some cases, mobile applications are being created as standalone measures; in others, mobile projects act as an extension of already existing ICTD projects. The models range from government or NGO-sponsored, to CSR and for-profit ventures.

When thinking about mobile in India, the first caveats to mention arelanguage, illiteracy, and ICT experience. There are innumerable regional languages in India. Only 63 percent of the population is literate, not to mention the huge barriers to ICT access among the roughly 70  percent that live in India’s villages. One project that aims to address these challenges is theBrahmi phone, “the first phone designed for Indian languages.”


Here’s a brief overview of different ways mobile is being used in India’s development sector. New products are getting launched practically every day--if you know of any, kindly share in the comments below!

m-Health

  • India Institute of Public Health’s infectious disease surveillance system: mobile phones replace paper transmission from field workers to public authorities.
  • Dr. SMS, a Government of Kerala  project providing comprehensive information on health-related resources via SMS
  • Wellness World, just launched last week by Uninor and Handygo, is available on both IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and SMS platforms. It will provide daily information to Uninor's subscribers on health related issues.
  • mPedigree – Started in Ghana and available in India, it’s a platform to protect users from drug counterfeiting.
  • Sana -- Partnering with one of India's leading healthcare providers, Narayana Hrudayalaya, the platform will help to screen and manage chronic diseases in rural and semi-urban India.
  • The Healthphone is set to launch on June 1st, with health and nutrition content in  English and 15 Indian Languages. It is been based on research from UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNDP, UNAIDS, WFP and The World Bank.

It should be mentioned that the telemedicine industry is quite advanced in India; Apollo Hospitals was a pioneer in this regard. See this article by David Shafran for an excellent overview of additional mHealth projects.

m-Governance (complementing e-Governance)

  • Bharti Airtel was the first service provider to offer traffic automation as the world's largest BlackBerry-supported law enforcement network. It has also facilitated property tax collection for Chennai Corporation via BlackBerry.

m-Agriculture

  • mKrishi: a mobile-based service delivery platform by Tata Consultancy Services for farmers. It provides personalized advice specific to the subscribers' needs.
  • Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): Each day, SEWA sends agricultural workers SMS messages with commodity prices so they can determine when and where to get the best price for their produce. For more on #mwomen initiatives, see mwomen.org/deployments. ThanksTrina DasGupta for the head's up!
  • Life lines India: Initiated by OneWorld in collaboration with British Telecom and Cicso Systems, LifeLines today serves rural communities in 53 districts across 4 states of India with information services in Agriculture and Education. BT’s first Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme based on digital inclusion.

(This post serves as research for a guest post I'm preparing & is crossposted from my blog, Beckyblab.)