An article in DNA on NetCore’s Missed Call Solution for Anna Hazare’s Campaign

There was a front page article in DNA (July 1) on how missed calls have helped the Jan Lokpal Bill campaign of Anna Hazare:

Who said Anna missed his calling?

Over 76 lakh missed calls in support says he did not! No, Sir

Mayank Aggarwal Delhi

It started with one man’s call to support his fight against corruption. Three months later, the Anna Hazare led India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign has received the support of over 76 lakh people from across the country.

On April 5, when Hazare started his fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, organisers requested the public to give a missed call on 022-61550789 to register their support. “By June 28, we got over one crore missed calls of which 76.83 lakh were unique missed calls, all different numbers and no repetition,” said Kunal Dixit of Netcore Solutions Private Limited, who is handling this scheme for the IAC.

“This data clearly proves that Lokpal movement is not limited to just a few thousand people. The whole country is behind us,” said Arvind Kejriwal, RTI activist, IAC member and one of the civil society representatives in the Lokpal bill’s joint drafting committee.

According to data, the highest number of missed calls came from the 2G scam-embroiled Tamil Nadu (including Puducherry) region with 16.41 lakh calls followed by Maharashtra-Goa region (including Mumbai) with 15.15 lakh.
Missed calls came from as far as Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

A Delhi based auto-driver, Balwant Singh said, “I couldn’t go to Annaji’s fast but I certainly can give a missed call to express my support and encouragement. I regularly give a missed call on that number and also encourage my friends and relatives to follow me.”

Also see: Ajit Ranade’s column in Mumbai Mirror (July 2): “Missed Call: Great Indian trick”

…. A Mumbai based telecom technology company (Netcore) among others offers a service to telemarketers, where it can capture a missed call as a “vote” to be opted-in. That caller then gets registered as a willing recipient of the marketing calls and SMS.  It is much easier to “give” a missed call and register yourself.

The software can track unique numbers, their originating geography and many other details. You can also devise a mechanism to get “delisted” by another missed call. Easy! …

Blog Past: A Nation Adrift

From a post a year ago:

I cannot but help think that we in India don’t have a clue how to solve the big challenges that we face. Whether it is getting 500 million out of extreme poverty or dealing with Naxalism or handling our neighbours (Pakistan and China) or even something seemingly simple as dealing with errant Ministers at the Centre, the belief seems to be that problems will solve themselves if we left them alone.

At a time when India needs leadership of the highest order, we are getting silence and seeing weakness. At a time when India needs big vision and rapid execution, we are getting inaction and petty thinking.

It is because We, the People of Middle India, have seceded and created our own mini-worlds that we inhabit, unconcerned about what is happening around. Some day soon, we will realise that this is the biggest mistake made by one of the largest collectives in the world.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • The World is an Internet Startup Now: by John Battelle. “The Internet no longer belongs to the young tech genius with a great idea and the means to execute it online. Innovation on the Internet now belongs to the world, and that is perhaps the most exciting thing about this space.”
  • The State (Plight) of the Mobile Industry: by Bob Frankston. “We are asking providers to add capacity but we’re not willing to let them share in the value created (as with a VoIP call). Worse, the more capacity there is the less valuable the carriers’ own services are…We need to shift to a funding model that doesn’t work at cross purposes with the Internet’s generativity.”
  • Six Classic Business Books: from The Economist. Among the books mentioned is CK Prahalad’s “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, which “unleashed a business revolution that has done far more good than any number of “Live Aid” concerts.”
  • State of India’s Political Parties: India Today writes about the “Decline & Stall of the Congress Empire” and the New Indian Express writes about a BJP which is “Divided and ruled out.”
  • Why Friends help strengthen a Marriage: from Wall Street Journal. “…Friends help you gather perspective on your relationship to your spouse: When you’re inside a marriage, it’s easy to focus on the points of friction and the minutiae of daily life…friends draw you toward life’s big picture.”

A Journey and a Conversation – Part 5

I asked the driver and the watchman about the government. They said the government made no difference to them. The MPs and MLAs only came to ask for votes and were never seen again. Both voted, and would flip their vote each time because they saw no progress.

Many of the 12-15 year-olds end up going to Mumbai, taken up typically by a family which wants a domestic help or someone to help at the shop. Employment opportunities locally are few and far between – there is no manufacturing happening. NREGA provides some employment once in a while, but it only ends up being at best a few days in a month.

For the most part, little has changed in the lives of this India. As a nation, we have failed them – by not being able to provide a decent education and by not providing adequate employment opportunities. The time has come for India’s politics of votebanks to be replaced by the politics of development. We need to get Zakirbhai and Radheshyam dreaming about a New India for their children.

A Journey and a Conversation – Part 4

While at Nageshwar, I had a conversation with the driver of the vehicle that brought us from Vikramgarh Alot and the watchman of the dharamshala. It brought out the reality of India that we have to work hard on improving.

They were both in their mid-30s. Both had been born in the neighbourhood. Their salaries were in the range of Rs 2,500-3,000 per month. One could not even write his name, while the other had studied till the 5th standard. They were both married. Their kids went to private school, because the government school teachers would not show up most of the time. Complaining would not help much since all that would happen is one set would get transferred and another similar one would replace them.

The only work available, other than the temple-related activities, was in farming. And that in turn was dependent on the rains, which had been deficient for the past couple of years. The villages around still had ‘kacchi basti’ and the roads were not tarred. Drinking water would get difficult if the rains were not good.

Continued tomorrow.

A Journey and a Conversation – Part 3

I wish they would add digital displays with GPS in the train compartments. They can then provide contextual information on the stations and the states one passes through. (Presumably, a mobile app could do the same thing.) A train ride can be very educational, and adding a bit of history, geography and economy can make us realise the true wonder that India is. Of course, one can read about it on the Net, but the train provides a context that sitting at a desk usually never does.

While we were waiting at Vikramgarh Alot for the train back to Mumbai, Abhishek was excitedly waiting for other trains to come. And as if on cue, a few trains did – during the hour that we spent at the station. (Our train was delayed by 30 minutes.) Trains are to me what daffodils were to Wordsworth! So, imagine the thrill in watching a train race past at high speed, quickly followed by a goods train going in the opposite direction. Then, a passenger train came by and plenty got off and on, followed by the Inter-city from Indore to Delhi, before our train finally arrived.

The only jarring part was with the synthetic announcements announcing the impending arrivals of the trains. The railways have learnt from the airports, and have ‘improvised’ to ensure that every announcement is repeated ad infinitum in English and Hindi n times over.

Continued tomorrow.

A Journey and a Conversation – Part 2

I have loved long train rides ever since I can remember. Business travel necessitates flights, so the joy of sitting in a train and letting the world go by has been all but forgotten. On a train ride like this, one isn’t worried about take-off queues, connecting flights and being late for meetings. And with Abhishek around, it was even more fun. The three-tier berths were just perfect for the 6 year-old to go up and down, and across.

Sleeping in the train on the upper berth can be easy or difficult with the rhythmic motion of the train. I have never had a problem sleeping. On the way back, I woke up at Ratlam. I last passed through Ratlam in the summer of 1986 en route to Delhi for the Himankan trip while I was in IIT. It was almost exactly 25 years ago.

I came out on the platform to see the hustle-bustle of a typical  junction that never seems to  run out of trains to service. I was pleasantly surprised to see the railway staff wearing “Clean Train” jackets get in and do a terrific job cleaning the toilets, removing the garbage, sweeping the floor, and wiping the windows.

Continued tomorrow.

A Journey and a Conversation – Part 1

I went to Nageshwar recently with Bhavana and Abhishek, and Bhavana’s parents. We spent the day at the Jain temple. Nageshwar is in Rajasthan, on its border of Madhya Pradesh. The nearest train station is Vikramgarh Alot, which is about 10 kms away. Nageshwar itself is primarily the temple complex and a small village. There isn’t much else to do in the neighbourhood. It is, as we would put it, in Bharat.

We took the Mumbai-Jaipur “superfast” express. The 734 kms distance is covered in just over 11 hours, giving an average of 65 kms an hour. That presumably is good enough to qualify for the ‘superfast’ tag. The train ride was excellent – very comfortable in the three-tier, AC sleeper compartment. Get in the train in the evening, and arrive at the destination the next morning.

We spent just about 12 hours in Nageshwar. There wasn’t much of a crowd the day we went, but it does attract hordes on weekends and purnima days. The dharamshalas are very well done, and quite comfortable for a short stay. The weather was as good as it gets – nice and cool, given that Nageshwar is about 450 metres above mean sea level. A light drizzle reminded one of the monsoon season.

Continued tomorrow.

Blog Past: India Needs to Think Big

From a post two years ago, written just after the UPA 2 government had been elected:

The verdict is in. A new United Progressive Alliance government is expected to take charge of India next month. With it comes the promise of a change for the better. The new government has the opportunity – and the challenge – to outline a bold vision for India, a vision that fires up the imagination of its people and the vitality of its entrepreneurs.

The new government has to credibly signal its commitment to addressing the major challenges facing India and enlist the support of the private sector in creating innovations for achieving goals that are big, visionary and bold. In the past, whenever allowed the freedom to do so, the Indian corporate sector has risen to the occasion and helped India’s development. It is time once again for the Indian government to present corporate India with a set of truly transformational challenges.

Here is a small set of inter-related broad areas where change is urgently needed and which, with proper government support, Indian entrepreneurs and corporations will eagerly participate in.

  • Education: India needs a radically different education system as the current one is dysfunctional and largely irrelevant in the modern context. In a world of rapid and accelerating change, the foundational skill is to learn how to learn. The education system has to produce life-long learners, which the current setup does not permit. Fortunately, a radical re-engineering is possible through the use of powerful tools presented by the revolution in information and communications technologies. To achieve this, institutional reform of the type that encourages private sector participation in education is necessary.
  • Energy: Any economic activity, like all processes in the universe, depends on energy. Today’s developed nations achieved their level of prosperity on cheap fossil fuels, an opportunity not available to India’s 1.2 billion people. Fortunately, India is large enough to be able to leapfrog the fossil fuel stage by investing in the development and use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The required investment cannot be raised without leadership which convincingly articulates the vision.
  • Urbanization: India’s economic future depends on India’s success at urbanizing its immense rural population. No economy has achieved even middle-income status without being mostly urban. What India needs is to make its agriculture more productive. The labor released from agriculture has to be provided training and opportunities in manufacturing and services sectors. It is important to distinguish between the development of rural areas and that of rural populations. The former is neither necessary nor sufficient for development; the latter is indispensable and can be achieved most effectively by urbanizing them. This challenge is the creation of new, livable cities that would lead the urbanization of the population needed for India’s transition to an industrialized economy.
  • Transportation: India is a large country with a large population. For the economy to prosper, people and goods have to be efficiently moved over large distances. India is approximately ten times as densely populated as the US. It therefore cannot afford the solution that works for the US for transporting people, namely, air travel. What India needs is a land-based system and more specifically a rail-based transportation system, both for goods and people. The technology exists for super-efficient, super-fast rail systems. India has to seriously invest in that and replace the century-old current railway system. Furthermore, within cities, India needs to have an efficient public transit system and not take the unsustainable, car-centered approach.
  • Digital Infrastructure: Although India has one of the world’s cheapest and extensive mobile networks for voice communications, its data networks are quite inadequate. India needs to make serious and large investments to upgrade its digital wireline and wireless networks to create a high-speed, ubiquitous envelope of data connectivity across the nation. This is what will spur the creation of the next-generation of entrepreneurial outfits creating world-leading applications and services for the domestic market.
  • Governance: India has to make judicious use of its financial capital. The problem is that the current leaky system does not allow the most effective and efficient use of those resources. What is needed is to leverage technology in better governance though citizen participation. Technology can enable citizen oversight of public spending and enforce accountability. Innovations such as smart national ID cards and eVoting can increase participation in democratic processes.

India has a limited window of opportunity for getting its policies right so it can participate successfully in a globally very competitive world. It missed many previous opportunities but cannot afford to miss this one. The time has come for government and corporate India to come together to Think Big and drive the disruptive innovations that India so urgently needs to move rapidly up the development ladder.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Who will pay for Mobile Data? Michael Mace “talks about the forecasted growth of wireless data, and why I think growth won’t continue the way most people are expecting.  That creates some big challenges for mobile data companies, but also some fantastic opportunities.” (via Anish)
  • Obama vs. ATMs: Why Technology Doesn’t Destroy Jobs: by Russell Boberts in Wall Street Journal.”Doing more with less is what economic growth is all about.”
  • The Angry Birds story: from Forbes. “It took Rovio nearly eight years and 51 tries to lay this golden egg.”
  • Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops: from Wired. “Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors. Action, information, reaction.”
  • Economist special report on China: “China’s continued economic success is under threat from a resurgence of the state and its resistance to further reform.”

State of the Nation – Part 5

An informed, united voting class is the only force that can change the course of India. It has the power to force the political parties to put up better candidates, and then send good people to Parliament. The hope is that these good people will stay good when they go to Delhi and make policies that are right. It doesn’t matter which party they belong to.

This is not an impossible situation to imagine. In fact, I cannot see any other. Given India’s political system, it will take decades for a new party to be created and attain any sort of power. And even then there is no guarantee that it will not surrender itself to special interests. Our best hope is to work within the current system and with the political parties we have. We need to change the basis of competition – with our votes.

This is the movement that India needs – one that uses the power of information and votes to transform India. This is what some of us need to start working towards. Tens who can mobilise hundreds can in a thousand days change the future of a billion.