Reaching the Unreached is abridged from a speech by MS Swaminathan, who recently won the Economic Times Corporate Award for Lifetime Achievement. He talks about ideas for bridging the digital divide based on the work his foundation has been doing:
Computer-aided and Internet-connected knowledge centres were started in rural Pondicherry in South India three years ago to work out a methodology for this purpose.
These are owned and controlled by the village people that use them and provide the information they demand. Since there is no telephone connection in some villages, both wired and wireless systems of communication were established.
And as electricity supplies are erratic, an integrated thermal and solar energy supply system has been used to ensure uninterrupted power to run the computers.
The knowledge centres are based on the principle of inclusiveness: All members of the rural population derive benefit from them, regardless of age, gender or social status. Invariably, the villagers chose four women to operate each centre, each spending about two or three hours a day there.
The knowledge centres have effectively empowered rural communities with information on the environment, health, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, meteorology, markets and prices.
Rural families give priority to information on health, livelihoods, weather and markets. Generic information is converted into information specific to each location, thus enhancing its practical relevance.