Sristi (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Innovations) is not a technology project per se. Rather, it is a a non-governmental organisation setup to strengthen the creativity of grassroots inventors, innovators and ecopreneurs engaged in conserving biodiversity and developing eco-friendly solutions to local problems. Wrote the Far Eastern Economic Review, which awarded Sristi a Gold Award for Innovation in 2000:
After seven years of working in 5,500 villages primarily in the Indian state of Gujarat, Sristi has found a wealth of what it calls “grassroots innovations.” Those discoveries are in turn catalogued in a database (current count: 10,000) and shared in a newsletter. Now Sristi is aiming to take the process a step further: One of its offshoots has begun patenting and investing in various creations on behalf of inventors. “There is only one thing in which poor people are rich and that is their knowledge,” says Sristi’s charismatic founder, Anil Gupta, a professor at the Indian Institute of Ahmedabad.
Finding ethical ways to share such local inventiveness and expertise was what first drove Gupta to start Sristi’s informal predecessor, the Honey Bee network, back in 1990. A scientist respected for his work in economics and ecology, Gupta nevertheless felt troubled. Nearly all of his studies were published in English, inaccessible to the people who had helped him to write them. By using their knowledge to further his research, Gupta wondered if he wasn’t impoverishing them in the process.
The eventual answer was Sristi, which not only seeks out innovation, but spreads it in six Indian languages as well as English and Spanish. Its quarterly newsletter, Honey Bee, is based on the philosophy that exchanging knowledge can benefit both the source and the community, just as a bee taking pollen from a flower in no way diminishes it.
A paper by Subba Rao discusses knowledge management in Indias rural community projects, and provides snapshots of select projects. The paper concludes that the community network centres can play a key role in meeting the socio-economic aspirations of rural communities by successfully addressing the 8Cs of success in the digital age: connectivity, content, community, commerce, capacity, culture, cooperation, and capital.
Publishing and publicity of the projects is very minimal. With no comparative study or linking across projects the lessons learned by one project are not transmitted to the others. Appropriate technologies are rarely evaluated and financial sustainability, scalability and cost recovery are seldom addressed.
Project plans frequently ignore the harsh realities and very few have substance for implementation.
Economically responsible projects are already proving more successful than charitable or free models. Projects that identify and cost the services they provide are also more successful.
Projects initiated following consulting at grass roots level is essential top down approaches do not work. An intimate understanding of the social and economic parameters of rural India gives connectivity providers a significant advantage.
Initial information requirements may change over a period of time and therefore periodic assessment must to be undertaken.
Content creation in local language is a prerequisite for project success. It is imperative to develop locally relevant content in the local language and to present it intelligibly as well as offering suitable and adequate training.
The scope of IT must be seen as reaching beyond that of just computers and the internet to include radio, TV, microchip technology etc. The use of automated butter fat assessment equipment as part of the Akashganga project is a classic example.
Egovernment is one of the most promising sectors for exploring the uses of ICT. It involves two distinct activities: the computerisation of government functions; and the provision of G2C and C2G connections through which citizens can obtain access to a variety of information.
Rural entrepreneurs and crafts persons are saving time, travel and effort. Greater benefits will be felt when wired micro-credit accounts come into use for online or distance transactions amongst or within village communities.
ICT projects have assisted rural communities by providing them with news, information, advice and knowledge that has hitherto been inaccessible to them. This information has allowed rural citizens/consumers to make more informed economic decisions: landless labourers have negotiated their daily wages more effectively; and tractors, threshers, old television sets, cattle and motorcycles have all been traded across towns and villages due to online advertisements.
Until the cost of basic IT devices which deliver the last mile of connectivity and local language software is lowered, the goal of wiring rural India will remain a dream.
Tomorrow: The Conundrum
TECH TALK Transforming Rural India+T