Tech edge to the rescue of social aid

Written by Debojyoti Ghosh | Updated: Jan 13 2014, 07:13am hrs
For the pre-school children at the anganwadi in Kadugondanahalli (KG Halli), a thickly populated lower-middle class neighbourhood in east Bangalore, the new year brought a reason to celebrate. The anganwadi, which was often referred to as a pigeon hole lacking basic amenities like sanitation, today boasts of a larger and cleaner classroom, proper toilet and a kitchen, thanks to the Karnataka learning partnership (KLP), a public platform for education which relies on new-age technologies to generate data.

Till recently, the dilapidated condition of the anganwadi remained ignored until the local MLA had access to research reports and precise data on the status of education and the severe-shortage of infrastructure in government schools and anganwadis in his constituency. The data in these reports, which triggered a social change, was compiled and analysed by KLP, a platform incubated at Bangalore-based not-for-profit Akshara Foundation that is among a crop of social impact organisations which are relying on big data analytics and multiple technologies including web based data analysis, visualisation platforms, mobile applications and interactive voice response systems.

Besides Akshara, that works in the education space, there are a host of not-for-profit institutions leveraging technologies in areas like civic issues, health, water and sanitation in the country. The India Water Portal, a website managed by Rohini Nilekanis Arghyam, a charitable trust, provides information and builds communities around water-related issues in the country. The portal serves as an archive of resources, working papers, reports, data, news and events on water. Nilekani currently runs Arghyam, which she has endowed with a R150 crore to fund initiatives in water and sanitation. Similarly, Janaagrahas IchangeMyCity is a locational online social-networking platform, that works for civic engagement in Bangalore. The online social networking site provides a platform for people to connect with their elected representatives and civic agencies.

The KLP framework is using big data analytics for its research reports that has impacted 250,000 children in Bangalore and covers close to 700,000 children in Karnataka. Over the next three years the platform aims to touch over 1 million children and reach out to over 2,000 elected representatives at multiple levels in the government and nearly 2,000 educators supporting public schools and pre-schools across the country.

Our goal is to create simple, intuitive and useful interfaces to data collection and data insight for the education ecosystem. All of our work is built on open-source technologies by a seven-person in-house technology team. We do, from time to time, outsource some work, such as design, to external experts, says Ashok Kamath, chairman, Akshara Foundation.

Based on the report generated by KLP, enrollment of students at the anganwadi in KG Halli has seen a sharp rise of 15 students in a month post the renovation recently. At present the anganwadi has 40 students in the age group of 3-6 years.

Bangalore-based Arghyam points out that it is leveraging big data by taking government data sets, scrubbing them and visualising them; especially on sanitation thereby impacting on data policy itself as to how should data be collected by government. We have invested in the data over the last three years and have managed about 300 data sets. Our data cover 80% of what is available. The challenge is the quality of the data, says Arghyam CEO Mala Subramaniam, adding that the infrastructure of data is limited and to make sense of it is lacking in the NGO sector right now.

For sanitation all the data is available on the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan at one place. We have spent a lot of time in understanding what are those tables, how those tables get documented and updated and put up visualisation of that data community, adds Subramaniam.

Last year venture capitalist and Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur Karl Mehta launched CodeForIndia, a global community of software professionals who develops tools to address issues related to education, water, health and sanitation. The venture which is currently focused on Indian issues has plans to take it globally.

Shridhar Venkat, executive director, with Akshaya Patra Foundation feels technologies like big data gives an access to people to analyse social change and its impact. It can have a real impact on social capital in terms of public policy, governance and

social science among others. KLP is a unique initiative and a great platform to bring in social change as it introduces transparency and accountability at all levels, he says.

Looking at the increasing need of latest technology in the not-for-profit sector, the IT-BPO trade body Nasscom also runs a training programme called ConnectIT that enables NGOs to learn and adopt various technology to enhance their network.

Kamath of Akshara Foundation points out that given a constraint on resources, data driven decision making can help target resources better and more efficiently. Crowdsourcing, for all its flaws, allows data collection on a scale that is not otherwise feasible. While care should be taken to ensure the quality of these responses, assuming one has a very large number of responses, one can create indexes of quality to verify such data being received via crowdsourcing,says Kamath.