A smartphone app to keep women safe, a virtual call to track implementation of mid-day meals — this year’s Nasscom awards demonstrate that technology can be used to tackle social and environmental issues
“I would be travelling for work in the evening hours and my mother would constantly call me, asking where have I reached, and if I was doing fine,” says Richa Yadav, 25, who works with Microsoft in Hyderabad. What she points out is the predicament of millions of young working women across India. But none would have thought the way she did. “It set me thinking that there should be some mechanism wherein my parents are automatically informed of my location, and in case of an emergency, they should get an alarm too,” Yadav says. This thought became the basis for Stipator, a smartphone app that she, along with three of her colleagues, have come up with.
“The free-to-download smartphone app posts the user’s location details regularly on social networks, visible to only those whom she wants. The app also has an SOS feature, allowing a call, an SMS and an email with a single click, to a preconfigured phone number and email address,” adds Ratnesh Desai, her partner in the project. Aptly so, “stipator” means “bodyguard” in Latin.
In an announcement made on Tuesday, Nasscom Foundation has declared Stipator as the winner for Nasscom Social Innovation Honours (NSIH) 2013, in the “Social Innovation by Individual/ Group” category.
Across the board, the list of winners illustrates that not only individuals and organisations, even government agencies have now woken up to the use of technology in keeping up with various social development schemes. One of the biggest such schemes in India is the mid-day meal scheme, feeding millions of children everyday. In Uttar Pradesh alone, the mid-day meal scheme serves no less than 1.3 crore children on a daily basis. And ensuring that all these children get their meals would be a mega project in itself. This year’s UNICEF Special Recognition awardee at NSIH is none other than the Mid-Day Meal Authority (MMA) of the UP government.
Sudhanshu Tripathi, Finance Controller, MMA, UP, puts it thus: “For such programmes, the implementation is done by the gram panchayats. If we were collecting data manually, for it to reach from the grassroots level (school) to the apex level of authority (MMA) would take a month. What’s the point of ascertaining whether a child got to eat a month ago?” So, they devised a method wherein a virtual call would be placed to the school teachers after lunchtime everyday, and all that he or she has to do is to key in the number of students fed on that particular day. So, through these calls made to 1.5 lakh schools in the state, they are able to collect real-time data on an everyday basis.
Tripathi explains, “Since teachers have no involvement in the implementation of the scheme, talking to them entails independent verification of the work being done by the gram panchayats. Also, teachers don’t mind being part of the project since the technology doesn’t entail any expenses or special effort on their part. It’s a win-win situation since all it costs the state is Rs 1.2 per data figure, to be paid to the vendor.” Tripathi claims the non-implementation has drastically come down from 25 per cent in 2010 (before the technology was devised) to 5 per cent presently.
Rita Soni, CEO of NASSCOM Foundation, says, “The awards demonstrate that technology can be used to tackle many social and environmental issues in India. Comparing this year’s nominations to the time we started the awards, the number of applicants has increased manifold. Not only that, the variety of players who are out there to help, the variety of fields that now use technology, has also multiplied. The 500-plus applications that we got point to the mainstreaming of technology in India.”
But how is the recognition going to help these innovators? Soni says the winners will be awarded during the NLIF (Nasscom Foundation’s Indian Leadership Forum), which will take place in Mumbai later this month, and is considered the biggest event in the IT sector. “They will get to present their concepts to the who’s who of IT world. This is naturally going to help them take their innovations to the next level,” she points out.
The winners understand this. Most of them are enthused by the award not only because it’s an award per se, but also because it will give them a “certification” that their technology actually works for the greater social good.
For instance, 23-year-old Devesh Kumar from Birla Institute of Technology-Mesra, who is the winner in the “Student Concept of the Year” category, along with his three friends, for developing a diagnostic tool for dyslexic students, says, “We want The D Labs to be available to all parents and institutions who have to deal with children with learning disabilities. Once it gets recognition, it can be very handy with identifying dyslexic kids early in their lives, and also developing programmes to aid their learning.” At the moment, the gadget is being used by a few NGOs and some families at an annual subscription of Rs 8,000.
Desai says, “At the moment, Stipator can only be used by those girls who own a smartphone. But our ultimate aim is to develop a lipstick-sized gadget, costing no more than Rs 4,000, which will be in the purse of every woman who travels late at night so that cases like the horrible Delhi gangrape could be averted.”