Nurturing tech innovations for social transformation

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March 30, 2015 12:14 AM

All these years, the segment which has been relatively most under-served is the segment comprising of persons with disabilities. It is heartening to witness social innovation now taking place to enhance the quality of life for people belonging to this segment and opening up a new world of opportunities for them

Over the years, with the reduction of technology costs, widening access, increasing rates of digital adoption in rural areas, the opportunities for social innovation are becoming immensely feasible in every sector. For a country like India, technology for good causes is indeed a great boon.

Problems and the needs of the underprivileged and disadvantaged sections of the society which were once assumed to be infeasible to be addressed due to constraints of investment and awareness, are now receiving the attention of social enterprises, technology innvoators, governments and corporates. As a result, the outcomes of social change are more impactful and are here to stay.

The powerful combination of tools, digital platforms and low cost devices are igniting new ideas and resulting into transformational solutions.

In particular, social media, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies are acting as major catalysts of change leading to cost effective scalable solutions in developmental context. Organisations such as Nasscom Foundation and Tech For Seva are playing a key role in nurturing the innovation ecosystem and bridging the gaps that exist in various sectors.

With the current government actively supporting entrepreneurship as part of employability options, for the youth as well as those who have the penchant for social enterprises have access to funds and support system to create path breaking solutions. With a vast population still living in rural areas who access limited medical facilities, suffer from malnutrition and virtually unaddressed child care needs, digital technologies are being looked upon as the saviour to link doctors to patients and for timely information dissemination in local languages through push and pull modes to enable citizens make informed decisions concerning health and well being.

ReMedDi is a fine example of bringing together commonly available technologies in an innovative framework for building an ecosystem for healthcare that is enabling villagers access quality consultation with the doctors at their doorstep for R60. Further, UID on the one hand and connectivity to the digital platform through low cost mobile devices on the other are helping policy planners and healthcare services providers to collect timely intelligent data collection and plan for developing targeted solutions.

The skills ministry is targeting to significantly enhance the current status of skill level in the country which stands at less than 5% of the workforce. With the goal to make 500 million youth to be provided with appropriate skills, the challenges  involved in using the traditional classroom approach and finding a massive pool of trainers can be overcome only through imaginative deployment of technology in tandem with face to face training. The virtual classroom network set up by Cisco and GTT in the state of Kerala and successfully training students of 34 ITIs in employability modules over the last three years and Zaya Learning Labs making learning fun and creating empowerment for teachers in low income schools and orphanges are proven models that have potential for scaling and making impact in the learning process.

All these years, the segment which has been relatively most under-served is the segment comprising of persons with disabilities. It is heartening to witness social innovation now taking place to enhance the quality of life for people belonging to this segment and opening up a new world of opportunities for them. An interesting innovation enables smart phones and the visually impaired to see eye-to-eye through an app called SimplEye which redesigns the interface of the smartphone and removes the clutter from the screen to present only one element at a time which is narrated by a voice. Once again this is an example of using known technologies and dramatically improving the user experience. The Braille interface has the potential to help millions of visually challenged individuals to get connected and have enhanced experience of the digital world with the help of this app which acts like a companion and not like a machine.

There are many examples of innovations that have transformed livelihoods using the advantages offered by connectivity, mobility and useful apps. Farmers getting real time access to prices at mandi to get best price for their produce is well known. Conceptwaves has developed an app that is used by the truck drivers as and when they receive signal and are able to transact with the farmers and send the data to the central unit thus enabling farmers to receive payments on the spot as compared to long delays for reconciliation.

India is a country that has unleashed its potential to create world class solutions be they related to Y2K or mission critical needs of large corporates. Now is the turn for unleashing the potential of the youth and the experienced alike to find innovative solutions for the country’s social problems and shoulder the responsibility for transformation. The need of the hour is to nurture and grow the ecosystem for social innovations and this is where corporates with large budgets for CSR mandated by the new law to set aside 2% of their profits can make a huge difference. Instead of restricting the approach to traditional avenues for their CSR spend, investments could be made towards social transformation through technology innovations have the potential to make a significant impact which is sustainable, measurable and scalable.

Apart from extending funding support, CSR heads of corporates are also in a position to leverage their networks within their organisations and in the industry to help expand the ecosystem rapidly and generate the necessary momentum to make technology work for social transformation.

The broadening scope for making the change the impact through the judicious combination of CSR spend and technology for good is powerful and CSR heads of corporates and NGOs are well poised to seize this unique opportunity to make a difference.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company

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