Significant proportion of the population in rural and remote areas in India lack access to information. Given that we live in an ever connected, evolving and fast paced world, quick, affordable and easy access to appropriate and high quality information is critical for development across sectors. Yet, we have failed to deliver this. For example, though farmers require information on weather, market access, price trends, cultivation techniques etc. to continuously improve the quality of their produce and earn a decent income, according to the NSSO this type of information was not accessible especially for small farmers. Another pertinent example of importance of appropriate and easy information is in the field of education. Research has proved that providing parents, especially in low income and slum communities with information on the importance of education and children’s performance does have positive impact on children’s learning outcomes. However, there has been little effort in investing in such information linkages.
It is also important to look at not just whether information is accessible but also if it is made available in the appropriate form using relevant medium. The widening digital divide in India implies that internet, which in other countries is the most powerful source of information, may not be the most effective platform in India.
One social enterprise that aims to change the status quo is Awaaz De.
Set up in 2010, Awaaz De looks to engage remote and hard-to-reach communities by leveraging the power of spoken voice through simple mobile phones. They aim to provide voice-based applications and tools for disconnected people to access and share information across a range of issues such as agricultural advice, health information, banking services, marketing etc. Using voice technology ensures that the content delivered can be through local languages and makes the transfer far more effective especially in less literate, rural communities. By using mobile phones as the medium to deliver information, they are also able to reap the benefits of the ‘mobile revolution’ that India has experienced in recent years.
Awaaz De has a number of products that helps to galvanize local communities such as:
- Streams: this is a voice message based application that allows an individual owner to create groups, add followers and send recorded voice messages via regular phone call. The broadcasts are interactive wherein group members receiving the phone call voice message can send a response (voice or touchtone).
- Forum: This is a many-to-many voice based discussion application where groups of people can interact.
- Voice survey- This is an application where an individual or a group can create a survey online and participants can respond to the series of audio questions with touchtone and/or voice.
- Xapt- This is an application that enables organizations to send personalized messages to different individuals such as a hospital sending reminders to patients to take their prescribed medication at a particular time.
Appropriate and localized content development is key to ensure successful deployment of Awaaz De’s products. The primary responsibility for content lies with the client organization, though Awaaz De has built capacity to develop content.
Awaaz De’s business model is flexible and cost effective as there is no fixed charge to joining the platform and users are charged based on the actual airtime. Considering that a majority of the users may belong to low-income groups, organizations broadcasting the message can subsidize the cost to the end users.
Awaaz De has collaborated with a number of companies across industries. For example, it provided services to Logistimo, a logistics company to send relevant information to various groups engaged in the supply chain, with Education Initiatives to provide information on education outcomes to parents whose children were studying at their centres, and with Gali Gali Sim Sim, a television show tied to Sesame Workshop, to provide personalized trainings on pre-primary education to Aanganwadis.
Its most notable CSR partnership has been with Ambuja Cement Foundation, the CSR arm of Ambuja Cement, one of India’s largest cement producing companies. The Foundation used the Awaaz De platform to run ‘Krishi Mobile’ in the rural block of Kodinar in Gujarat. The CSR program leveraged existing government initiative, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, that provided adequate support and information to farmers in the rural blocks and aimed to close the gap between the research done in labs and the actual practice on the ground. Using Krishi Mobile, agricultural experts were able to send information on range of subjects- extension, animal husbandry and farming to their groups of farmers via a voice message. Farmers too were able to get customized advice from experts through Awaaz De’s platform.
Benefits of the partnership
To the corporate
Cost efficient CSR program
The Awaaz De platform is hugely beneficial to companies and their CSR programs as it enables them to reach a wide range of beneficiaries in remote areas without spending enormous amounts of time or resources in physical travel and field visits. Lower logistical overheads also translate into lower cost of delivery, making the program cost effective and efficient. In the words of Sunil Rana, Project Coordinator, ACF, “Through this program, we are able to reach more than 3000 farmers 3-4 times in a month… Krishi Mobile breached the manpower restrictions for our extension program.”
Building trust and relationships with rural communities
Using the Awaaz De platform to reach the farmers enables the corporate to build a strong relationship with communities living in its vicinity. This is an essential strategy to build goodwill, mitigate risks and work for community welfare especially for companies requiring local license to operate such as manufacturing and heavy engineering.
To the social enterprise
Collaboration with a mature CSR program
Partnering with an established and mature CSR Foundation provided Awaaz De with significant exposure to the different aspects of implementing a CSR program. This enabled them to get a deeper understanding of the space – needs, expectations and challenges of implementing CSR programs. These learnings equip the social enterprise with intelligence and sensitivities required to ensure bettwe success rate in proposing new CSR partnerships.
Encourages product innovation
Being responsive to corporate needs can lead to product adaptation and process innovation. In case of ACF, one of the initial struggles that Awaaz De faced when they launched the Krishi Mobile services was around the cost. However, on ACF’s insistence Awaaz De was able to innovate and model the product such that it had no overhead cost. Through their various collaborations, Awaaz De realized and responded to the need of making their products content friendly, thus boosting their applicability and deployment.
For the corporate
Scale up pilots
While the partnerships that Awaaz De has with companies have been successful, many of them have remained at the pilot stage. In order to bring about larger social impact it is imperative for corporates to have the willingness to scale up their successful projects. Supporting a social enterprise’s to scale projects also makes economic and operational sense for the enterprise as it has already invested in trying out the program and does not have to start afresh. Scaling up can stimulate further innovation and push social enterprises to think of newer ways to come up with cost –effective solutions to create large scale social impact.
For the social enterprise
Evolve and innovate
Just as Awaaz De was flexible enough to adapt its product to optimise the information and content developed by corporate so should other social enterprises; they should prepared to constantly evolve products and services within the bounds of their primary offering. Social enterprises need to ensure that they understand both the diversified needs of each corporate and the varied needs that different types of corporate would have. The ease of partnering with corporate will also increase once their products and services are relevant and responsive to the corporate.
Awaaz De’s partnership with Ambuja Cements Foundation is a great example of how two entities with complementary resources can collaborate with each other to create social impact. ACF had the resources and content to support the farmers in their work but did not have an effective medium to channel all of this valuable information. Awaaz De’s easy to use mobile phone voice platform proved to be the right channel since the product was easy enough to use and could allow for factors such as local language and cost. The partnership also highlights the importance of flexibility in such a collaboration to allow for constant evaluation and improvement.
- Photo Credit : Huffington post (here)