Digital Literacy – a great way to give back to Mother India!

Digital Literacy – a great way to give back to Mother India!

November 20, 2014 | Author: Ganesh Natarajan, CEO of Zensar Technologies and Chairman of the NASSCOM Foundation

A strong Prime Minister at the helm, a World Bank forecast for six percent plus economic growth in 2015 and a pervasive feeling that “acche din” or happy days are here again for India – for the diverse and well-meaning Indian diaspora, there could be no better opportunity to come to the party and choose avenues to provide support to the Indian renaissance!

 

For the average Joe (or Jaikishan or Janaki) seeking to contribute some time, effort and money to an Indian cause without having the concern that it could just disappear into the proverbial bottomless pit of good intentions and unfathomable outcomes, there is one program that is surely worth considering – the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) !

 

The announcement of “Digital India” and the actions that are being taken in various ministries to make this a reality makes this a high priority area that should have immediate appeal, particularly for those who are keen on the use of information technology in this country for social transformation. There are three key platforms on which the Digital India plan is expected to rest and these are accelerated e-Government projects, the creation of Smart cities and the NDLM. All these can succeed if there is adequate Public-Private partnership and both Corporate and Individual Social Responsibility funds put to good use to benefit the common man.

 

E-Governance in India has received attention in small or medium measure from successive Governments since the eighties, evolving from the computerization of Government departments to larger initiatives that focus on citizen centric transparent services that accelerate information and service flows through the value chain. The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was created by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) to integrate myriad initiatives around the country into a collective vision and envisages a massive country-wide digital infrastructure deployment supported by large scale digitization of records which can be accessed reliably over the internet. In 2006, 27 Mission Mode projects were announced and further enhanced in 2011 with the addition of projects in Health, Education, PDS and Posts. The setting up of State Data Centres, State Wide Area Networks, Service Delivery Gateways and the ambitious Common Service Centres (CSC) and the recently announced National Broadband Mission and deployment of fibre to connect every Panchayat in the country have created the capability to deploy applications rapidly in the creation of Digital India.

 

A lot will be expected from the National Broadband Mission to lay the digital infrastructure on which many of these national applications can be mounted. In the last couple of years, NASSCOM Foundation, the social initiatives arm of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) with its “Follow the Fibre” approach and the active partnership of technology majors Intel, Google and Microsoft has shown that country- wide digital literacy is possible. The target has been set – to make at least one member of each of India’s two hundred million families capable of accessing information through computers, smart phones and devices and use and disseminate that information for the larger good.

 

There are two key enablers that make the Digital Literacy Mission an achievable one. The Common Service Centres (CSCs) set up in over 100,000 locations by the Government may have reported only partial success, but enriching them with a curriculum and methodology to give every interested citizen the skills to access and disseminate information can be the first building block. With the planned doubling of the CSCs and the opportunity to layer on skills programs in a host of sectors where qualification packs are already being created in the framework outlined by the NSDC, the same digital infrastructure can also be used to impart job skills.

The second enabler is the availability of a few hundred crores from the CSR funds that will be made available as companies scramble to meet the “2% of profits” guideline embedded in the new Companies Act. Participating in a collaborative mission in both urban and rural parts of India and setting up independent NDLM Centres or enabling schools, libraries, post offices, CSCs or village panchayats to be digitally enabled is a charter that all IT companies would be well served in taking up as part of their CSR portfolio. With companies like Cognizant, Cyient, Zensar and others already lining up to contribute and NASSCOM Foundation playing the lead, there is a lot we can do to make Digital India happen !

 

Once Digital Literacy and Skills are established and the Government to Citizen Services are available everywhere, the notion of “smart cities” can really be brought to life. Participants in a smart city can include SME manufacturers , schools and colleges and micro-finance applications which can use the city’s central data centre with a host of cloud applications that enable easy connectivity for all product and service providers to all their customers can who can access information, applications and courses on a “pay per use” basis. Progressive Governments like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamilnadu have already started building plans for this and the entire nation can benefit if Digital India provides the glue to deliver value through technology that can transform the life and work of all the citizens of this vast country. This is a tryst with a digital destiny that awaits India!

 

How can the diaspora contribute? The simple way would be to contribute to the agenda through sums of money and time spent during India visits spent in specific city or village initiatives. If a more visible outcome is needed, a Digital Literacy Centre could be set up by NASSCOM Foundation in your city or town or village either in a greenfield site or by empowering a municipal school or public library with the infrastructure and courses needed to be an NDLM Centre. The pleasure of seeing transformation happen for an individual or community thanks to your contribution is one of the best rewards you can get for your support to NDLM. Come join the movement that will transform your country.

Ganesh can be reached at ganeshn@zensar.com