10 Reasons Why Project RISHI Stands Behind Modi’s Digital India

On Sunday September 27th, 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a Q&A with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the importance of getting the world, including rural India, online. They both characterized Facebook’s Internet.org and India’s Digital India initiatives as necessary and humanitarian opportunities — and we here at Project RISHI could not agree more. In fact, we summarized 10 straightforward reasons of how successful advancements in connecting the rural poor to the Internet are key to decreasing the current burden of poverty.

1. Empower Villagers with Information

It is a common saying that “Information Is Power”. Imagine the difference in lifestyle opportunities from being connected to the wealth of knowledge accessible on the Internet than from the current limitations and disadvantages from not being online and closed off to this empowering resource.

2. Improve Livelihood of Rural Farmers

An estimated 25% of India’s workforce comes from farmers. Imagine the implications if these farmers were able to take advantage of learning opportunities online on how to increase their yield or utilize new tools and innovations in farming. Furthermore, every farmer has a right to an equal and fair trade market — providing farmers, through their mobile phones, information on the best prices for their crops would improve the livelihoods and business opportunities for those in this critical workforce.

3. Upgrade Healthcare with Health Technology

Developed areas are starting to notice the significant gain from jumping onto the digital health and health technology train. There is no reason why underdeveloped regions cannot benefit from this as well. Specifically, electronic medical records, databases of nearby and affordable pharmaceuticals, or implementation of TeleMedicine in hard-to-reach rural areas could be made possible through a connected India. Overall, this will guaranteed result in better preventive care and significant successes in tackling India’s most pressing health disparities.

4. Broaden Access to a Free Quality Education

Children are the future livelihood of these rural communities but most that attend government schools receive a subpar education in comparison to those attending private schools or those located in urban areas. Connecting schools to the internet can make major strides in addressing this disparity — donated computers, left mostly untouched, could be used to provide self-directed learning modules in English, Math and Science despite the low number of physically available teachers. In fact, when inspiring entrepreneurs like Sal Khan of Khan Academy state that the entire world deserves access to a free education, there is no reason that this should exclude the motivated students in these isolated rural communities.

5. Guarantee Clean Water and Adequate Sanitation

The ‘internet of everything’ or Internet 3.0 phenomenon describes the oncoming landscape of connecting numerous household and day-to-day items to the internet — ex. light bulbs, air conditioners and even coffee machines. Now imagine the implications if the same sensor technology built around being connected to the internet could provide real-time information on when clean water will be provided to village homes or where exactly certain sewage pipes are broken and need repair. This would allow women from these rural households to avoid spending an entire day waiting for the water to appear and instead continue on with their other jobs for that day. Similarly, village leaders could immediately repair sewage systems to minimize the risk of waterborne diseases from an unnecessary presence of unsanitary conditions.

6. Increase Provision of Renewable Energy

Providing renewable energy in isolated, low-income communities require large-scale initial investments in hardware and then a constant supply of energy — from biofuels to sunlight. Whether it be through connected, sensor technology for solar panels or fair trade markets for biofuels, village entrepreneurs interested in earning a livelihood from selling renewable energy could be empowered to do so through use of the internet.

7. Empower Women a Step Further

Many of India’s celebrated Microfinance Institutions (MFI) strictly provide loans to individual women or women groups native to these low-income villages. Their thought process in doing is that they would both make better use of the loan and are more likely to pay it back. However, the current hurdle is constantly collecting these small weekly or monthly repayments from each individual or women’s group located in hard-to-reach areas. Imagine being able to address that and further scale these micro-lending opportunities through secure mobile banking. A connected digital infrastructure would provide women with the confidence that storing their money in an online bank, monitored through their mobile phones, is a secure and empowering process.

8. Cater Innovations to the Rural Poor

The constant onslaught of innovate products and tools produced by entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley in the last few decades can be largely attributed to increased Internet access — especially through mobile phones. With the same reasoning, imagine the number of game-changing innovations specifically catered for these rural communities if entrepreneurs within these villages knew that every villager also had access to the internet on their mobile devices. Most of the products and tools produced by Bay Area tech companies do not apply to rural communities; instead these villagers should have the opportunity to produce and use similar game-changing innovations catered to their own needs as well.

9. Give a Stronger Voice to Rural India

America’s implementation of the Free Speech Amendment has never been better displayed than through millions of citizens voicing their thoughts and concerns online. On the other hand, India’s wealthier and mostly urban communities speak for most of India by simply having the opportunity to go online. The representation of India’s voice can be significantly better represented if every citizen in India was also given the opportunity to share their stories, experiences and perspectives online.

10. Better Represent India’s Population

India as a whole has a lot to benefit from putting all its communities online. More accurate data can be collected to better represent the nation’s population, more citizens can contribute to and benefit from the nation’s growing economy and more initiatives can be taken to eradicate certain health disparities. Mahatma Gandhi once stated that “India lives in its villages.” If that is true, then it is crucial that they be proportionately represented online and Digital India may be a crucial step towards achieving that.

Author: Uday Gulati

Originally published at www.projectrishi.org.

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