IBM and Rural India Make a Connection, Literally.

23rd Apr 2008
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As a follow-up to previous posts relating to the role of mobile technology as an enabling factor in the development of rural India, IBM has recently launched a pilot project in south India that will allow rural communities to access information ranging from healthcare service providers to potential markets for finished goods through a toll-free number. Users will be able to access this information either through their own mobile, or through local “kiosks”:

Rural users can dial the toll-free number from a kiosk or their own handset to find out things like what precautions to take for some common diseases, where to find the nearest primary healthcare centre, which plumber or carpenter is available at what time and at what charges, what are the micro-finance options available and also learn some basic English or another language.

This project is part of the India Research Lab’s “Spoken Web” project, which includes 6 other projects in the area of voice-enabled mobile commerce. In terms of the logistics, the exact revenue model has not been disclosed, but the kiosks themselves will be established in partnership with local NGOs.

Although I am optimistic about initiatives of this nature, it is my hope that IBM, in partnership with local NGOs, work not only to enlighten rural communities on the concrete, locally relevant implications of this resource, but also provide insight into the connection between access to information/knowledge and power. If a community member does not feel empowered enough to effect profound change within their own lives through more concrete means, how can they see the tangible benefits of a voice enabled mobile service? There need to be more concrete, awareness/confidence building initiatives that accompany these technological innovations in order to bring about true behavioral change and boost self-confidence on both an individual and community level.

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