Digital transformation: how civil society organisations are improving social impact
Hosted by the Digital Empowerment Foundation, over 159 nominations across South Asia were received for the sixth annual eNGO Challenge Awards and Conference. Titled ‘Smart Solutions for Smart Communities,’ it featured innovative projects and initiatives by civil society organisations across seven sectors. See our earlier coverage of DEF’s Social Media Awards, Manthan Awards, and mBillionth Awards.
Winners and finalists were announced for NGOs in the following categories: governance, education, empowerment, entrepreneurship, environment, healthcare and heritage. The event also featured keynotes, panels and pitches on digital impact.
“India will be successful in innovation only when people take ownership of problems and become risk-takers,” said keynote speaker Harish Hande, co-founder of SELCO and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2011.
“We should not complain that there are problems and say that someone else should solve them. People should own the problems they see and experience,” he advised. Unfortunately, the Indian education system and social divides prevent people from seeing a bigger picture and collaborating across the board, he observed.
Drawing on his experience as an entrepreneur in solar energy products and services, he explained the importance of providing a “social ladder” for livelihood. Becoming credit-worthy by taking energy loans helps rural entrepreneurs take other loans as well to launch new ventures and livelihoods.
It is important to understand the constraints and aspirations of the needy, Harish urged. For example, paying Rs 10 a day for a service may be seen as affordable, but not Rs 300 a month in one instalment.
“India can become a superpower in solutions with socio-economic impact,” he urged, given the diverse range of geographies, communities and associated problems. But India should get over the obsession of just trying to prove it is better than Pakistan, he added.
Unfortunately, there are many pilots and projects that have not become sustainable or scalable, he lamented. “Learn from the graveyard of failures,” Harish advised aspiring social entrepreneurs. He also called for project funding not just for IITs but ITIs as well. Degrees are useless unless they lead to impact for the people, he said.
The rise of social media bodes well for social entrepreneurs, observed Osama Manzar, Founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation. “Tech advancements have heralded an era of digital entrepreneurship,” he said.
“Civil society groups and NGOs are represented by tech savvy individuals who have blurred the lines between a social worker and an innovator or entrepreneur,” he added. “Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding have facilitated unprecedented ease in voluntarism and fundraising,” Osama said.
“The Internet has truly turned our world into a global village, where human pain and struggle find expression and voice beyond territorial limitations,” he observed.
“Showcasing the achievements and growth of beneficiaries through digital platforms creates a level of transparency,” according to Sandhya Kapoor, Deputy Director, National Cooperative Union of India (NCUI). This transparency helps an organisation gain public trust and help find volunteers and funders for the projects.
The conference also shed light on lesser-known problems such as the digital divide with respect to elders and senior citizens. “In India, there are 106 million elderly citizens, of whom 98 percent do not use mobile phones or internet. We are starting to believe that discrimination on the basis of age is becoming a common practice in India and now also extends to the digital world,” observed Amita Joseph, Director, Business and Community Foundation (BCF).
Here are the civil society organisations which were declared Winners or were awarded Special Mentions and Chairperson’s Distinction at the eNGO Challenge 2020. The jurors for the awards were Meenakshi Gupta (Goonj), Shirin Kujur (ReNew Power), Amita Joseph (BCF), Suzanne Singh (Pratham Books), Monica Banerjee (NCUI), Amitabh Singhal (Telxess), Puja Marwaha (CRY), Rajesh Verma (former IT Secretary, Sikkim), Partha Pratim Rudra (Children International), Vaibhav Chauhan (Sahapedia), Otojit Kshetrimayum (VV Giri National Labour Institute), Anjali Godyal (S M Seghal Foundation), and Arjun Phillips (VANI).
Governance and livelihood
Citizens for Justice and Peace (Assam) launched an initiative called ‘Help us Help Assam’. It has already helped 10 lakh citizens fill in their NRC forms. Along with robust mapping and empowerment of local teams, it educates people on the ground, in addition to a toll-free helpline and media campaigns.
Association for Democratic Reforms aims to combat corruption and criminality in the political system, and create an environment of accountability amongst the country’s leadership. It provides reports on candidate backgrounds, earnings and expenditures. This has helped in increasing voter awareness, ensuring transparency, and strengthening democratic elements.
The Deepak Foundation aims to bridge the gap between government schemes and the intended beneficiaries. Its Adhikaar village development programme helps the underprivileged apply for government schemes, in a range of Indian languages as well as tribal languages (Khorba, Santali, Ho). Set up at Panchayat offices, the Adhikar card tracks all eligible beneficiaries and provides relevant analytics.
Education and learning
Bangladesh NGO Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) provides study materials for visually-impaired students. It has produced digital Braille books and multimedia publications for students of class I to X.
NEEDS (Network for Enterprises Enhancement and Development Support) provides live interactive classes for children in the age group of 10-14 years in Jharkhand. The portal is intended to improve the quality of education and reduce dropouts.
Elders for Elders Foundation targets the digital challenges facing older citizens, particularly those with low education and income. Digital centres have been set up Nagapattinam and Virudhunagar districts of Tamil Nadu to provide access to online tools like e-banking, along with capacity building courses.
ALIG Educational and Welfare Society aims to improve the educational quality for the underprivileged through ‘Adopt a School Program’ partnerships. Over 28 government schools have benefited through language training, environmental awareness and personality development of children via extra-curricular activities.
Founded in 1979, Deepalaya focues on education needs of poor women and children. It has a digital literacy project called TABLAB, specially designed for rural government schools. It provides tablet-based delivery of books, videos, games and practice assignments.
Moinee Foundation works on ‘Right to Quality Education’ at the grassroots, in rural and tribal areas. Its Project Utkarsh improves ICT labs in 1,5000 government schools, and Community eLibraries reaches remote schools and hostels.
Heritage and culture
Kalapuri is an online platform for Indian artisans to grow, nourish and create a vibrant identity. Customers around the world get access to a wide range of handicrafts. The initiative is a collaboration between Adhar Samajik Sanstha and Women’s Cottage, and aims to revive Indian handicrafts.
The Oral History Project by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP) is dedicated to cultural and historic preservation in Sindh and Punjab. It also builds and supports education programs, drawing on photographs and interviews. It supports a range of records, such as letters, newspapers, refugee cards, official correspondence, and passports.
The Purani Dilli Walo Ki Baatein initiative was launched in 2014 to preserve and promote the old culture of Delhi through local dialects, photo blogs, and articles. It aims to inspire and nurture the human spirit, and bring the attention of authorities and local residents to protect the culture and heritage of Shahjahanabad.
Routes 2 Roots, founded in 2004, promotes Indian art, culture and heritage to children and interested citizens. It has hosted over 150 international events, exhibitions and concerts. Its VIRSA project offers online classes to 20,000 schools in India. Course instructors and advisors include Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhat, Dr L. Subramaniam, Shafqat Amanat Ali, and Ehsaan Noorani.
Entrepreneurship and outreach
Tisser Artisan Trust aims to uplift the lives of Indian rural artisans by promoting unique and innovatively-designed handicrafts. It provides design and development assistance to rural artisans, helps in quality control, and provides marketing support by selling their products through a wholesale segment.
Bithoor Shakti Adhar has a vision of transforming lives of poor women and girls through artisanal livelihood and financial access. They make embroidery designs and fabric using digital tools, and learn entrepreneurship skills from EDP experts. The crafts communities make garments, accessories, wall hangings, and bags. Self-help groups meet to assist with emergency expenses and enterprise development. Partnerships have been forged with the likes of IndiaMart, RadiateLabs, Creative India, and HappyCulture.
Udyogini was established in 1992 to implement the Women’s Enterprise Management Training Outreach Program (WEMTOP), a project by the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank. It aspires to impact 100,000 producers directly by 2025, through business development services in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Healthcare and wellness
Launched in 1998, SHARP is an NGO that aims at providing preventive healthcare services for school children. India has the largest population of visually-challenged people in the world, numbering over 15 million. The Vision Rehabilitation Programme supports quality eye care interventions for corrective measures. This involves village mapping, home visits and hospital tie-ups.
The Alliance of Health Organisations (AHO) in Afghanistan is an independent alliance of national and international health NGOs. It promotes health rights for all Afghan citizens affected by conflict and war. It designs, delivers, and evaluates health financing systems through domestic resource mobilisation and advocacy strategies.
Deepshikha Samiti has been working at the grassroots level since 1994, in the field of justice, human rights, and health in Delhi. Activities include HIV counselling, multimedia health communication, and networks of outreach workers.
Enablement and Empowerment
The Digital Rights Foundation of Pakistan has created a pool of resources to help women netizens remain safe and secure online. The campaign Hamara Internet (Our Internet) encourages use of internet among women in Pakistan, with training in detection and protection from cyber harassment and online violence. A helpline was started in 2018 for providing legal aid and psychological help.
Nayi Disha Resource Centre is an NGO supporting the families of people with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD) such as autism, down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. Online platforms provide access to a knowledge hub, services directory, and caregiver communities. People with Intellectual and Development Disabilities (PwIDD) constitute a significant population of India (around 31 million), but have inadequate access to support and resources.
Child in Need Institute (CINI) works towards sustainable development in health, nutrition, education and protection of underprivileged children, adolescents and women in West Bengal. Its Gpower project offers digital tools for tracking challenges and corrective actions in education and livelihood.
Gaana Rewrite by Akshara Centre aims to flag and correct the use of derogatory words and themes against women, in popular film songs. In collaboration with One Billion Rising and Eksaath, it invites people to submit rewritten lyrics online. It has also organised workshops for youth in Mumbai.
Environment and sustainability
The NGO SEEDS provides flood alerts to rural populations via a citizen first responder network. Its Jal Praharis initiative in Patna helps build the capacity of the youth in flood-affected communities, so that they can disseminate alerts well in advance and lead the community towards safety.
Saahas is a non-profit organisation working in the field of waste management. It believes that when waste is managed at source, it becomes a resource. In a six-month period, nearly 29 tonnes of waste have been handled through its Kasa Kiosk initiative in Bengaluru. Multiple door-to-door awareness campaigns has brought about a change in people’s attitude on waste management.