“While technology is important, it’s what we do with it that truly matters.”– Muhammad Yunus
Only about 20% of people in India have access to the internet. This means that a majority of the people lack access to information, unable to reap the benefits of connectivity that we take for granted. Can you imagine a world with no search engine to crawl a billion sources and present you the information you want or one without a social media platform where you can share your stories with your near ones? This is the reality for a majority of us. So, Gram Vaani started a community-driven media platform called Mobile Vaani to change this for good. Mobile Vaani is a mobile-based technology which operates without the internet. Impactpreneurs had a detailed talk with the co-founder of Gram Vaani, Vijay Sai about their innovation.
Genesis of Mobile Vaani
Gram Vaani spun off from IIT Delhi with the intent of creating a media platform for the rural areas. It was founded by Aaditeshwar Seth in 2009 who is also a Professor with the Computer Science department at the premier institute. Later on, Vijay Sai joined him after a strategic partnership with Life Impacting Services business of OnMobile Global Limited. Gram Vaani Team believed that technology alone cannot impact the lives of the rural people. Quality content and an ability to mobilize people from the community are also required. “Mobile Vaani is the core product offering of Gram Vaani which is a bottom-up community-based media platform. Our biggest deployment is in Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh where we have covered 18 districts,” Vijay said while explaining about the genesis of Mobile Vaani.
Why Mobile Vaani?
“The rural people are deprived of credible, timely and on-demand quality information which can impact their life. There is a lack of awareness about the concepts like financial inclusion, banking services etc in the rural areas. Various government schemes remain underutilized because the beneficiaries of such schemes are not aware of them. The penetration of radio, television, print is poor because of low digital literacy and accessibility. Besides, most of the media covers 20-30% of the population the so-called urban middle class, leaving out the majority which resides in rural India. As a result, their concerns and aspirations are often missing in the mainstream media,” explained Vijay while discussing the need of Mobile Vaani in the rural areas. Vijay gave an example of the district in Bihar called Jamui where Jamui Vaani covers local news like the victory of the Kabaddi Tournament by the District School of Jamui which was not covered by the media.
How Mobile Vaani operates?
Vijay described the three pillars of the functioning of Mobile Vaani. The first pillar is thetechnology. The mobile penetration in rural areas is pretty decent. Mobile Vaani provides a voice-based media platform where a person can give a missed call on Mobile Vaani’s number. Later, that person receives a call (which operates like a radio) from Mobile Vaani. There are different channel numbers for different kind of programs like health, education, campaigns (which are run by corporates as a part of CSR), local news and discussion forums. Such information is completely community-centric and helps people know about the views of their neighbours Each district is a unit and each district has its own Mobile Vaani number.
Various other features offered by Mobile Vaani are:
- It acts as a platform where people can share their experiences and grievances.
- A user can share any information provided by Mobile Vaani with any acquaintance by sharing the mobile number of that person with Mobile Vaani (for every action different digit is assigned, all a user has to do is to press the button as per the instruction provided).
- A user can also ask a query. Mobile Vaani then records the answer from an expert and reverts with an answer to the questioner. Through their intelligent IVR (Interactive Voice Response), a user can call on a number, record their query or listen to the recorded queries and their answer.
The second pillar of Mobile Vaani is content. The content of Mobile Vaani is created by the people who have worked at the grassroot level. The content is drafted in the local language so that everyone in the locality is able to consume it. “We create mobile episodes through which we try to convey a social message. We dramatize the episodes like by including a conversation between a mother and a daughter so that people can relate themselves to it,” Vijay said while explaining about how they engage the audience. To listen to some of the content generated by Gram Vaani, visit the link.
The third pillar is the volunteer network. “We identify 10-15 volunteers who belong to different communities of a district so that we can cover every community of a district. These volunteers are not the employees,” said Vijay. These selected volunteers are trained by the field manager. Then, these volunteers popularize Mobile Vaani in their respective community. Since, the information is availed by a person belonging to a community, hence, people easily connect and believe them.
The volunteers also share the grievances recorded by the users on the platform with the local authorities thus acting as citizen journalists “We analyse the functioning of the platform by the maximum number of calls received from a unit (district) and measuring the duration of each call,” explained Vijay.
Mobile Vaani during demonetization
“We had conducted discussion forums on demonetization and had captured the narratives of various people. These narratives were then forwarded to the local authorities,” said Vijay while explaining how Mobile Vaani played its role during demonetization.
Campaigns by Mobile Vaani
Campaigns by Mobile Vaani are run in collaboration with the partners. One such campaign which Vijay talked about was on early marriage which they had conducted in collaboration with Breakthrough in Jharkhand. This campaign garnered a lot of user engagement. During this campaign, the organisation came across different perspectives of the people. He also shared how a young girl thanked him for how her parents’ perspective had changed positively because of the campaign on early marriage. Oxfam successfully ran its campaign ‘Save Our Medicines Campaign’ wherein people from the districts of Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh participated in the discussion with the help of Mobile Vaani. They had received a total of 75k calls.
The organisation has acted as a catalyst to many other campaigns. To know more about them, visit the link.
Challenges faced by Mobile Vaani
“The initial challenge was to integrate two teams and tie them with a common mission. We are also striving to achieve sustainable advertising of our organization,” said Vijay. Currently, they are also developing a Mobile Vaani App and bringing it to the rural India is a challenge in itself.
Impact of Mobile Vaani
About two and a half million people are connected to Mobile Vaani accessing information on issues that are central to them, voicing their concerns and sharing their stories.Vijay mentioned about an incident of how a village headmaster was exposed of taking a bribe from students on the Mobile Vaani platform. The campaigns conducted on the societal issues attracts a large number of people Mobile Vaani also acts as a platform for the social enterprises to connect to the grassroots. . They have partnered with Enable India to provide a platform called Namma Vaani through which they are helping the disabled to get job opportunities.. “We are looking forward to work with more partners to provide a sustainable solution to the people,” said Vijay while talking about their future goal.
“Identify a sustainable solution to the societal issue which can have an impact on a larger scale. To work in the social sector you require perseverance, persistence and humility. Capital is a secondary element,” advised Vijay to the entrepreneurs working in the social sector.
Image Credit: Gram Vaani Team