Carrot shawl, foot shawl (Keep working, grow) is the motto. Empower people by giving them internet access and teaching them about digital tools and work. With these campuses, the DEF -Digital Empowerment Foundation- has been established and developed in India since 2002 with the aim of harmonizing and integrating communities far from urban, rural or remote areas.
The project was born out of the interest and social gap of Indian social entrepreneur Osama Mansar and to provide real opportunities through connectivity. This Global Leader, Writer, Writer and Lecturer is a Sevening Associate – UK Scholar for Leadership Demonstrators – and a member of various organizations that develop digital inclusive policies. He has been working for decades to alleviate poverty in India and revitalize neglected people through the most powerful tool of recent times, information. Mansar believes internet access as a balance.
Rather than connecting devices, the DEF’s concern is to create digital literacy and interactive communities, to co – operate with people to make full use of their civil rights. Mansar repeatedly asks in his speech: “In the growing years of the Internet, are we significantly connected or connected?”
One third of the world is offline
According to the latest figures from the United Nations, 2.9 billion people – more than a third of the world’s population – still do not have access to the Internet. This figure has become more relevant in times of epidemics, which demonstrated the vital importance of connectivity to work, study and, in many cases, access to basic services and exposed the digital segment. Even more: There have been few attempts to marginalize and disconnect people who have been mistaken for global access to the Internet and digital capabilities when implementing vaccination policies, online education or social welfare activities.
Africa and Asia are the two most marginalized continents in terms of connectivity and access to digital devices: in both regions, only 20 to 40% of the population can connect and know how to connect. Connection levels range from 70 to 90% in parts of North America, Europe and Latin America.
In particular, India today has a population of 1.3 billion and only about 481 million people are connected. It is worth noting that only 37% of its population has Internet access and the majority are concentrated in cities. In remote areas, this percentage is further reduced.
While the number of users on the Internet and the number of hours they spend online has not stopped growing, the most depressed parts of the planet are still lagging behind.
South Asia represents one-fifth of the world’s population and is one of the most economically developed regions in recent years. According to the World Bank’s forecast for 2022, it will be the fastest growing continent after the global pandemic. In the East Asia and Pacific region, growth is projected to increase from 7.7% to 5.3% this year. In South Asia, economic activity is projected to expand by 6.8%. But this resurgence is as powerful as being random, because it has accumulated in the big cities.
In rural areas where two-thirds of the region’s population lives, people do not see the benefits of such development. Although Asia-Pacific is a global telecommunications company, its real challenge is to bring technology to the grassroots and use it to improve the lives of millions of citizens in their own yet unconnected countries.
Arguments in favor of such access are no longer discussed: digitalisation drives social, economic and financial content; It allows educational training and health services; It facilitates training and vocational training and also enables basic functions such as remote civic practices or buying and selling of goods. In addition, Internet access allows for the design and promotion of social change because integration is a fundamental tool for training and citizen participation. Basically, it allows you to get one voice and get to know the voices of others. For this reason, no development can take place today without the Internet.
Add and connect
In 2002 the world was very different. The Internet became widespread in the West in the 1990s with the rise and popular use of the www (World Wide Web). What was the telecommunications landscape like in India? The Internet in the country is only about seven years old. There were only 13 million mobile subscriptions, and companies are struggling to increase this amount with better tariffs. There were only 82,500 broadband subscriptions in the country.
“Since the advent of the Internet, connectivity has gone from being an alternative and a desire to be a necessity. Today, two decades later, the vast majority of people living in India have no connection,” says Mansar. Welcome change: Globalization of Internet access in IndiaIn a conversation with documentary filmmaker Subhashish Panigrahi.
A lot has changed. Much of that change is thanks to DEF’s activism, which today focuses not only on bringing the Internet, but also on education, training and connecting people.
Born as a comprehensive organization of digital processes, DEF works to create equal and empowered communities through digital access to information, knowledge and contextual capacity. Its main focus is on making digital technology accessible to the masses through digital advancement in functional digital training, media literacy and agriculture, micro and nano industries, healthcare, education, livelihoods and entrepreneurship. For this work, Mansar is part of Asoka, which identifies and supports the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, learns from the patterns in their inventions and disseminates them worldwide.
The DEF work model has been showing positive results for many years and is based on a basic idea. Mansar says it: “The basic message is that we should not create an object for people, but that it should be created by people.” This explains why DEF’s mission in rural cities is to create community centers and public points connected to Internet access devices so that they serve as a bridge between basic services and integrated by entrepreneurs who can advise and guide. And the desire to undertake spread. This is because if people do not know how to use them on a daily basis or make them themselves, it is not enough to just bring in internet services. Therefore, the work model is sustainable and regenerated in the population in which it operates.
Therefore, the organization is actively involved in the digital empowerment of local communities through its 1,000 Community Information Resource Centers, which are being developed and expanded to assist in digital literacy processes that go through the villages. Today, more than 10,000 “digital foot soldiers” work in 24 states and 135 districts, working in rural, tribal, backward and inaccessible areas. The joint venture reaches more than 600 remote locations in India.
Human contact is no small feat in the introduction of this type of tool. Even more: it guarantees the success of the implementation. New technologies do not automatically change the status of neglected areas. They represent a new way of working and collaborating, so if the services that come as a solution are not provided in close collaboration with members of the community they will rarely respond to their needs and adapt to their environment and habits. And their beliefs. And, in the end, the changes are unacceptable no matter how positive they are.
Implementing this work model was the key to the regulatory change that has taken place in India in recent decades, which began to remove the licenses to be internet distributors. Today anyone can pay for the service and take the link and rent it. It streamlined and democratized its distribution. Another significant development was the enactment of the Right to Information Act in 2005, which was a major step in systematically recognizing the importance of this entry into promoting and enforcing the rights of the people.
Today India is mostly a mobile country. The vast majority of its population connects only with cell phones and the infiltration of this type of devices is nearly 500 million users. In recent years, the digitalization of essential services has grown more than the percentage of population connectivity.
Considering India is a leader in the South Asian region, there are elements that think it can create a qualitative leap in digital access to people. “It is possible by these numbers: India has 150 million radio navigation, 120 million TV subscribers, 50 million internet users and 500 million mobile users,” Mansar listed in a recent column for India. Improve the NGO. He also describes a promising future: “If they all come together and come up with a comprehensive plan to reach out to the citizens with the right services, India can move geometrically to lead the world in the 21st century”.
The improvements shown by a socio-technological project like DEF are not insignificant. The positive impact of connectivity and literacy is immense and equally relevant at all levels: digital access allows for the integration of multiple initiatives related to health, education and all livelihoods.
Democratizing access to information and technology in underprivileged areas is transforming local authorities and giving a voice to long-backward people. In short, it motivates them to be the heroes of their own lives.
This note is part of the solutions for the Latin America site, an alliance between INFOBAE and RED / ACCION.
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