The number of mobile phones in urban areas has reached near saturation. The rural counterparts though lag reasonably behind. However, the fact that around 30% of the wireless subscriber base of most operators reside in rural areas points to a welcoming trend. If penetration of rural telephony can further be improved, considerable socio-economic benefits will be reaped.
One such attempt to tap the opportunity in rural India and use mobile services as an extension of developmental efforts is the Gaon Ki Awaaz or Village Voice rural news bulletin. Launched in December 2009 by the International Media Institute of India, Noida, it uses the mobile phone as a broadcast tool.
Gaon Ki Awaaz is about empowering the rural masses through information dissemination. News alerts are transmitted twice a day to villagers living in and around the Rampur-Mathura village of Uttar Pradesh, located 76 Km from Lucknow as voice messages, on their phones. What started with only 25 villagers, reached a base of 250 in the first six months.
The initiative is a founding of Sunil Saxena, the Dean of the International Media Institute of India, and Satyendra Pratap, a former journalist from Rampur. Discussing his beginnings and the journey so far, Mr Saxena explains, “I stated working with mobile phones back in 2001. I had also previously worked with a newspaper house, as a print journalist. We had experimented with sms news alerts in the urban areas but when mobile phone penetration started in rural India, more and more villages had mobile phone access, hence I started looking at the possibility of carrying information about them, by them and in their language. Indian media is largely urban centric. While there is an explosion of information in the urban setting, rural areas mostly remain an information silence zone. The tremendous scope of information in improving rural lifestyles and educating villagers about government schemes for their benefits motivated us to start Gaon Ki Awaaz. Voice mail works best for communities that cannot read newspapers because they are illiterate or watch news on TV because of lack of electricity”
Apart from information sharing, the services are also used for rural advertising, complaints against social abuses, human rights issues, etc. The two local reporters who generate the news bulletins are Divyakar Pratap Singh, who teaches at the Rani Saraswati Shishu Mandir located in the village, and Priya Gupta, who studies in the same school. The local filter for the audio bulletins is Satyendra Pratap, who grew up in the village and is now the village head. He scans the content for accuracy and usefulness before passing it to the news desk in Noida for onward transmission. In Noida, the recordings in MMS form are converted into Wav format. They have tied up with Netxcell Ltd, an IT company in Hyderabad that uses Mobile Internet Platform (MIP) to broadcast these as voice calls.
The project empowers villagers at every level because news is generated for them by themselves. What’s more! Broadcasting is also in their own language Avadhi. Initially launched as a free service, subscribers are now charged a mere ten rupees per month for it.
The Gaon Ki Awaaz news service was conferred the mBillionth South Asia 2010 Award in the m-News and Journalism Category on July 23 for innovation in the field of mobile content that benefited the masses.
Mr. Saxena, details his plans for the future of the venture, “Two years ago I moved to Delhi as I wanted to develop a rural medium where mobile phones could be used. Now, we wish to scale up this social venture and take it to more villages, as a self-sustainable model. The first challenge is to raise initial funding. Currently we are supported by the Knight Foundation. For the model to be sustainable in future, to scale it up and reach millions of people, we will need growth capital. Another challenge is continuous information validation. We are very careful about it and will be having a responsible Editor for groups of villages.”
Watch the process at this video link.
It is highly recommended that you listen to the various news bulletins and campaigns directly! These are available at http://gaonkiawaaz.wordpress.com
In fact, check out how a villager released 5 launch ads on Gaon Ki Awaaz here!!