Using ICT [information and communication technologies] to build Social Capital. The Vidiyal Experience.
Vidiyal works with women in four villages of the Theni district of Tamil Nadu, under the self-help group [SHG] model helping them in, among other things, procuring loans for various income-generation activities. But when, in 2008, 300 women applied for a loan of 43,500 rupees to buy 10 female goats and one male goat to augment their incomes, they also added a rather unusual component to their loan amount: the cost of a mobile phone and a SIM card. Here's why.
Every day, each of the women who will sanction the loan for goat rearing must, in addition to looking after their goats, also wait for and listen to the five audio SMSs sent in. Delivered in Tamil, these audio SMSs give information about goat rearing. Next, they must get this information written out in these special notebooks given to them, so that each of the SMSs can be discussed in the next group meeting. The idea is to make sure that the women have all the requisite information to take care of the goats. The best part of the SMSs is that they are recorded each day in Theni itself, using nothing but a regular mobile phone. Once recorded, the message is sent as an SMS to a central server in Delhi from where it is beamed to all those who have the special SIM card.
Village Knowledge Center
Vidiyal has also helped the women SHGs in setting up village knowledge centers, or VKCs, in four different villages. Equipped with a couple of computers, a printer, electricity, and an internet connection, these VKCs help the women earn some extra money. They also help children of the villages get acquainted with computer technology. Some of the VKCs also have this special touchscreen kiosk, which contains prerecorded information on different subjects, such as agriculture, health, and livestock, that can be accessed even by an illiterate person.
LAKSHMI [SHG Leader, Badralipuram]
We get crop-related information on fertilizers and other such things. We also get updated information on the prevailing prices in the market, which helps us decide on where to sell our crops.
The VKCs are now also being used by the women of the SHGs for weekly legal counseling sessions, through the free-to-use Skype software. Skype allows face-to-face interaction with the local, government-appointed lawyer, without the women having to leave their villages. Poor, uneducated women -- and yet completely at ease with technology. The Vidiyal experience has shown that, with the right training, and the right grassroots approach, ICT can be harnessed fruitfully to improve lives of the poorest of the poor.