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The Information Village – Pondicherry
Institution: Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF)
the International Development Centre (IDRC)
Theme: Institution and HR Management
Implementation Date: Jan 01, 1998
Summary: The Information Village Project is an ICT- based rural development programme, implemented in the Union Territory of Pondicherry of south India in 1998, by the Chennai-based M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) with the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

In order to ensure that the Information Village concept would maintain a demand-driven perspective, MSSRF decided that telecentres (also called Knowledge Centres) should initially complement the functions of existing local networks of information exchange and then extend these in order to provide value-added information.

The Information Villages project has established a rural information network along a hub-and-spokes model. In each village there is a small, community-owned and operated Village Knowledge Centre, staffed by trained volunteers and equipped with several computers, printers, telephones and Internet access.

At the centre of the project is the project headquarters, Villainur, the value addition centre. Here, the hub of the wireless system was placed and dial-up Internet accounts were established. Using Villianur as the informational hub for the other telecentres reduced the costs of providing full Internet access to all the centres. Information needs are identified at each centre and transmitted to Villianur via e-mail across the wireless network.

The staff at Villianur then tracks down the required information and transmits it back to the centres by e-mail and e-mail attachments, sometimes in the form of digitized audio messages.

The project staff helped generate a number of locally relevant databases. Each centre contains data on:
  • Health-related information, a directory of hospitals and medical practitioners -grouped with specializations such as orthopedics, pediatrics;
  • Government schemes – a directory of government schemes available to rural families, a list of families below the poverty line and a directory of general and crop insurance schemes;
  • Agriculture – local prices (agricultural input or produce), grain prices in the Pondicherry region, input prices (quality seeds/fertilizers) in the Pondicherry region, etc. as well as information about integrated pest management in sugarcane crops;
  • Other information – cultural/public events in the locality, local transport/traffic details including timing.

This project has definitely been helpful in attaining human development directly, as well as indirectly through the channels of growth and productivity. 

The general living conditions of the local population have been improved.  Besides these tangible effects, there have also been effects on employment, educational level and ICT skills.

Market prices are greatly sought after by both farmers and landless labourers. Farmers can decide whether to sell to the regulated market or the local buyer and thereby maximize profits. The bargaining power of landless labourers (including women) has also increased, since they can gauge their employer’s profit and, in case of exploitation, demand an increase in wages. Information about access to quality seeds to farmers also enhances food security.

Gender inequalities are also being addressed by providing women with access to relevant information. For example, a group of women starting out as sub-contractors of incense sticks eventually used the telecentre to market their own brand of incense and thereby increased their income.

This project has also increased the volume, diversity and coverage of information flows in the area. It can be stated that in this case the innovative use of ICTs has led to increased democratization of information flows and has increased, to some extent, the real freedom that people can enjoy.

In addition, increased knowledge amongst the people has meant that they no longer have to resort to petty bribery in order to navigate through bureaucratic channels.

The tangible social benefits of the project are compelling to the Indian government to the point that the Department of Science and Technology wants to see the experiment replicated in most of the villages in Pondicherry and is covering the cost of connecting five more villages through wireless technology.

For detailed information on the impact of this project visit: http://www.mssrf.org/annualreport11/PA500.html#spa501

Source: http://www.beepknowledgesystem.org/
Project Home URL: http://www.idrc.ca/panasia/ev-11868-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

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