Next Billion Online

Durgha Ramji

 

Sparking India’s Internet Revolution

My single passion is nomadic travelling – I love the adventure of backpacking: London to Berlin in Europe, Cochin to Amritsar in India and Zagreb to Istanbul in the Balkans are journeys I’ll never forget. I believe you can learn something from everyone and so I am most content in a room full of new people from different parts of the world during international seminars. I truly believe in taking risks because they will lead you to wonderful people and places!

 

In a past life I must have taken the incarnation of a long distance migratory bird – a swallow or a falcon perhaps. The essence of this migratory existence is still within me! As my friends and family will tell you they often have to ask me “Where in the world are you?” The UK, France and the Palestinian Territories have all been designated home for various periods of time. Home for the past eight months has been Bangalore, India, where I have joined the Google – INK Ambassadors Network in a campaign to get the Next Billion Online in India.

On arrival in Bangalore, I was sitting in a rickshaw, trundling down 100 Feet Road, leaving the INKtalks office in Indiranagar, after meeting my eclectic team and speaking to the ever inspirational Lakshmi Pratury about her vision for the Next Billion Online project that I was truly excited about what laid ahead.

Since this moment all that has followed and continues to follow is adventure. The Next Billion Online project powered by the synergies between INKtalks and Google has been evolving from strength to strength.

A quick Google search will show that India has achieved a 10.2% internet penetration rate at 121 million users, out of a population of 1.21 billion. Compared to the mobile revolution which has seen mobile communication rise exponentially in the past 10 years, the Internet revolution is lagging far behind. However for so many of us the Internet has become so integrated into our work and personal lives that we cannot imagine life without it. Whether to skype family on the other side of the world, to share photos on Facebook or to access the wealth of information on absolutely everything at the touch of a button, the Internet has unarguably become a very powerful tool.

 

However access to the Internet is not the daily reality for millions of people in India.

 

This is why Google and INKtalks set up the Next Billion Online initiative to increase the reach of the Internet. Our experiments prove that connecting individuals and communities to the Internet enables access to information, increases household income and provides greater social freedom. The experiments we are designing demonstrate how the Internet can be used as a tool to make the lives of individuals and their communities more productive and prosperous. They follow the design thinking framework of

 

empathise  >  define  >  ideate  >  test  >  prototype

 

The experiments throw the team into the deep end of interacting with our target group. The only way to understanding their reality.

We gained a whole host of feedback and insights. Here are just a few:

  • In urban areas school children frequent cyber cafes to play online games and watch music videos on YouTube. They were not using the Internet for academic purposes.
  • Many people were unaware of Internet data plans available on their mobile phones or thought they would be too expensive.
  • In schools, computer labs were treated like temples, shoes must be removed and equipment should be handled with utmost care.
  • There is a lack of online content in local languages – to draw on the benefits of the Internet it seems you must know English.

 

Theses insights highlighted that the four key areas of awareness, availability, accessibility and affordability needed to be addressed before non-internet users in India get online.

 

To address awareness we designed the E-nabling Curriculum. The 10 hour curriculum addresses first time users who may have never used a computer. First we guide them through the basics of how to get online. Then they get tasks such as completing a Google search, creating an email account and using the Internet as a key communication tool. The curriculum includes an assessment rubric to track the progress of students.

Our video story project aims to generate local content in local languages and make it available on the INKtalks platform. We aim to collect inspiring stories of local people and showcase them. And so we as part of this project we are searching for unheard and untold stories of every day heroes.

Both projects aim to increase the demand of Internet accessibilty among Indian citizens. To ultimately raise their desire to get connected. Even with the might of Google – accessibility and infrastructure, which curbs the reach of the Internet, cannot be achieved without Indian citizens vociferously demanding it. We have often been asked why don’t you just install Internet, install the power lines, install the networks, provide free dongles … This might be something we could deliver for a single school or even a community we work with – but what about everyone else?

 

The only scalable solution to get people online pan India is to educate them on the power of the Internet as THE resource for education, business and entertainment.

Finally the answer to affordability lies in simple economics – as more people demand data on their phones and demand stationary Internet infrastructure – sure enough the Internet revolution will materialise (faster).

 

So if you are an entrepreneur, educationalist or individual with an interest to get the Next Billion Online in India, join us in our mission to design the blueprint which leverages the power of the Internet for a more prosperous India.



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