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The Digital Bridge - a bridge of hope and light

india Updated: Nov 18, 2007 03:36 IST

This morning Taiwan announced measures to bridge the digital divide. According to reports the Taiwan Ministry of Education will pledge US$3.7 million to purchase 8,000 computers for first through third graders from lower-income families in an effort to bridge the nation's digital divide and the families will also receive free Internet access for one year under the plan. What is interesting is that 67% of the populations are internet users while more than 75% household have direct internet access. India too doesn't fare badly in terms of nos. as far as IT is concerned. Our broadband population will reach 20 million in the next 3 years. With cost of hardware going down our computer population is also increasing. However amidst this entire boom lies a huge gap between the have and have-nots, which is perhaps worrying. The glass is always half full and on the optimistic side the digital era can actually bridge the divide in ways like no other in history.


The Digital Bridge in Action
While government sits on huge public funds for education (remember the 2% education cess we pay additional to tax) and is hopefully making plans to educate our youth, it is corporate India that is doing a commendable job in bridging the digital divide. Tech giants like Microsoft, Intel, AMD amongst others have been doing commendable work in bridging the digital divide and perhaps the hope for a brighter future lies there. A case in point is tech giant Microsoft's Project Jyoti.


Project Jyoti - A beam of hope and light
If each of us decides to serve the society in a way each of us can perhaps the world would be a happier place to live in. Microsoft's Project Jyoti is perhaps a good example of private-public partnership where using information & communication technologies an organization has made an impact in rural India and in places where it matters. A simple solution that has effectively worked for making lives more empowered and bridging the digital divide.

A simple and effective solution
Working with NGOs exposes you to different shades of life and it's perhaps being with the have-nots that you learn some of the best lessons in life. My friends Feroz, Kranti, Shelly, Manish and Surendra at Prayaas, an NGO, today lead empowered and dignified lives thanks to some very basic computer technology skillset like word processing and others they picked up. Consider the example of Feroz, son of a carpenter earning between Rs.800 to Rs.1000. Some basic knowledge of word processing and this 21 year old now works in one of the largest cable TV companies earning Rs.5,000 a month. Says Feroz "My father was a carpenter without any regular job or income. In a good month he made around Rs.1000. I initially started working with him to supplement his income. Later I came know about Prayaas and joined them. There I picked up word processing skills and got a certificate from Microsoft. Today Rs.5000 and an office job means a lot for me." Feroz's story doesn't end here. Having tasted success and the power of IT Feroz wants to now study to be a programmer. Says he "I want to be a programmer and rise further in my career. I want to give my mother and father a good life."

The formula for making this work is rather simple
Private organization (Microsoft) + Public partnership (Prayaas) + Imparting skills (word processing) + accreditation (certificate) = Success story like Feroz's.

The ingredients of hope
That's the magic of information technology and combine that with a booming economy and with more companies working for a greater common good we can have almost have an equitable society. In a country like India perhaps the bridge between have and haven't-nots, the urban and rural will perhaps take aeons to build if at all considering the political leadership. Our only hope lies in bridging this divide through a digital bridge through a private-public partnership.

A Model of Hope
Private initiatives like Project Jyoti can be seen as a model in not just empowering marginalized communities but also building an IT workforce. According to Ms. Vikas Goswami, Lead - CSR, Microsoft India "It is imperative for us to maintain an unerring eye on the big picture and consistently strive to contribute to the development of communities that we operate in." She goes on to add "Our focus is on empowering individuals in rural communities with ICT skills training and helping them explore sustainable livelihood options."

The Last Word
In a digital economy the only way to bridge the gap is through the digital bridge. India's hope lies with IT and if more tech companies would come forward and contribute their bit for the society and help build this digital bridge we are truly headed towards an equitable society. I am optimistic. The glass is half full.

(Puneet Mehrotra writes on business and technology issues www.thebusinessedition.com Email him on puneet@tbe.in )