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Empowering women through Mobile Vaani

Gram Vaani has entered into a strategic partnership with the Life Impacting Services business spinoff from OnMobile Global Ltd, to form OnionDev. Why this curious name? We feel this metaphor accurately captures what we have learned over the years. When putting technology to use for development, the technology is actually a very small part of the puzzle, but rather the problem is multi-layered and requires planning for user training, community dynamics to drive adoption, an understanding of what information resonates with the users, strategic stakeholder networking to advocate for systemic change, and other layers which are not at all easy to unpeel and model, and can literally bring tears to your eyes.

This learning has been behind the success of our platform, Mobile Vaani (MV), which works using IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems. MV uses the common “missed call” concept where users place a call to an MV phone number, and the server cuts the call and calls them back, thus making the system free of cost for the users. The MV IVR presents options to record voice messages they want to share, listen to messages left by others, comment on them, like and forward messages, take surveys, etc. A wide variety of topics are featured on MV, including job openings, agriculture advisory, social issues such as early marriage and domestic violence, health Q&A, governance and accountability, folk songs and poems, and local and national level advertisements.

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Mobile Vaani for Safe Motherhood

One of the greatest innovations in MV’s success has been our community mobilization model where we work with over 300 volunteers across the 25 districts of Mobile Vaani who publicize the platform and demonstrate its usage to the people. Without our volunteers, not only would Mobile Vaani have not been as popular, but it would not have seen the wide diversity of use-cases that were conceived by the volunteers based on their close understanding of the community needs. This same philosophy of embedding a media initiative into the community was followed to link Mobile Vaani with government departments and other institutions, to create an ecosystem that brings a high degree of social accountability and collective action. Hundreds of impact stories have been recorded on the platform on how the volunteers have facilitated the resolution of grievances, and how being able to create a dialogue among diverse stakeholder groups has ushered in stronger social norms.

One of the most exciting projects for us this year has been our partnership with Enable India. Enable India has created their own Namma Vaani channel to build a community of people with disabilities whom they help place in companies, to enable them to share their experiences, problems, and suggest solutions to each other. The channel has been a rave success, and all credit goes to the fantastic Enable India team on how effectively they created content and popularized the channel among the members.

Other innovative applications of our model include projects: with the Mahila Housing Sewa Trust for information messaging and discussions among low-income urban communities on the topic of sanitation; with one of our oldest and most innovative partners Breakthrough on gender sensitization of school children in Haryana and Jharkhand; with CREA and Tarshi on multiple iterations of Kahi Ankahi Baatein education-entertainment mobile channels for adolescents on sexual health and ownership; with the Population Foundation of India on the continued excitement around the Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon TV series; with The Hunger Project in AP to build a campaign channel for elected women representatives to reach out to other women in their communities; and with MAMTA to upskill ASHA workers in two districts of Rajasthan and UP on using our platform for more effective dissemination of healthier lifestyle practices.

We are also eagerly looking to launch a project with Gram Tarang on helping young girls from villages in Orissa who are trained in tailoring and other skills, to settle in the big metros where they relocate for work. This will help provide a fantastic dipstick to understand how the tremendous macroeconomic change that India is going through in terms of rural-urban migration and low-skilled livelihood opportunities in cities, actually translates into the day to day lives of people.

Aaditeshwar Seth
Co-founder, Gram Vaani Community Media and OnionDev Technologies

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