Entrepreneurs are investing in technology to help them achieve social development goals
Technology has been creating transformational waves of impact across India. The past decade has witnessed the most dramatic growth in the history of global computing and communications, and ict has improved the exchange of knowledge thereby strengthening and creating new social and economic networks. In India, the government has launched the Digital India scheme to harness the use of technology by creating digital infrastructure and increasing digital literacy. With the innovative solutions employed today, ict is playing a critical role in contributing to Sustainable Development Goals (sdgs) such as eradicating poverty, improving healthcare, environmental sustainability, promoting gender equality, etc.
There are a few focus areas which enable the scaling of technology innovations – gathering, securing and analysing data, developing open mis platforms for collective action and developing technology-based skill-training programmes to build capacities. There also needs to be stronger collaboration between multiple stakeholders involved such as the government, social enterprises, npos and corporates, to drive inclusive growth.
Through one of our initiatives, the nasscom Social Innovation Forum, we are constantly witnessing many rapidly evolving, potentially transformative technologies on the horizon, spanning information technologies, biological sciences, education, healthcare, energy, and other fields. While new technologies continue to surprise us with their vision and possibility, there is a great deal of excitement in the untapped potential of existing technologies to support, and in fact, direct social change.
One of the main facets of an inclusive society is equality of opportunity for all citizens – access to the same public resources and similar facilities. However, in the case of persons with disabilities, providing this equality is often difficult. Accessibility in general refers to the ability of people with disabilities (PwDs) to access products, services, environments, etc, to carry out their activities of daily living (adl).
India has been seeing innovations that can easily be marked as some of the best globally. From wearables to Braille readers, India has become a brimming bowl of innovation for products on making the lives of PwDs easier.
For example, the Blee Wearable for the hearing impaired tries to address a critical gap in the market by creating a wearable, easy-to-use and affordable device that notifies hearing impaired individuals of certain activities and sounds of which they need to be vigilant. The wearable notifies the user of prerecorded sound alerts using lights and vibrations. There is a unique set of vibrations for each sound alert. The device is connected to the user’s phone via Bluetooth and all the sounds are prerecorded and stored. The capability of the device increases as the repository of prerecorded sounds grows. The device can also be used independently as a smartphone application.
In the education space too, social innovations are no longer limited to simplistic tech-enabled solutions. A large number of social innovators have come forward to help create an education ecosystem that not only encourages learning, but also makes learning fun.
One such edtech solution – mGuru – provides engaging stories, activities, speaking and listening exercises, grammar activities, a comprehensive phonics and an early learner’s programme to help students from K-5 gain basic literacy and numeracy skills through immersive mobile games and activities. Another solution, Story Weaver, by Pratham Books, which is India’s first digital, open source repository of multilingual children’s stories, provides users with tools to help them read, translate, create, download, share and print content for free.
We are seeing similar breathtaking disruptive innovations across the other fields of skills, healthcare and the environment, among other areas. All over the world and in India too, more and more entrepreneurs are investing in technology to help them achieve social development goals. Increasing collaboration between ngos, the government and private sectors through their csr money or direct investment is proof that more trust is being put in technology as a platform to solve social problems.
In the last decade, we have seen interest as well as investments in areas such as education, primary healthcare services, accessibility and financial inclusion. Under the aegis of technology, projects in these areas have scaled up in growth and profitability, benefitting both social innovators as well as society at large. Many of these projects have scaled and found relevance across borders and are now becoming the norm for long term, large scale impact.
Over the next few years, we will see a paradigm shift; technology will add a significant dimension by utilising new tech like IoT, data sciences, blockchain etc, to further help with the achievement of sustainable development goals.