Prior to this time, most high schools were private, spanning from modest one room buildings to large spaces with state of the art equipment. Of interest, although the private schools charged an average monthly fee in addition to the cost of uniforms, books, entrance and lab fees, 61% of its total student body came from poor backward castes, scheduled and tribal castes (KADA, 2003, p. 21). Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features between private and public schools is their language of instruction. While government high schools use Telugu as the medium of instruction with English taught as a subject, most private schools teach only in English.
Through fieldwork observations across government high schools in Kuppam (n =23), it was apparent that a large number of government schools did not have access to drinking water, libraries, desks and chairs, and enough classrooms for all the children (Table 1). To a large extent government schools did not have sufficient teachers. In interviews with the principals of these schools, 43% (n=23) stated the need for teachers as their most urgent need (Table 1). The government has adopted the ICT pathway to tackle some of these chronic maladies. Almost half the government high schools had been given computers with the other half promised delivery by end 2005. Televisions had been provided to some schools in addition to the computers. This was to enable children to watch educational programmes shown on TV and thereby circumvent temporarily the dearth of teachers. However, we discovered that many schools did not have power lines for the television which had been delivered to these schools almost two years ago. Meantime, these televisions had been locked away in school storage for the last two years. Power is perhaps the most critical factor in ICT access. A shift policy system had been implemented in Kuppam where every alternate week there was a power outage from 10 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Another issue seemed to be maintenance of computer equipment (Table 1). For example, at one of the schools, we noticed six computers sitting idly due to a fuse problem. Due to a reported lack of support, these computers had been unused for months. "We are willing to pay from our own pockets, just tell us where to go," said the computer teacher at this school.
Furthermore, with the average ratio of 10 pupils to 1 computer in the classroom, more focus was given to collaborative, group learning activities. As part of content provision, some educational software was provided to these schools as tools for learning. Some of the teachers were using these programmes to instruct children by translating its English based material into Telugu, thereby converting it into a teaching aid. However, this was dependant on the teachers grasp of English. When it came to children directly interacting with the software, some of the children did not seem to understand the material. When we watched the students in these schools demonstrate their knowledge of the computers, we noticed that they were comfortable handling the computers. When asked to show us their favorite programme on the computer, some of the children showed biology centered programme, programmes on the Agra fort, and the solar system. Yet, when they were questioned on these programmes to gauge their comprehension, we realized that they had not grasped the meaning of the content. They were still dependant on the teachers to translate this information to them.
Interestingly, in interviews with the principals on their vision for education, 75% reported that instilling moral values was at the heart of good schooling (Table 1). Overall, there seems to be a scarcity of appropriate educational software. What is needed is ICT content in local languages, that is more culturally sensitive and engaging to the local populace. This serves as a natural forum for the SLS folksongs product. However, the current status of power, lack of maintenance and limited computers, pose as formidable barriers to content access.
B. Mobile Van
At a school in Dasegownur, we asked the children about HP's i-community project. There was silence and blank stares. Soon someone timidly asked if we were referring to the mobile van. Over time, we realized that HP was better known across villages, among both children and adults as the mobile van. The mobile van was in actuality a large bus converted into a computer lab with laptops, printers, scanners, digital cameras, and speakers. There was a shelf of education and video game CDs. At the back of the van, there was a small compartment for soil testing. This equipment was supported by a solar generator attached to the van. In the evenings, the van doubled up as a movie theatre and showed government documentaries during the intermission. This was the most popular feature by far. Ironically, this was one of the few features that HP did not charge for. HP charged for services ranging from soil testing, requests for ration cards, crop prices to health information. They also charged for video games, and digital photographs. Interestingly, amongst these services, the most popular was the video games, followed by digital photography. In fact, the children primarily associated the mobile van with video games and the free evening movie. However, what was worrisome was that the staff under pressure to make a profit, were compelled to promote video games over educational games which were provided free of cost to the children by local non-profits. This exemplifies the challenge in balancing the dual mission of social empowerment and profit-making. In fact, this dual identity continued to create a conflict of interest amongst the HP staff when servicing their customers.
Another feature observed was the kind of clientele the van attracted. Boys were the primary consumers at the van. The girls on the other hand, stood as a group and continued to look on from a safe distance. None of the women in the villages came near the van, nor did they engage the team in conversation. It had been almost a year since HP started these trips to the villages. Yet, their ties to these communities were weak if any, else non-existent. Part of this could be explained by the fact that the HP van team was all male. To get more women on the HP team, women would have to sign up to work odd hours at remote villages with other men. This was not an ideal job for a woman with a family to support and a local reputation to maintain. Yet, with a flexibility of hours and partnering with Self Help Group (SHG) women , this gender inequity could have been mitigated.
Furthermore, in an effort to do community outreach, the team would split up to do house surveys, leaving two people to mind the van to serve the customers. A team of four young men went house to house, making enquiries among the local villagers, mainly women in the households, on their knowledge of HP services. A young man led the troop of trainees, following with notebooks in their hand and cameras round their neck. The idea was to build trust and bring awareness through an ongoing dialogue with the locals. However, in practice, it appeared to be more like an intimidating HP campaign group. Besides the gender aspect, there was a flaw in the choice of people employed for this grassroots work. The team comprised of recently graduated young men full of enthusiasm to work in an IT multinational company but little real experience in grassroots activism. To penetrate these villages, it was important to partner with local NGOs who had the appropriate combination of skills for outreach activities. In spite of these hurdles, the mobile van is an innovative means of disseminating the SLS folksongs product. Its audio can be played at the onset of its arrival at the villages on the loudspeakers instead of the cinema songs. Also, during the cinema movie, or in the place of it at times, the SLS folksongs DVD/CD can be shown with karaoke competitions built around it with the entire village there to participate. Parents could see their children perform before the villages, making them more engaged in their literacy and acculturation process. This could also serve as a communal glue and a means for genuine trust.
C. Community Information Centers (CIC)
OP markets will challenge the dominant logic of both MNCs and NGOs. MNCs will benefit from learning how to engage with NGOs and local community-based organizations to co-create new products, services and business. NGOs will benefit from partnerships with MNCs, through which they can leverage MNC know-how and systems to scale innovations broadly" (Prahalad 2004, p.32).
Community Information Centers (CICs) are internet information portals for the community which builds on the idea that access to critical information like health, employment opportunities, farm prices and the like provides for social and economic mobility. We met with the manager of an international non profit stationed in Kuppam and contracted by HP to oversee the CICs. We asked her about the challenges faced in setting up the CICs. She stated that even though they had been working on this for about five years, the first two years were primarily spent understanding the scope in Kuppam. Initially they started with 15 entrepreneurs. However, within a year, this number was reduced to 7. She believed that the high failure rate occurred for a variety of reasons, the prime one being the large loan given at the onset which made paying back much harder for these villagers. Also, she claimed that their search process for entrepreneurial people to oversee these CICs was flawed from the start; "We were lucky to have found a few needles in the haystack but we did realize down the line that we were perhaps looking in the wrong haystacks to start with." However, with the help of the local activists, they were able to understand and improve on their processes. When we spoke of the HP partnership, she said that if it weren't for HP, their non profit would probably have taken the simpler route of making the CICs into cybercafés without the community building component given their capacity. Now they had branched into training, follow-up support, packaging of loans, assessing needs, marketing and ownership rights. However, private-public partnerships (PPPs) had their problems too, she remarked; "Any kind of partnership is hard – its as if we are forced to marry... but in India, we are used to arranged marriages and after a while, we get used to it and may even start to appreciate it." Overall, the CICs can function as a useful conduit for disseminating the SLS folksongs product, especially if the CICs are stationed in schools. However, the reverting of the CICs to serve as just cybercafés is a real possibility once the funds dry up.
D. Computer Kiosks
"Research on interface is critical given the nature of the consumer population. The heterogeneity of the consumer base in terms of language, culture, skill level, and prior familiarity with the function or feature is a challenge to the innovative team" (Prahalad, 2004, p.43).
There was a computer kiosk outside the HP office where children, primarily boys would cluster daily to play car chase video games. There was no mediator between the children and the computer interface. It had a touch screen and a mouse attached to it. Unfortunately, the idea did not reach fruition in serving as a hub for information access to the diverse public. Even though HP designed a comprehensive, multi-language site on social concerns, particularly targeted to women, this information was rarely accessed through these kiosks. Part of this could be explained due to its location at the HP office and the fact that it was primarily adult content. However, these kiosks have potential if placed strategically. Given that users tend to be children, more child centered content is needed for maximizing usage. For example, it can function as a dissemination tool for the SLS folksongs content or it can serve as a jukebox of popular community folksongs and thereby reach a more diverse public. These kiosks could allow for participation even amongst primary school children given that the current computerization efforts are targeted solely towards high schools. By stationing kiosks as entertainment portals in restaurants, coffee stands, train stations, and other populated areas, it could produce higher participation and buy-in that would reinforce parallel ICT and education efforts amongst other non profits, nationally and internationally. If embracing the revenue based model, it could charge a nominal fee, buying entertainment by the hour or half hourly. Instead of reinventing the wheel, these kiosks could share cyber space and costs with several different agencies, international and national that already have kiosks or content in place for medical information, health, agriculture and the like. This could function as a one-stop shop for the new ICT consumer. In essence, it can function as a 'carrot' for other social, cultural and economic applications.
E. Televisions: Public & Private
"Innovation must reach the consumer. Both the highly dispersed rural market and a highly dense urban market at the BOP represent an opportunity to be innovative in methods of distribution. Designing methods for accessing the poor at low cost is critical"(Prahalad, 2004, p. 27).
Nearly 500 million people in India have access to television. Hence this medium has been looked at seriously to scale social and cultural programmes across boundaries (UNESCO, 2003). A surprising discovery was the spread of cable amongst even the most remote villages in Kuppam. The reason cable had spread so quickly within these few years was partly due to the cost difference. The antennae for the televisions that allowed access to the Saptagiri national channel cost around Rs. 1000 ($20) as a one time installation which was a small fortune for the villagers. However, if they paid Rs.30 per month (less than a $1), they had access to cable TV. This defied the commonly held perception that public television programming is the most effective in reaching the poor. E-TV, a cable channel seemed to be more prevalent than the Saptagiri channel in quite a few villages we visited. The idea of disseminating the SLS folksongs CD/DVD through private channels where it could pay for itself by demand of the audience is a possibility. However, one must remember that even though cable has a fast growing niche market, public television viewing is still the predominant means of media outreach.
F. 24-hour projector
"Product development must start from a deep understanding of functionality, not just form" (Prahalad, 2004, p. 26).
We dined daily at a popular vegetarian restaurant at the heart of Kuppam proper. In the first week, we noticed a projector screen hanging above the public bike stand, just outside the restaurant. Part of the HP project, this projector was meant to give 24-hour access to information for the Kuppam community: news, the current prices of tomatoes to the weather report, this was meant to be the NASDAQ for village life on display, the democratic knowledge bank for the passer-by in the community. We were there at the onset of this effort. Initially, the screen displayed the geographic area and history of Andhra Pradesh. In the evening, the projector showed reruns of the same programme. The next day, similar programmes of tourist nature was shown. The third day, the projector was off by 5pm. And the following day, the screen was rolled up. From that point onwards, we did not see the screen used at any point during the day or night. It continued to be neatly scrolled up and untouched at the entrance of the restaurant.Genuine concerns of electricity supply, safety and ownership, technical maintenance, access to relevant content and regional language provision stood as obstacles in executing this successfully. SLS folksongs can be displayed on these screens for engagement and social empowerment. Much like the karaoke booths, innovative strategies in partnership and content creation can best facilitate this process.
At the Geneva conference in 2005, HP stated that it was already benefiting from its engagement in Kuppam, "…by establishing new partnerships and positions for the future, by strengthening its position in emerging economies for traditional products and services and by showcasing its technologies in compelling, high-volume applications" (WBCSD 2005, p.2). In 2003, several countries including China, Russia and Brazil evinced interest in implementing the inclusive community project (Financial Times, 2003). A year later, HP announced expansion of its inclusive community programme in Europe, Middle East and Africa with the opening of three new HP Digital Community Centers in Tula (Russia), Slavutych (Ukraine) and Wahdat (Jordan) (HP Press, 2004). Yet at the end of 2004, these projects lost its support under new HP leadership. This left several of these projects across global settings in a tentative situation. Many sub projects under this model, including a sound distribution plan for the SLS folksongs product has been pending. Several not-for-profit projects in Kuppam are likely to lose their funding as HP recedes from Kuppam.
The scope of this paper is not to resolve distributional challenges of educational technology products nor to execute a comprehensive analysis of the emerging market solution model pioneered by Prahalad and adopted by Hewlett Packard. Instead, I hope to shed light on some of the complexities involved in marrying social empowerment with profit-making as exemplified in the distributional hurdles for ICT content. I demonstrate this by juxtaposing some of the inventive principles proposed by Prahalad with ground realities within the HP inclusive community project. It needs to be noted that HP's effort to address the persistent issues of world poverty through the adoption and implementation of new models for development has been commendable. It was evident that much thought had been invested in the planning of the inclusive community to shape it into a holistic entity. Also, their strategic partnering with local and international not-for-profit projects furthered the integration of HP's processes into the community.. Also, one should not underestimate the impact of governmental commitment in furthering such a task. The former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu, with his explicit support to reforms using ICT propelled these initiatives to rich and varied directions. Furthermore, within the limited time frame of three to five years, HP and their partnering organizations had gained knowledge of the local community and had been able to sieve through quite a few solutions that worked from those which failed. Yet, as new models are embraced and old ones discarded within the corporate realm, the risk of Kuppam reverting back into poverty is tangible and real. Overall, the issue of corporate responsibility in such an undertaking needs to be investigated further.
I would like to thank Hewlett Packard, particularly the HP Kuppam team for their openness in sharing their challenges and for the generosity of their time and effort at helping me understand some of the complexities of this project. I am grateful to Dr. Brij Kothari for his mentorship and support. I would also like to pay tribute to the local Kuppam government office that provided easy access to Kuppam's education and development data. I am also deeply appreciative of the Kuppam school teachers, principles, students and the like who have cooperated fully in this endeavor. Last, but not least, I would like to emphasize the invaluable role of P.S Jayamma, the field coordinator of this project. Due to her drive, local credibility and dedication, we were able to take this project to a much higher footing. Her efforts in this project have been deeply felt.
1 In this paper, I use the word "consumer" in the same light as Prahalad's usage of this word to continue to parallel his theory with my fieldwork experience. Hence, in this case, "consumers" refer to the disadvantaged, low income, marginalized individuals who continue to exercise power of choice based on their values and needs.
2 Digital divide here is defined as the gap between those who have access to technology from those who do not. See digital divide network as an example of current ICT in development concerns: http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org/
3 See Hewlett Packard Web site for details on the HP i-community in Kuppam initiative : http://www.hp.com/e-inclusion/en/project/project_kuppam.html
4 The implementation of multi-language frameworks and cultural features can be collectively viewed as localization.
5 National Task force on Information and Technology Development. (1999). Information technology action plan Part III: Long term national IT policy. Retrived November 3, 2005, from Government of India Web site: http://it-taskforce.nic.in/actplan3/index.html
6 SHGs are perhaps the most powerful groups in these village communities. Arguably one of the most successful development initiatives in the recent past, these microfinance groups borrow and lend finances amongst themselves for furthering their livelihood. In Andhra Pradesh, 70% of the women belong to SHGs (KADA, 2003). In fact, it has only been about five years since the SHGs were created in this region. In our observations and interviews, it seemed that they had become highly institutionalized in this short span of time. Instead of functioning as just microfinance models, they seemed to have become the prime portals in disseminating ideas, values and information across domains: health, nutrition, finance, employment and the like. For more information on the impact of SHGs on social mobility, see the World Bank Web Site.
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Original article at: http://ijedict.dec.uwi.edu//viewarticle.php?id=74&layout=html