India has embraced video conferencing like few other nations on Earth.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a record for the most simultaneous appearances by video conference when he was beamed on stage at 88 different political rallies at once in April, 2014.
Politicians there make weekly use of video conferencing to make announcements, face the press, and address constituents.
Regional monsoon relief and response teams use it to power their command centers.
And the country’s law courts have been using video conferencing for years to hear witness and expert testimony.
Now the country’s internet network is undergoing a dramatic expansion, and as a consequence video conferencing technology is being used to empower people in remote and impoverished areas, with a special emphasis on improving the lives of women.
An Internet Revolution
Prime Minister Modi has pledged to revolutionize Indian life by staging one of the most dramatic internet rollouts in history.
The Digital India program will deliver fiber optic networks to 250,000 local government areas, and bring mobile phone coverage to every village in what is the world’s seventh largest nation.
The plan is accelerating at such a speed that India is expected to overtake the U.S. as the world’s second largest smartphone market next year, while growing at a rate five times faster than world’s largest market, China.
The program has won the support of Silicon Valley’s leading players, with Microsoft, Google, Qualcomm, Oracle, and Facebook all pledging technological support and infrastructure, and promising to fund Indian start-ups.
Video Conferencing for a Better Life
The non-profit Digital Empowerment Foundation describes the many Indian communities without internet access as living in socio-economic backwardness and information poverty.
The group has founded a range of programs to uplift such communities, and, with the support of Google, has already supplied internet education and access to more than 150,000 women in marginalized areas.
The participants have been given instruction on how to use the internet to gain information and build support networks in the areas of childcare and finance, among others.
And they aren’t the only women getting digital assistance.
School girls are using video conferencing to discuss women’s rights issues with their peers in neighboring Pakistan. Women in remote areas are also being given access to cheap, second-hand smartphones, laptops, cameras, and other devices.
The Wireless Women for Entrepreneurship and Empowerment program gives women the training and tech to set up local businesses selling access to internet-dependent government, financial, and health services.
And, in partnership with Google and Intel, 1,000 women have been given internet-connected “smart bikes” and tasked with traveling to 4,500 remote villages over the next three years to give women in rural areas a first-hand experience of the internet.
Video Chat Empowerment
The lesson here is that technological application, rather than ground-breaking innovation, can provide fast and effective ways to empower people.
All the devices used to operate the programs above are readily available in most schools, hospitals, community centers, and private homes in the US.
You just need to turn them to people’s advantage, like free video conferencing legal services that let women suffering from domestic violence reach out for support, or virtual conferences that focus on encouraging women into advanced science and math education.
Video conferencing could be used to develop mentor relationships for women in business, or to establish social networks around health, fitness, parenting, and financial independence.
The technological backbone India is currently rushing to build already exists in most western societies. We just have to do more with it to make sure information poverty is eradicated.
Image Sources: Flickr CC Users ILRI and U.S. Embassy New Delhi