Osama Manzar

Mapping 700,000 Indian Villages through e-content What about other (under) developing Countries?
Learning lessons from Developed Countries, et al!!

A Typical Backdrop

On the backdrop of the fast emerging worldwide scenario of ‘Information Economy’, where the power of Information, Informed Society, Informed Countries, is much higher than those which are poorly informed, may be information poor countries, and information deprived societies; please read the following, before I indulge you into a discussion of taking responsibility to put ‘information poor’ countries at the top of the Information Economy and overcome the e-Content gap across the globe in the most efficient way possible – may be learning through the lessons from the countries who are the top of the e-content rich pyramid:

Just to make things clearer, let’s India as an example, considering the scenario in this huge country as only tip of the iceberg, both in terms of problem as well as possible opportunity, if the e-content gap is fulfilled. India is also classic example of complexes and paradoxes. Such as:

» 80 % of the Indian population speak and understand one of the 18 major Indian languages; not English;

» Indian Villages are the gold mines of valuable local information, untapped knowledge, ancient wisdom, and glocal (locally made products of global relevance) products;

» More than half a million Indian villages are not part of the global village and are deprived of economic freedom;

» There is no tool available to offer villages to enable them to publish, disseminate and market their information in their language, perhaps in any medium;

» There is no web-based information portal available in any of the Indian languages worth glocal value;

» Only 5% of Indians speak English, yet they together form bigger than the size of many countries;

» India is the second highest in the world for software and services exports;

As a matter of fact, 700,000 villages in India live at the edge of Information. This is in contrast to the fact that the world needs to know and want to use the relevance of India’s ancient wisdom, knowledge and information to the modern world.

And, this scenario is only Indian. We have other similar, and in fact lesser privileged, countries in Africa, Asia and other parts of the globe, which are unable to avail the privileges of ‘e-content rich economy’.

Information (e-content) is Economy

Interestingly, if you look at the most common-sensical reason for the developed countries’ being rich, advanced, and economically self-reliant, it is nothing but because of their being ‘information rich’. The developed economies are better informed, they use information as the most basic tool to progress, they have all the means for information dissemination, information sharing, and information access, even to their remotest of the areas and people.

As a result, the developed countries market themselves better, push their desired information to everyone who matter, access, use and reach to all the information which is important to them. As a result, development, better economy, education and leadership become by-products of being an ‘Informed Society’.

The Information Society

Needless to mention, that underdeveloped countries including India is extremely information poor, thus their economy, health, education, leadership, and so on.

No wonder, United Nations, in leadership with ITU (International Telecommunication Union) decided to organize ‘World Summit on the Information Society’ in two phases in Geneva in December 2003, followed by one in Tunis in November 2005. And, rightly so!

The objective of WSIS is to discuss all possible issues that are important to make the world an integrated part of the ‘Information Society’ by using the most inevitable tool better knows as ICT (Information Communication Technology).

More precisely, ITU and UN’s WSIS have a made a framework with the following three objectives:

» Providing access to ICTs for all

» ICTs as a tool for economic and social development – and meeting the Millennium Development Goals

» Confidence and Security in the use of ICTs

By involving the UN family and its member countries, especially NGOs and civil society, governments & industry leaders, businesses and private sectors, WSIS under one umbrella wants to aggressively push the agenda of ‘understanding the importance of information society’, and influence one and all ‘to use ICT for making progress and development’.

World Summit Award

In its endeavor to recognize and appreciate various initiatives towards ‘information society’, the formulation of World Summit Award (WSA) has taken place. It is defined as ‘the world wide award for e-content and creativity in the framework and as a part of the official agenda of the United Nations’ World Summit on Information Society 2003.’

To keep the spirit of ‘information society’, WSIS has created a complete online environment to process all logistics including invitations, certification, registration, visa, scholarships, and so on.

WSA Office, in Austria, made a formulation of inviting nominations, through selected Country Experts, for the e-content applications/products under 8 categories vis-à-vis e-governance, e-learning, e-culture, e-entertainment, e-science, e-health, e-biz, and e-inclusion. In all 136 country experts nominated 8 products each from as many countries – all coordination online including web, Internet, and e-mails.

E-Content – Ground Zero

This book – E-content: Voices form the Ground Version 1.0 – was originally conceived in Dubai, when 35 WSA jury members met during October 17-21, 2003 to select the 40 “best practices in e-content and creativity” from more than 800 nominations.

Certainly having a gathering of such a diverse jury from so many countries was not only an opportunity to learn but also to network to aspire to do something which could have geometric effect as far as e-content development in developing countries are concerned. The reason I said that, is because I belong to India, and I can understand the paradox of being a part of the country which on one side can well be categorized as a developing country, yet enjoys the credit of on of the largest and best ICT enablers in the world.

Whereas the huge population of the country is a curse, it is on the other hand becoming an asset for being capable of producing skilled human resources for their consumption worldwide.

Whereas, on one side, India is a concentration of highest number of deployment of projects categorized as “ICT for Development” across the world, yet, its more than 90% of population have no access to ICT.

Having thought all that, and knowing the diversity of 36 jury members coming from developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries, the idea to bring their expertise, knowledge, and best practices in their country, could be a great asset for the fraternity which is always looking for information which could guide them “how to produce maximum e-content from the least e-enabled countries, economically, sustainably, and effectively.

We asked the fellow jury members “if they would be interested for an email-based interview, to replying a set of questions regarding the “e-content scenario” in each of the country. To my surprise not only that everybody said YES with enthusiasm and wow, but they also worked very hard to reply the best possible answer in an impossible time period.

Besides that, Prof. Dr. Peter A Bruck, the moderator of the jury, chairman of WSA, immediately extended all his personal and professional support to this book. And, he agreed to guide me editorially and structurally as the co-author of this book. Moreover, he also offered to make this book an “official publication” of WSA.

Version 1.0 & “Cyber Version 2.0″

The vision and target is to cover at least every country from 136 who has participated in WSA for best e-Content & Creativity. However, releasing interviews with 136 country experts in one book turned out be a task that will require a long time, and we would have missed a huge opportunity of WSIS to apprise about such development.

Therefore we decided to come out with first book as e-Content: Voices from the Ground, VERSION 1.0 with as many interviews as 25, and release the mega volume with all the interviews incorporating all possible interactivities, searches, ease of navigation on a dedicated website. It is genuinely understood that print version is costly and have limited reach, and lack all possibilities of interactivities, whereas the dedicated website will not only be better medium for far reaching effect but will also generate content on its own, and will require lesser resources to achieve.

The idea of releasing this book in WSIS 2003 is to sensitize the information society about the necessity of e-content as one of the most essential tool for developing and under-developing countries to adopt the best practices and lessons learnt by the developed countries, and join the global information society to gain economic upliftment without really uprooting masses from their base.

Following the compilation of this with 30 countries from all continent, we are going to have all the 136 countries who are nominees of WSA covered and would be featured on the Cyber Version 2.0, which is the website of this book and the same is available at

Osama Manzar

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