Communities understand the development issues they face better than anyone.
This simple philosophy guides the work of Delhi-based social tech company Gram Vaani and inspired it to create a voice-based social media platform – or ‘mobile radio network’ – for some of India’s rural poor.
Gram Vaani was set up in 2009 with the goal of reversing the traditional flow of information. Defying the traditional media model, they seek to make information flow from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down. They do this by using simple technology to give some of the poorest people a voice that’s loud enough to be heard by officials, and have even created a platform for sharing news and information with each other.
Mobile Vaani is Gram Vaani’s answer to Facebook or YouTube for the rural poor. Unlike most social platforms, Mobile Vaani is voice-based so it can be used by people who can’t read. Taking advantage of the widespread availability of mobile phones even in rural areas, where villagers often share phones or rent them for short periods, it is an intelligent IVR (interactive voice response) system that allows people to call into a number and leave a message about their community, or listen to messages left by others.
The Mobile Vaani network spans 15 districts in Jharkhand and over 30 community radio stations in the states of Uttakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Orissa. Its flagship roll-out is in Jharkand State in Eastern India, where it has more than 20,000 users who call over 2,000 times per day, discussing wide-ranging issues under four broad topics: culture, information, feedback on government schemes and local updates and announcements. The messages are moderated and 60 to 70 are published each day.
Its impact has been immediate and far-reaching. In one case, a villager in a remote area of Jharkand State with no access to a hospital reported that an outbreak of malaria had killed three people. The message was moderated and posted, and passed to the appropriate authorities. Within one day, an ambulance with medical provisions was sent to the village.
In another instance, villagers reported corruption in food supply ration shops. The local authorities acted quickly on the Mobile Vaani call for action and police arrested the officials involved.
Mobile Vaani clearly has an important role in alerting the authorities and motivating them to act in cases where, in the past, the voices of local people would not have been heard. It also acts as a local noticeboard and sharing hub. For example, people post folk songs so they can be heard in other villages, as well as use it as a bulletin board for local job fairs and sharing information on health or agriculture.
Digital News Ventures, MDIF’s fund for making seed investments in news and journalism start-ups, has provided financing for Gram Vaani.
If your organisation is looking to engage with rural communities over voice, contact Gram Vaani at firstname.lastname@example.org