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DRCA Final Post

Financial exclusion is a serious problem in India, with 90% of the rural population lacking access to a bank account. Without good avenues for saving earnings and taking loans, the meagre resources of the poor are rarely put to efficient use.

I would thus like to explore the ways in which the poor manage their financial resources, and whether this process can be transformed to allow for more efficient use. To this end, I will conduct a preliminary study this winter in India, in order to study intra-household money-management behavior among the rural poor.

The goals of the study at this stage are two-fold:

  1. To interview various members of households and observe their cash inflow-outflow patterns. Who brings in the money, who manages it, who spends it, etc. are behaviors I would like to learn more about. It would be interesting to see whether factors such as gender, age, etc. play a role in this context.
  2. In order to study this behavior, it will be important to obtain authentic data regarding money-related activities within the household. What would be good ways of studying this? Are diary studies feasible? Would cellphones be better means of collecting this data? I would like to study the possibility of different technology interventions in this context, so that authentic data may be collected and studied. This may become a later part of the process.

In general, this problem does not appear to have been researched extensively, and it will also be interesting to explore factors that might play a role there. I will report back with results in early Spring :).

Telemedicine in India

Sonesh’s talk was eye-opening in several respects. It is moving to see the impact of this project and how many individuals have been benefited as a result. One of the most interesting aspects of this project was the size of the infrastructure required for it to work. I found the debates regarding the tower, on the one hand, entertaining, and on the other, informative, as they revealed some of the workarounds one must acclimatize oneself to in order to work in/with/for these communities. In fact, my central take-away from this talk was how attuned Sonesh was to the community and the needs of the community, and how essential it was to the functioning of the project. As I embark upon my own PhD research, I hope to carry the same spirit of community understanding with me.

Reflections from Neil’s Talk

Listening to Neil discuss his project was great! His work with small farmers in rural Gujarat was enlightening not only for the nature of his project, but also for other insights that he presented. I was intrigued particularly by the role that women play in this community. While these women participated in farming tasks, they didn’t appear to participate in the user studies. What determines this behavior is something I’d like to gain a better understanding of. Another factor he mentioned was the language factor, that his knowledge of Gujarati was a big help for doing his research. I’d also like to better understand why this was the case and how he realized that it were so. Overall, he seems to have accomplished quite a bit in just two summers spent in Gujarat! I wish him more luck :).

the boda drivers

Allison and Roxanne talked about their project that involved training the ‘boda’ drivers to serve as ambulance drivers. Ironically, the bodas were popularly considered to be the primary cause of accidents in the area. I enjoyed this presentation and it made me think about how this would bode in Indian cities, where there are always so many varieties of public transport vehicles that could be used for ambulance purposes.

In Delhi, there were the Redline buses which became so notorious for causing accidents that they became Bluelines instead. Now, still, the number of accidents is constantly on the rise. I cannot even imagine these vehicles being used as ambulances in the area. However, I do wonder whether if they were incentivized to act as emergency vehicles, would this make them more responsible in driving? I can certainly imagine auto-rickshaw drivers or cab drivers being encouraged to act as public support vehicles. This may even build their reputation in the eyes of the people :).

In general, this makes me wonder whether there are not numerous innovative ways in which the potential of cab drivers, mailmen, small shopkeepers, etc. (that are large in number in the populous developing world) could be tapped for public interest purposes.

ICTD efforts in Africa

The presentations on October 14th served to discuss varied ICTD efforts in Africa, and from varied perspectives. I found each one of these considerably illuminating. The main lesson I took away from this class was that one needs to situate oneself in the context of the user to understand the real needs of the user. This is the core need of every ICTD project.

It was also interesting to think about the problem of identity and how different regions try to address this need in different ways. Further, I was intrigued by the implementation of asynchronous communication through voicemail. It is also an example of studying the context of the user and the technologies available to the user to come up with innovative applications.I look forward to seeing more of these in the class.


Deepti’s presentation on MILLEE was very informative, especially since I have had the experience of working with MILLEE exactly one year before she was on it, and things were very different. It was great to see that things had evolved to the point of user studies, something that we were definitely missing a year ago.

I was most moved by the stark difference between the treatment of the girl child and the boy child. This is one of the most disturbing realities of rural India and perhaps the main reason, in my opinion, for education to grow and people to become more aware. The more they grow and learn, the more people will hopefully begin to realize that the girl child is as worthy of good education and nourishment.

MILLEE has involved a technology-heavy past, with little input from the social sciences. Incorporating studies along the lines of the latter definitely appears to be a step in the positive direction. I wish them much luck :).

Miscellaneous Lecture

This lecture contained an interesting pot-pourri of ideas. To begin with, I liked the discussion of organizations across the world conducting research in this area – and the areas of research within – such as user interface design, low-cost laptops/mobiles etc. Talking about IRB was also useful.

I enjoyed – most of all – listening to Tap’s initial experiences in India. The photographs were great as well, in that they helped understand what a different work atmosphere it was (i.e., the ones of the classroom, and of Tap in traditional Gujarati attire :).

For a class at Stanford last Spring, I had spent some time working with Prof. Anil Gupta and the Honey Bee Network. I am fascinated by the work they do in bringing together grassroots innovators. There are some YouTube videos that showcase some of these innovations. Here’s one.

Telemedicine as an Integrated Health Service Intervention

Terrence’s talk on World Health Partners and Telemedicine in Uttar Pradesh (India) was interesting, and it was great to see the kind of facilities technology enables within the lesser developed parts of the world. It also gave rise to many questions in my mind about the difficulties of making such an effort sustainable when there is such an extreme shortage of resources in various respects.

I appreciated the fact that the capital for the health services in the village came from the villagers. This makes sense – but 1. only if the villages can afford it, and many cannot (or perhaps I am wrong?), and 2. must not result in differential treatment based on who was able to contributed and who wasn’t. It does make sense that to make an effort sustainable, it would need the villagers to participate in the effort as well.

This effort did not necessarily seem to involve a transfer of resources from the rich to the poor, rather from the less poor to the more poor. Medical facilities are already scarce in the urban areas. It was not clear to me whether a distribution was possible that would ensure an optimal scheduling of resources to minimize loss.

I liked the focus on women in the project, and that it gave them a siginificant role to play in the telemedicine centers. I am also curious to learn about the backgrounds of women in the villages that this effort has been successful, to understand how educated women need to be to work at these centers.

In addition, if the goal is to propagate family planning, I’d like to know if there is an ongoing effort to educate the villagers who may not be aware of family planning and methods for it.

“Jhai growing, Lee letting go”

Lee showed a moving video of bringing connectivity to a village using manual power, where power was not otherwise available. It was a perfect example of working with the community for the community, and displayed an understanding of where these people were coming from. This, perhaps, is the most critical prerequisite for doing ICTD work – knowing where the people come from, and designing solutions within their context.

A couple of things that stood out for me in this talk were:

1. Discussion of illiteracy. Apart from poverty and lack of resources in general, the developing world suffers greatly due to illiteracy. However, I have heard several talks where speakers did not discuss this factor at all. I consider it one of the biggest barriers to all-round development. I was glad Lee talked about it.

2. Discussion of accounting. People who are poor and have little money need to be taught how to make good use of it. This too was a point I have heard little of, but am glad that Lee included.

I liked (and try to recall) his 3-point mantra for technology deployments:

1. Test in a better place first.

2. Test small.

3. Test thoroughly.

I wish him luck with the telemedicine project in India and look forward to following its progress. Will it really become financially sustainable? I sure hope so!

Paul Polak: Out of Poverty

Paul Polak – founder of IDE – talks about his experiences in working for the poor across the developing world. Here is an article with an excerpt.

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