Interactive news-over-mobile-phone for rural Jharkhand

This Entry has been submitted.

Interactive news-over-mobile-phone for rural Jharkhand

Organization type: 
for profit
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our interactive news-over-mobile-phone service is inclusive and can reach into the remotest villages of India.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The mainstream media in Jharkhand has not been able to extend its reach into the remotest villages of Jharkhand where development indicators are abysmal: studies show that of the 32, 620 villages in Jharkhand only 45% are electrified while only 8,484 are connected by roads. Also there are wide gaps in delivery of government schemes in the area of employment, education, health, et al. The state is also affected by left wing extremism and poor governance has intensified the process of alienation of the native communities, referred to as adivaasi and moolvaasi, who comprise around 80% of the state’s population. In such a scenario it is necessary to have a bottom-up, participatory form of media that can facilitate a process of dialogue between the citizens of Jharkhand and the government. What is also needed is a space wherein citizens can easily articulate their needs and aspirations.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The solution is an interactive voice response (IVR) system hosted on a toll-free number 1800-102-4188, where citizens, social workers and grassroots activists from Jharkhand can call and leave news items on issues affecting them. It works like a shout box where citizens can share information and discuss about issues such as poor governance, lack of proper implementation of government schemes, corruption, et al. The system is simple to use and barriers of literacy, social mobility or affordability do not come in the way of using it. The audio stories are also simultaneously published on a public front-end, which is similar to a news website, with transcriptions of the audio files, accessible over the internet. The content is moderated by a team at Gram Vaani. It is innovative because people can listen to news, comment on other’s news and contribute news items themselves by just dialling a number. Social activists and government agencies listening to the service can initiate action based on citizen reports. We are also in the process of developing an sms-alert system for our users who will be informed when a news item is published and what action was taken eventually on their report. We are partnering with grassroots activist networks such as Gram Swaraj Abhiyan and MNREGA Sahayata Kendras to ensure that action is taken on any grievances of citizens reported on this service. These networks also help to popularise the medium in villages by distributing pamphlets or putting up posters.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

A specific example of how this worked is when a resident of Village Bihira in Palamau district reported three malaria deaths using the toll-free number on August 16, and explained how inaccessibility of the hospital due to poor road connectivity was the main reason for this. He alerted that more people were affected by malaria and requested for immediate help. This news was published instantly by the Gram Vaani moderator’s team and heard over the phone by regular listeners. Our ground-level functionary in Palamau notified the district development commissioner who heard the news and immediately dispatched a team of doctors and nurses to the village. The same caller had later submitted a follow-up report, thanking Gram Vaani and the district authorities for their action. If the caller had instead alerted a local newspaper, the information would have been published only the next day. Not all villagers have access to journalist’s contact details. Even if a local newspaper had reported the issue there was no guarantee of follow-up action. Also most commercial newspapers and TV channels, including regional media, do not accord primacy to news from small villages unless it is something very dramatic. A malaria death in a Jharkhand village is not “sensational news”.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Our only peer in this space is CGNet Swara (, a similar mobile-phone-based news service operating in the Central Gondwana region. If mainstream newspapers and magazines want to launch their own phone-based news systems they will become a competitor but given the technological edge we have in this sphere that seems highly unlikely. CGNet Swara does not pose any challenge whatsoever to our success or growth because we are working on a common agenda. Gram Vaani is currently looking to partner with them to develop an integrated mobile news platform. Also we view the mainstream press as more of a collaborator than a competitor and there are already instances where local dailies in Jharkhand like Prabhat Khabar have carried news first reported on our service. Other dailies and news channels have also evinced interest in sourcing stories from our network so we see them as partners in our growth story in the days to come.
About You
Gram Vaani Community Media
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Gram Vaani Community Media

Organization Country

, DL

Country where this project is creating social impact

, JH

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Start-Up (a pilot that has just begun operating)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for less than a year

Social Impact
FOUNDING STORY: We want to hear about your “Aha!” moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution’s potential to change the world.

Our “Aha” moment was when Gram Vaani team members Aaditeshwar Seth and Vidya Venkat were having a conversation at a coffee shop with Reetika Khera who was then doing field work on the implementation of NREGA in rural Jharkhand. She suggested that a system similar to CG Net Swara, where Jharkhand citizens could call up and report discrepancies in implementation of the scheme would help immensely in bridging the information gap.

During our first visit to rural Jharkhand, to get a pulse of the people who would eventually turn users, we found that several of their stories such as instances of land grab by large corporations or problems in getting wages on time, etc were never highlighted in mainstream dailies. We also saw how levels of responsiveness on part of the local administration to common grievances were very poor. We noticed also how mobile phone penetration levels were encouraging even in remote villages and people caught on easily to phone-based applications than use the internet, which requires computer operating skills. That is when we realised the true potential of a mobile-phone based interactive news system like this.

Specify both the depth and scale of your solution’s social impact to date

We formally launched the system in Jharkhand on July 20, 2011. Since then we have received over 60,000 calls with an average duration of 3 minutes. The number of unique callers on the system is over 6000 from nine districts primarily – Latehar, Khunti, Ranchi, Garhwa, Palamau, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Hazaribag and Lohardaga. We have published some 200 news reports so far. The latest can be heard over the phone, and the rest are archived on the web interface. On Aug 26 and 27, we organised a citizen’s journalism workshop in Ranchi and Khunti in which 110 participants from these nine districts attended who are now giving us news reports regularly.

For every citizen using this service the very act of speaking out is empowering. The fact that action is initiated on complaints posted by them gives ordinary citizens the power to raise issues like corruption in the bureaucracy which is a major developmental hurdle. In that sense, in the over one month since we launched, our system has benefitted every user so far by simply giving them a forum that not only hears them but also helps them to take concrete action or connects them to a larger network of activists who act on their behalf.

What is your projected impact within the next 1-5 years? Is your idea replicable? If so, how?

Our projected impact in the next 1-5 years is that while we would certainly have expanded our network of citizen reporters all over Jharkhand, we would also have ensured that government agencies and other NGOs regularly follow our reports. We would have empowered a large number of citizens to act as watchdogs on behalf of their community thus. In five years we would have fostered a citizen movement in Jharkhand and replicated the idea in other states as well.

The idea is replicable because such a phone number can be set up for every state in India and used to reach out to the common man. We hope to be able to set up such systems in other neighbouring states of Jharkhand such as Bihar, Orissa, north-eastern states which also face challenges of social development.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and mark growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

To strengthen our regional presence and expand news coverage all over Jharkhand by building a core team.

Six-Month Tasks
Task 1

Elect community leaders from among dedicated ground-level functionaries and citizen reporters for the core team

Task 2

Set impact targets for existing leaders, identify new dedicated ground-level functionaries,organise citizen journalism workshop

Task 3

Compile individual citizen reports into larger status reports and send them to MLAs, social audit committees, etc.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

We want our current system working efficiently in the whole of Jharkhand, then begin pilots in neighbouring states

12-Month Tasks
Task 1

Strengthen the area leader concept in every district of Jharkhand through periodical trainings and workshops.

Task 2

Set minimum 70% target for area leaders in terms of coverage of issues and impact generated on grievance redressal.

Task 3

Begin identification of grassroots activist networks with whom to partner in Bihar and Orissa.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001 - 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Explain how your company, program, service or product is structured


What barriers have hindered the success of your project to date? How do you plan to overcome these and other challenges as you grow your solution?

The greatest barrier so far has been to find a business model to make the service sustainable. We have initiated discussions with some telecom operators in this regard and we are hopeful that we will be able to offer it as VAS on their networks soon. This will not only make the service sustainable but also help in its marketing.

How do you see the information-technology and media sectors shifting over the next decade? How will your solution adapt to and/or drive that changing environment?

We believe that the future will see media becoming more citizen-centric, enabled by the new communication technologies coming up that make it easy to capture audio/video and share it across networks. Our solution of crowd-sourcing news and making it available over mobile is a step in that direction. We believe it will play a major role in bringing benefits of modern technology and social networks to the people at the lower half of the pyramid.

Failure is not always an option. If your solution fails to gain traction in the next two years, what other applications of the idea could you explore?

While our current focus is on rural news, we believe the application can be extended to a citizen engagement platform for urban India. We can crowd-source key data on status of civic services (sanitation, power, water, roads, etc.) through mobile and publish it online. We will use this data to put pressure on civic agencies to improve their services by comparing quality of these services across different areas.

Expand on your selections, explaining how you will sustain funding

Currently, our project is being funded by the grant we had received from the US-based non-profit Knight Foundation. We are exploring the following revenue models currently:
VAS offering in partnership with telecom operators: We have initiated discussions with telecom operators to offer our service as a VAS offering on their network which people can subscribe to on a monthly basis. Gram Vaani will have a revenue sharing agreement with the telecom operator on the subscription fees
Advertisements and sponsorships: Given the large listenership of our news service, an alternative route we are exploring is getting corporate sponsors and advertisers for the service. Initial discussions have been done with a major steel company, a software enterprise and a telecom operator.

Tell us about your partnerships

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is the main funder for our venture and one of our key partners.
IIT Delhi has provided us office space at its business incubation center. Some of its professors are on our advisory board and we regularly have its students work with us on research projects.
Gram Swaraj Abhiyan is our key partner for Jharkhand Mobile News and has helped us build networks at the grassroots level. They also help us in taking up reported issues and getting them resolved through local authorities.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section?

• In-house editors – 1 for every state. These are the most important resources as they ensure the quality of the published news.
• On-the-ground volunteers – 1-2 for every district in a state: They help in validating reported news items.
• Technology developers – 4-6 for a nation-wide service (2 currently)
• Sales & Marketing – 4-6 to ensure the proposed revenue streams are realized (currently 1)

Changemakers is a collaborative and supportive space. Please specify any community resources you would need to grow and sustain your initiative. Select all that apply

Investment, Human resources or talent, Marketing or media, Collaboration or networking, Mentorship.

Specify any resources you might offer to support other initiatives. Select all that apply

Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Innovation or ideas.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren’t specified within the list
Define your company, program, service or product in 1-2 short sentences

Gram Vaani uses media and technology for empowering rural masses at the grassroots partnering with development institutions.