I had the great honor of presenting in the morning session of the mBillionth Awards that celebrate mobile innovations in the South Asia region, annually. And to my surprise, the organizers, Osama Manzar and Madanmohan Rao asked me to give out the awards for the category of mobile in business and to say a few words also at the awards gala. I had luckily prepared to at least look the part, haha, as James Bond doesn't travel without some smart evening wear, eh?
There were truly great services and as the event ran three parallel streams showcasing various finalists, it was physically impossible for me to get to see all. And thus, this blog can only be a 'non representative' sampling of just some of the wonders that I saw. And lets start with something familiar..
NANO GANESH SMS CONTROL OF IRRIGATION
Can you imagine being a farmer in some of the hottest parts of the world? In an Emerging World country like India? And where irrigating your farm is vital for the crops to survive, yet electrical supply is not steady and water needs to be carefully preserved? When the temperature is 40 degrees Celcius (what is that, 160 degrees Farenheit haha) you don't want to just walk the miles to and from your various water control valves to turn on the irrigation, and then walk again in the blistering sunshine to turn them off again. At times due to electrical grid reliability issues, even if you turned the water on, the electricity might suddenly go off, and your pumps stop running. You think your crops are being watered but they in fact are not and your crop may be ruined. So those are the kinds of situations where Nano Ganesh comes in, with a wonderful farmer's tool, SMS remote control of irrigation systems.
And I know, I know, farming irrigation isn't as sexy as Angry Birds in Space or the smartphone market share wars. But think about this service for a moment and what it delivers. First of all, it saves water, a vital precious resource in farming, and in very many regions, a resouces that needs to be conserved. Now there is far less water wasted. What of electricity? The system is far more precise, and as the whole irrigation system can be remotely controlled (from any basic handset, you don't even need a smartphone!) meaning in any changing conditions, the on/off switching of the systems can be done instantly. This means the pumps etc will not run needlessly while the farmer and perhaps his family run around the fields manually turning on and off the equipment. The solution saves fuel, often the farmer might move around his fields with a tractor or a motorbike etc, and these unnecessary trips are now not needed, saving fuel. Then there is obviously huge savings in time and in labor. The farmers are significantly more efficient with this simple SMS based solution that the simplest un-educated farm aid worker can control And lastly, and perhaps most significantly for long term human sustainability - this solution helps reduce soil erosion from excess water use. I absolutely love the service and have been a fan for a long long time.
I think I first heard of this from one of the gurus, Jan Chipchase and I have been a big fan of this service and talked about it many times - especially after we discovered the 9th Unique Ability of Mobile (being the ability to give digital interfaces to the real world). This is a perfect example of that, remotely and digitally controlling the valves and pumps for irrigation. Needless to say, when this is made in India and for the local farming needs, the actual remote controller systems are robust and versatile enough to handle farming conditions from irregular voltages in the electrical grid, to exposed wiring in the mechanical matters, to water effects that often are harmful with electricity, such as in areas of marshlands, etc. The service is also multi-lingual with interfaces in English, Hindi, Marathi and Punjabi.
And you know what? I met the CEO, Santosh Ostwal of the company called Ossian Agro Automation. And the funniest thing is, he came from the audience to talk with me, after my morning presentation, as my fan. And he wasn't aware, that I had already been a fan of his work. What a wonderful life I live, to be able to tell stories of great innovations around the world, and then to get to meet many of those people who actually created them!
ALL EVENTS IN THE CITY
This was just a nice little service that fills a big need. If you're young, in the 15-35 age bracket, and would like to find out whats happening tonight, at the bars and clubs, the discos and concert venues etc, wouldn't it be nice to have one centralized service where 'all events in the city' would be visible, for you to pick what you want to do tonight? And now it exists. The solution is built around Facebook as the 'back end' with multiple ways to access the info from desktop web to smartphone apps to basic mobile web and WAP. Event organizers can enter their info, the youth can go see whats where, and whatever else info is available. Simple and perhaps 'obvious' but if you're in this age segment and wanting to go out partying every weekend, and your city doesn't have this yet, you want it immediately! The system was designed by Amitech and uses the Allevents.in platform. It includes pretty much everything you'd expect and want from email integration to RSS feeds.
And yes, more utility still out of SMS. India is more than a country, it is called a sub-continent. They have several dozen languages spoken as the primary language and obviously these language groups represent individual cultures, peoples, 'nations' if you will. Much like Europe with their French and Germans and Swedes and Poles and Hungarians and Estonians and Finns.. So yes, when you have lotsa languages you need translations. And who walks around with a printed book dictionary every day? In fact, in the Emerging World, who can afford to buy a printed book dictionary? So every economically viable person on the planet today walks around with a mobile phone. Every mobile phone can do SMS. SMS can act as the conduit for entries and results in an automated translator service! Wonderful! This is by no means the first SMS translator, but it does go across 10 languages and is India-languages specific, so I do believe it is the only service of its kind. So it covers Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bengali, Sanskrit and English. The service is free! And was designed by Khandbahale in India. It has 150,000 users already.
THEN LETS GO TO MY PASSION, M-EDUCATION
One of the best things about the mBillionth Awards and its conference, is that (obviously) mobile learning was one of the categories. I don't mean in the least bit to minimize the importance of other valuable and useful areas like mobile health, m-Government etc, but regular readers know I have a passion for m-Edu and here I had the chance to sit in the session where the finalists of the m-Learning category were all showcased. I could easily argue that any one of them deserved to win and could spend a long blog on just this topic. Again, I will be brief, and mention a few very nice ideas
COOL IDEAS IN M-LEARNING: TOM
There were many (some other services, recognized in other categories, would or could also qualify for this topic). One nice one came from Japan and brought to India by Tata DOCOMO the partnership between Tata of India and NTT DoCoMo of Japan. They created a service called Tata DoCoMo Tutor for On Mobile (called TOM - a nearly perfect name. If only they called it Tutor for On Mobile Interactive, it could have been: TOMI, haha..) Seriously, TOM is very smart and allows User-Generated-Content (UGC) portal and service, helping UGC be used in teaching & learning situations. If you have a competence that you think could be useful, how to change the oil in a given car, or how to improve your golf swing, or some school lessons tutoring etc, this platform lets such 'experts' connect with interested 'learners'. It also can be used by parents to help their children learn, by using modern digital communication and social media tools.
The TOM service runs on .. yes, of course, WAP - this is Emerging World mobile internet after all. And it also runs on SMS, voice and IVR, and more advanced platforms like HTML web, video, podcasts etc. As its a UGC platform it of course supports many languages like Hindi, English, Tamil etc. A nice way for NTT DoCoMo to bring its immense knowhow in the mobile internet and social media and user-generated content, to an education need in India. The people who generate UGC can be compensated as a revenue-sharing split, so yes, you can earn little bits of money out of your competence. The service has 200,000 users.
BridgeIt, is a joint project for helping teachers in the classroom. EZ Vidya joined with Nokia and the Pearson Foundation to bring digital interactive tech to classrooms that currently have TVs. By using Nokia Symbian based smartphones with TV-Out, they partnership has created a solution for teachers to help make classroom teaching more interactive. They also provide thousands of videos and classroom support materials to high school level schools. The has already been spread to 104 schools for 193 teachers reaching about 15,000 kids in classrooms. The teaching aide packages are available in English, Telugu and Tamil languages.
M-EDU: NIIT FOUNDATION
Then the NIIT Foundation has focused on helping very poor students study and practise their English. The problem in the slum areas is that there are not many chances to practise, but English skills are a way to get better jobs. So the NIIT Foundation created a livelihood training package to help the youth living in slums to improve their English skills and find jobs. So the mobile solution education part includes quizzes and audio-video tutorials and pronounciation help, as well as a Hind-English dictionary. The point is to let students use their mobile phones and whatever convenient time they find in their day, to help improve their English skills. Then there is .. the employment assistance part ! The program will test the students and help them then find work. The service covers 17 slum communities in India as well as 2 rural areas.
SMS FOR THE DEAF BLIND
Imagine being not just deaf, but also blind. How can you possibly take part of modern society as we proceed into the digital age? That is where Bapsi the Bidirectional Access Promotion Society of India comes in. They developed a smartphone app running with some clever cloud computing services and SMS, on Android based smartphones, to give someone who is both deaf and blind, the ability to receive written communication. Not by any high tech braille-readers. By using the vibration feature of the phone - and Morse Code !!! Now the people can 'feel' the message coming in, one letter at a time. Can you imagine a life of not hearing, not seeing, and suddenly being able to receive written communications? I totally loved this not just for its obvious assistance to those whose stake is the very worst luck in life, but also - as a communications dude - the wonderful re-utilization of Morse Code (I used to know Morse Code, I was a Boy Scout and we used it sometimes in our scouting, and I used to carry the Morse Code 'code' in my wallet; for a while I had actually memorized the code haha..). So? Which method next makes a digital age comeback? Carrier pidgeons? The Semaphore? Smoke signals? Clack Towers?
IMPULSE FOR ANTI HUMAN TRAFFICKING
My absolute fave service, however, was this one, called 'Impulse.' This is run by the Impulse NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in India. It is very modest and simple, essentially on traditional PC based web, email, and tech agnostic voice calls (fixed voice, mobile voice, Skype etc). There is not much really 'mobile' about the service as such, except that almost all internet in rural India will be mobile internet and most phone calls in rural India will be mobile calls.
But what are they doing? Impulse is used to help stop human trafficking ! They especially focus on the NorthEastern part of India where young girls are often trafficked usually into the sex slave trade. The work on all aspects of the anti-human-trafficking issue, from helping save the girls, to catching the criminals, to prevention of the crime, to helping rehabilitate the victims. They work very closely with all formal government organizations especially the local police offices, and provide a bridge across different jurisdictions where one police department might not be aware of the criminal activities related to trafficking from a nearby region, etc. You can imagine the work, continuous chasing of police departments (who in some cases will be aware, and can even be involved, taking bribes etc). The Impulse team works with all possible interested parties from the United Nations to things like the Women's Forum and have been at it for two decades.
What truly astonished me, also, was that both of the representatives of the Impulse team to the mBillionth Awards Gala were young women. Really young, I felt like they had barely made it out of college. I can't start to imagine the hurdles a young woman will face, attempting to convince a police department of obviously mostly men, to go after some rural gangsters for possible child trafficking offenses. Yet they persist in this valuable work and keep at it. They are true heroes and heroins.
If you, my reader, are involved in the social responsibility activities of your company, or near those people, please draw their attention to Impulse. This is a great initiative. If you can get your company to help sponsor them or give them some assistane, this is one of those cases where true lives are involved. Please look into their work at
And any journalists among my readers - here is a great story that needs to be told. Please do consider researching and writing about Impulse.
Those were some quick thoughts from mBillionth Awards in New Delhi. There were many entries and winners from other South Asian countries than India, but by some coincidence all examples I took note of, happened to be from India. So again, please don't take this as a 'representative' sample, this was just some observations I made, on a truly wonderful day with the mobile industry and its award-winners.