Starting from October, every month, I will be writing about Social Initiatives from India and around the world that aim to improve the lives of people. We start with a story about how a ‘Question-Box’ is changing the life of rural India, and Uganda.

Internet has become a source of knowledge to most of us. For a majority of rural India, internet access is not affordable. Internet is not prevalent in rural India. But the team of ‘Question Box’ devised a method of bringing that knowledge to rural India.

At the core of the System is an intercom box that features a green button. By pressing the green button, the user is connected to the operator sitting in front of a computer with internet connection. The user asks the question, operator finds the answers online, and provides the answer to the user. The user is not required to have any computer skills, can ask questions in their local language, and operators provide answers in the local language. The Question Box uses mobile phone and solar technologies.

Question Boxes bring information to people who cannot or do not access the Internet directly. Question Boxes leap over illiteracy, computer illiteracy, lack of networks, and language barriers. They provide immediate, relevant information to people using their preferred mode of communication: speaking and listening. As such, Question Boxes combine the ease of using mobile phones with the enormous information and communication power of the Internet. Question Box users can use their mobile phones to call the call centers, or they can use the physical Question Box Units to call for free.

Farmers can now find out the price of produce in markets before hand and  college students can find out their exam results with the touch of  a button(previously they would have to travel many miles to get them).  These are just a couple of examples of how it has been used in India. Here is a technology solution which is not eliminating the human interaction. This service is now available in Uganda too, but with a difference.

In Uganda, though, the Indian model proved unworkable because Internet connections are so slow. So the operators at Question Box search a locally stored database created by Appfrica Labs, a Ugandan company that hosts the call center. The database contains answers to past questions as well as a repository of documents, government statistics and research papers.

You can read more about Question Box on their official website.

Article of interest: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/technology/internet/28village.html?_r=1

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