Technology in general, and social media in particular, have recently received a lot of flack. Many complain, even in a digital India, that they are a waste of time, paint unrealistic expectations of travel (and life) and make us anti-social.
In the past year though, I’ve discovered some surprising ways in which the internet is being used to drive positive change. During my year-long collaboration with Airtel, documenting stories of digital empowerment in India, I’ve come across inspiring individuals and organisations leveraging technology to fight gender stereotypes among tribal women in Madhya Pradesh, help farmers in Haryana make climate resilient agricultural decisions, document traditional medicine in a remote mountain desert, and rescue bruised and battered horses in Karnataka.
Behold, a small selection of inspiring stories from across the country, that prove that there are two sides to every coin, including social media:
Digital India: An app that enables teachers to teach kids about sustainability
When my friend Helene, who runs the beautiful Secret Garden in Goa, introduced me to Simran Mulchandani, I had no idea how a single mobile app could have the potential to revolutionise formal schooling. As you might be aware, schools in South Asia are very different from our western counterparts. The emphasis on academic grades trumps personal growth and out-of-the-box thinking. That’s exactly what Simran’s (and his colleagues Priyanka Seth Pandit and Karishma Menon) brainchild “Project Rangeet” aims to address – and after rolling out across 3,000 schools in Bangladesh, they are dreaming of a digital India and setting up pilots across Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Pune.
Project Rangeet’s app is designed to empower teachers to deliver lessons on sustainability and other important issues like gender inequality – through music, art and storytelling. The app can track the quality of lessons on a micro level, and incentives are designed to reward hard-working teachers. While beta testing the Indian version of the app, I wistfully wished it had rolled out when I was in school!
If you have access to an educational institution and care about sustainability reaching Indian classrooms, reach out to Project Rangeet to explore a collaboration.
Digital India: A sanctuary that relies on Instagram to rescue and rehabilitate horses and donkeys
On the idyllic Karnataka countryside, Zoha Jung, the founder of The Backwater Sanctuary, has dedicated her life to rescuing and rehabilitating horses, ponies, donkeys and mules who have suffered immensely at the hands of humans. These animals often have broken spirits and limbs after being worked to the ground for riding, pulling carts and carrying loads.
What does digital India have to do with this? Much to my surprise, Zoha told me that she can’t imagine her sanctuary functioning like it does without Instagram! She painstakingly documents the often disturbing rescues and their inspiring recoveries on her Instagram posts and stories. And her niche community responds by helping identify and plan new rescues, as well as sponsoring the existing ones.
We can support The Backwater Sanctuary’s incredible work by sponsoring one of their rescues or donating whatever possible; DM them on Instagram if you’d like to contribute. Also, please say a firm no to riding these animals, using them in weddings or making them carry loads on a trek.
Digital India: Using technology to connect tribal women with urban female mentors
It’s a shame that even in 2020, many women in rural (and urban) India are only expected to fulfill the duties of a wife, mother, cook and cleaner. Project GOAL by the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) strives to challenge such conventions. In their pilot project, DEF selected a handful of women from a tribal village in Madhya Pradesh, introduced them to the internet and social media, and connected each with an urban female entrepreneur.
The weekly mentorship calls aimed to help build connections that broadened the perspectives of both rural and urban women, by learning about the challenges and aspirations of their counterparts. This year, Facebook has partnered with DEF to roll out this unique mentorship project on a larger scale – and I hope to join it as a mentor someday!
Connect with DEF to follow their unique and inspiring work in digital India.
India’s first Instagram channel run entirely by rural Himalayan storytellers!
Back in 2017, in the remote reaches of Uttarakhand’s Munsiyari district, began India’s first (and only) Instagram channel to be run entirely by a rural village community. We began with just a few smartphones, a handful of young adults and a basic Instagram tutorial. In 2018, we crowdsourced 10 smartphones (big thank you again to those of you who contributed), held a photography and Instagram workshop in the village (supported by professional photographer Jayashree) and garnered interest from many women in the village to join the community-run channel.
In 2019, Alka Rautela, a university student and one of the youngest storytellers on the channel, saved up her money to buy a DSLR camera and further her interest in photography (follow her dreamy work on Instagram @alka_rautela). Soon, her sister Pallawi, even younger than Alka, took on the role of the official photographer for the annual village mela and produced some amazing work (follow her on Instagram @pallawi_rautela).
Follow @voicesofmunsiari on Instagram, or better still, stay in Sarmoli’s community-run homestays to learn about their mountain world and their connection with digital India.
How has technology or social media changed your world in a positive way?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.