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Locating gender in ICTD projects - Rural eSeva kiosks

Locating gender in ICTD projects - Rural eSeva kiosks

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Published by IT for Change
This case study is a part of the broader research study Locating gender in ICTD projects: five cases from India, undertaken by IT for Change, which sought to understand how principles promoting women's inclusion and gender sensitivity can be incorporated into Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) projects through an analysis of five interventions. The specific projects were selected on the basis of their representation of different development typologies, geographical coverage, scale, type of ownership (government or civil society sector) and their stated approach to gender and social justice. In addition to the field research undertaken between February and April 2007 using qualitative methods, the research also built on secondary sources. Each of the five interventions aims to improve community development and linkages with external institutions to better address community needs, while women's empowerment was not necessarily an explicit objective for all cases.
This case study is a part of the broader research study Locating gender in ICTD projects: five cases from India, undertaken by IT for Change, which sought to understand how principles promoting women's inclusion and gender sensitivity can be incorporated into Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) projects through an analysis of five interventions. The specific projects were selected on the basis of their representation of different development typologies, geographical coverage, scale, type of ownership (government or civil society sector) and their stated approach to gender and social justice. In addition to the field research undertaken between February and April 2007 using qualitative methods, the research also built on secondary sources. Each of the five interventions aims to improve community development and linkages with external institutions to better address community needs, while women's empowerment was not necessarily an explicit objective for all cases.

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Published by: IT for Change on Dec 15, 2010
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This case study is a part o the broader research study
Locating gender in ICTD projects: fve cases rom India,
 undertaken by IT or Change, which sought to understand how principles promoting women’s inclusion andgender sensitivity can be incorporated into Inormation and Communication Technologies or Development(ICTD) projects through an analysis o ve interventions:
 Abhiyan
’s
Mahiti Mitra
kiosks, DHAN Foundation’sVillage Inormation Centres, the
E-Krishi 
application within the
 Akshaya
project, rural
eSeva
kiosks and theCommunity Learning Centres and Trade Facilitation Centres o SEWA
1
. These specic projects were selectedon the basis o their representation o dierent development typologies
2
, geographical coverage, scale, typeo ownership (government or civil society sector) and their stated approach to gender and social justice.In addition to the eld research undertaken between February and April 2007 using qualitative methods,the research also built on secondary sources. Each o the ve interventions aims to improve communitydevelopment and linkages with external institutions to better address community needs, while women’sempowerment was not necessarily an explicit objective or all cases. This case study analyses the rural
eSeva
kiosks
3
.
From urban to ruraleSeva kiosks
Initiated by the DistrictCollector
4
o West Godavari(Andhra Pradesh) in 2002, therural
eSeva
project came outo the experience o the urban
eSeva
project in the twin citieso Hyderabad and Secunderabad.While a typical urban
eSeva
 centre is a bill collection centre,in rural
eSeva
, the delivery oa broader set o services wasmeant to be the central element,as many o these services do nothave a direct revenue model. Thecentres were thus establishedto balance the concern onancial sustainability with therequirement o providing anarray o development services toall sections o society, includingthe disadvantaged sections. Theaim o the project was to providerural citizens with dierentgovernment services at a singlepoint and place through web-enabled kiosks. As a considerablenumber o these centres wouldbe run by women or youth sel-help group (SHG) members, theproject would empower them tobecome agents o change in theircommunities through the use oICTs in establishing knowledgehubs in rural areas.The project was set up in WestGodavari District, where kiosks(
Kendras
) were established atthe 46
mandal
5
headquarterswith extension centres at thevillage level, called Rural ServiceDelivery Points (RSDPs), in 18villages.The thrust has been onconvenient and ecient serviceprovision to create accountableand transparent governance,and on enhancing citizen-accessto government services and
The gender agenda,being a highlycontested one, andrequiring a major pushfrom the top levels inorder to secure buy-inat other levels of thegovernment as well asfrom the grassrootscommunity, facesthe threat of dilutionin the absence of asustainable vision thatcuts across individualleaders.
redressal mechanisms to bringabout rural development. Theproject also ocuses on women’sempowerment through theselection o SHG women asentrepreneurs.
IT for Change Case Study
Rural eSeva kiosks
IT for Change2008
 
IT for Change Case Study, Rural eSeva kiosks
ICTD implementationmodel and actors
This project attempts to providean end-to-end IT solution, andthrough improved eciency andtransparency in the governmentsector, benet all sections othe community. The idea wasto roll out a project within ashort time-rame – two tothree months rom the initialconceptualisation o the initiative– and tap into existing resourceswithin the system and in thecommunity that would allow orthe rapid roll-out. In the wordso Mr. Sanjay Jaju, MunicipalCommissioner (Hyderabad)and visionary o the projecttechnology has to be broughtto the masses because ‘it is anenabler and acts as a big leveller.It allows you to digitise recordsand do many other things. Youcannot have a situation wherepeople are expected to unctionwithout technology’.The kiosks provide a range oservices: utility bill payments;issuance o certicates; onlineapplications; SHG accountsmaintenance; computereducation; grievance ling,and marketing gatewayor SHG products (the lasttwo components were notunctional at the time oresearch). Each kiosk isequipped with computers,UPS, modem, printer(s), webcamera, lamination machineand electricity metre-readingdevice(s). Windows OS andMS Oce are used on thecomputers. Specic andlocalised applications, developedby the district NationalInormatics Centre (NIC),acilitate access to variousservices. The internet connectionis provided by NIC, although 17
eSeva
kiosks work ofine andare periodically updated througha synchronisation tool with thedistrict server.The rural
eSeva
centre is runby an entrepreneur or a groupo entrepreneurs rom SHGs.Entrepreneurs are selectedunder the schemes o theDistrict Rural DevelopmentAgency (DRDA) and o theagencies or Scheduled Castes(SC)
6
. Preerence was givento women who are memberso SHGs, and about 30% othe centres are run by them.The entrepreneurs do notreceive any subsidies, but arelinked to commercial loans tobe able to initiate the projectand purchase the necessaryequipment and inrastructure.They receive computer-related training and guidancein managing the centre in theinitial period or six months,ollowed by periodic meetingsto get inputs on new servicesand discuss issues andproblems.The centres were inauguratedby Members o the LegislativeAssembly (MLA), Members oParliament (MP) and
Panchayat 
7
 representatives, in order toprevent conficts emerging romthe power shits caused by thisnew innovation and to ensurethe cooperation o the powerelite. It was believed also thatthe involvement o the local elitewould help local level ownershipwhich is crucial or the long termsustainability o the centres.A large percentage o thecitizens, including women andchildren, use services oered atthe
eSeva
centres. Communitymembers sometimes articulatetheir needs to
eSeva
operators,who attempt to meet them byharnessing the support o theproject administrators.
Challenges and positiveoutcomes
While governments are slow tochange, and technologies maycreate a new set o opportunitiesto reorm government systems,the success o an initiative like
eSeva
relies on an innovativeand entrepreneurial approach,backed by strong visionarieswho come rom positionso considerable power andimportance. The questionremains, however, o how robustthe project is in withstandingchanges in leadership once ithas been rolled out. While therepresentatives o the projectelt that they had been ableto sustain and strengthen theproject beyond the tenure oits early champions, certainelements had weakened,in particular, the grievanceredressal portal which canhave deep implicationsgiven the potential o thisparticular initiative to unearthcorrupt practices or shedlight on ineciencies o statedepartments.From the angle o nancialsustainability, most centres atthe
mandal
level are unctioningwell and entrepreneurs haveemployed additional people tohelp with their operations. Inaddition to the regular line oservices, they sell non-ICT-
2
 
based goods and services(such as spices, groceries ordecorative items) to augmenttheir income. Aside rom theirnancial success, there has beena change in the status o theentrepreneurs, who have movedrom undertaking odd marketing jobs or working as agriculturallabourers to becoming kioskowners. Ater the initialscepticism and gossip aboutwomen’s capacity to be IT kioskoperators, women’s hard workand dedicated service ensuredthat the kiosk unctioned –and continued to unction – inan eective manner. Womenoperators strongly believe thattheir work in the kiosk broughtthem a new visibility and respectin the community, especially inthe
Panchayat 
. Mr. Jaju conrmsthis: ‘the power equationschanged. In many cases, womenstood or elections and became
sarpanches
8
. It also helpedgenerate a new SHG movementin terms o linkages’.The positive spillover oengaging women entrepreneursis also refected in the actthat 30-40 per cent o thecitizens who came to registeronline complaints through thegrievance redressal mechanismwere women, and these werecomplaints against non-deliveryo services by
panchayat 
 representatives and ocials in
IT for Change Case Study, Rural eSeva kiosks
positions o power. Accordingto Ms. Nagashiromani, anentrepreneur in Denduluru:‘Had the centre been run by aman, women would not havecome orward. It is because thecentre is run by a woman thatthey eel comortable’. Such avision is also accepted by districtocials.While IT projects attempt tobring about governance reormand challenge the power heldtraditionally by elites at ocialand community levels, theyconront trade-os in deningparameters o success in theirdesign and implementation. Thisis evident in
eSeva
. The choiceso creating stakeholder interestand bringing in maximum buy-in rom dierent departmentsand ocials by allowing themto choose the ‘beneciaries’under their dierent schemes,meant that certain other agenda– ensuring greater ownershipo centres by SHG women andthose rom disadvantagedcaste groups; securing thecooperation and involvement olocal
panchayats
; and setting upprocesses or wider communityparticipation – all had to takea back seat. Also, the need toget the project running in anextremely short span o time,so as to prove the possibilitieso IT in a large-scale project,meant that other processesdealing with the inormationand communication context, andpower relations embedded withinthis context at the communitylevel, had to be hastened orsidelined.
What do rural eSevakiosks tell us aboutgender in ICTD projects?
Business models may come inthe way of development goals
The twin goals o the projectwere to provide the most cost-eective technology solutionsand ensure that the servicedelivery person makes a decentincome through kiosk operations.In this regard, the project wasound to be sustainable as newapplications and new uses oexisting devices and processesare still being evolved by the
eSeva
implementation team.Yet, in the extension centres atthe village level (RSDP centres),the inability o the centres togenerate sucient incometo oset monthly expenses,due to the lack o a demandpool at the village level, led tothem being considered as ‘sickcentres’ in need o alternatestrategies and services. Whilenancial sustainability isimportant, making it a concernoverriding other developmentgoals is problematic, particularlywhen there may be severalintangible ways in whichwomen entrepreneurs arebeneting through their newroles, status and opportunities,and women users in thecommunity are beneting romthe newly available inormationand services. Conceiving osustainability in a narrow
The need to get the project running in anextremely short span of time, so as to prove thepossibilities of IT in a large-scale project, meantthat other processes dealing with the informationand communication context, and power relationsembedded within this context at the communitylevel, had to be hastened or sidelined.
3

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