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Building SMS network
for empowering poor
On the occasion of Baramati Initiatives – ICT 2008, the i4d
team caught up with Ravi Ghate of SMSONE, Pune. Ravi
Ghate, National Youth Awardee by Govt of India is the Chief
Coordinator of SMSONE. As a Social Entrepreneur, Ghate
has been working towards the empowerment of grassroots and
marginalised people since the last 15 years. As a coordinator of
SMSONE, Ghate has been working since the last two years. His
pathfinding innovation, ‘Self Employment Promotion Through
Local SMS Community Newsletter’ won the Manthan Award
last year & Clinton Global Initiative’s YES FUND Award for
Best Business Plan this year. Here, his perspectives and views
on connecting every household, empowering them through
Ravi Ghate, Chief Coordinator, SMS news & services and providing employment opportunities
SMSONE, Pune, India for the school/college dropouts are discussed.

What made you initiate the idea of and interactive communities, SMSONE community which is faster than any other
launching SMSONE? was launched. media. A day will come when every media
Everyone is aware that ‘Mobile’ has changed house will mark SMS as priority media.
the entire communication scenario of the How are you going to develop SMS as
World. In India, mobile telephony has a media ? What is the Local SMS Community
brought the communication revolution so Considering the high numbers of SMSs, Newsletter model that you follow?
suddenly that nearly 230 million of Indian we are trying to develop SMS as a Local SMS Community Newsletter is a
population are now connected!!! And right MEDIA. Apart from using SMSs to trans- location-based citizen centric information
from street hawkers to businessmen every mit messages at one-to-one level, we are & knowledge focused update & alert
one is now ‘mobile’. Indian Government also using bulk SMS technology to com- service through SMS which is free for the
is expecting around 70 crore of mobile us- municate one-to-many type of messages members and is run by a local – social
ers by 2015. This will eventually result in for the welfare of common citizens. Banks entrepreneur.
higher number of SMSs being transmitted and insurance companies are already using
through mobile networks. bulk SMS technology to extend their reach. How do you regulate the SMSONE
Personally, I think that SMS as a SMS as a media can be as powerful as Print, network?
medium is faster and more effective than TV, Radio or Internet. On an average, Through our network, we identify on
any other medium. And if advertisements every household has a mobile phone. For a priority basis,10th/12th failed or high-
are considered, it has a high response rate, watching TV one has to be at home. For school/college drop outs, opportunity
say 9 percent as per international reports. sending e-mails one has to have Internet less – street wanderers, demoralised and
SMS readability ratio is 95 percent. And connectivity and supporting logistics, but financially backward youths. We give them
strong messages send through SMS ser- with a mobile in hand, any message or one day training and explain our system,
vices can bind the community too. In information can be sent out to you. It is a procedures and social agenda. We call these
a bid to unite all the community users media which is always on and is always with boys ‘Community Leaders’. These boys
under a single umbrella and also to form you. Any news, message, alert, update can are the main link to the community. The
location-based, integrated, interconnected be transmitted within a minute to a specific community leader’s first task is to conduct
i4d | June 2008
a survey in the community and get some basic information from difficult challenges is the mentality of the young boys who
each household. During the survey we explain the community come to us for work. As I mentioned earlier, we take only 10th
people that our service is free of cost and convince them about and 12th fail students. When they come to us, they are totally
the efficacy and importance of our messages. We take their demoralised and have very low self esteem. Convincing them
written consent before sending them any kind of message. Once that, the opportunity we are providing is going to change their
information of 1000 mobile users is collected, the community lives and they can earn upto INR 6000 per month is the biggest
leader sends it to our Head Office (HO) at Pune. We do the and the toughest challenge.
analysis regarding the profile of the community and after rewriting
it and approving it, HO sends it to the 1000 community members. What are your future plans for expansion?
Then we create a location specific sender ID for the community. We want to have a pan India presence with 10 million subscribers
For eg. if we are operating in Karolbaug, then the sender ID will under 10,000 community leaders. We follow the franchisee model
be Karol News or Karolbaug4U. We usually send family related and partner with good statewide NGO’s in different states.
messages between 6-8 PM as this is the time when most people
come back from offices and are relaxed. As a matter of policy we What are your future goals?
send only one message per week, maximum four commercial Very clearly, though our messaging service, we would like to gen-
and 2 or 3 social messages per month. If someone wants to send erate more than 2,00,000 self employment opportunities for the
any kind of message in a particular locality, he/she contacts our youth in India. And through them, I want to weave every Indian
community leader. Community leader has the full freedom to house affectionately with the thread of SMS.
negotiate the price for each message that he sends, usually it is
between INR 2-3 per message. What inspired you to start SMSONE?
I idolise Mahatma Gandhi for his achievements in bringing people
What is the source of revenue for you and for Community together and Dr. Muhammad Yunus for his efforts to bridge the
Leader? social and economic divide. Personally, I think, now a days, Indian
Out of each message sent, I take 50 paisa, irrespective of the rate public seldom believes in any mass leader, therefore ICT’s can play
charged by the community leader. Rest of the money is kept by an important role in bridging not only the ‘Digital divide’ but
him and that is his income. There are instances when two or three also the social and economic divide through right and on-time
people want to avail of our service in the same week. In such cases information based on genuine knowledge. Through SMSOne
whoever is ready to pay more money, we circulate his message. mission, we are trying to bring the people together, generate
During elections all the political parties want to use our service more avenues of employment and create a sense of oneness in
so whoever is ready to pay more for each message, we circulate the local community.
their messages. But my share remains the same, i.e. 50 paisa per
message, out of which 40 paise goes as SMS credit charges. How your project will bridge the ‘Digital Divide’
In Indian society, most of the earning members have mobile
What are the kinds of messages that people send through phones. By communicating with him/her, one can access all
SMSONE. members of his family. Now just consider, if a self-employed
All kinds of messages are transmitted through our service. From youth sends a health camp related SMS, then the SMS would be
Birthday announcement of a local politician to social messages discussed amongst all the members. Eventually, the members of the
like socio-cultural programmes to events and initiatives like blood house who require medical aid and advice would attend the health
donation campaigns, health camps, spiritual lectures etc. Our camp. They also inform their neighbours about the health camp.
community leaders are popularly called ‘Mobile Journalists’ and Consider another case, if the community leader sends an SMS
at times government agencies contact them to reach out to the stating that please attend the Spiritual Lecture by some Saint, then
community. Like for example, if there is water cut in a particular the elderly members of the house generally attend the Lecture. This
area then through our service we tell all subscribers that there clearly indicates that irrespective of whether the elderly members
would be no water during a particular hour of the day. Through or kids have access to telecommunications technology or not, we
our service, we also provide community help and social service. For can reach them through SMS and encourage them to take part in
example, some time ago, in Pune, a woman fell ill and she didn’t social activities, thereby bridging the digital divide.
have any financial support. Through our service, our community
leader raised around INR 7000 and paid for her treatment. How this project is a Social Networking Project?
One social SMS impacts at least five members of the house. And
What is the total spread of your operation? we are connecting 1000 mobile users in a Local community,
We are currently working in 21 districts of Maharashtra with which clearly means that we are communicating with not less
more than 275 local communities and have more than two lakh than 5000 citizens. Likewise we are forming at least 1,000 such
subscribers. communities in Maharashtra, that clearly means that we are net-
working more than five million Maharashtrians under one roof.
Mention the challenges that you face while implementing The social networking and the empowerment of the unemployed
SMSONE project? youth at various nodes of community living marks the success
There are a couple of challenges that we face. One of the most of SMSONE. „
June 2008 |