Tag Archives: DigitalDivide

ICT to the rescue in Bangladesh



I recently read a compelling story about how women are creating waves in rural Bangladesh using netbooks, GSM mobile phones, blood pressure monitors and other gadgets to help Bangladeshis and, at the same time, provide them with an opportunity to break out of poverty.

The story shows how a good idea along with some resources and local effort can solve real problems using information and communication technology (ICT). Even though this idea seems simple, there are few projects in the Indian subcontinent which utilize ICT successfully to educate and empower people in rural areas. Currently these netbooks run a version of Windows. It would be great to see projects like this get even more mileage by using FOSS and open knowledge repositories like Wikipedia.

Highlights from the article:

“Akhter belongs to a motley band of “InfoLadies,” who are piloting a revolutionary idea – giving millions of Bangladeshis, trapped in a cycle of poverty and natural disaster, access to information on their doorstep to improve their chances in life.

“…An InfoLady’s netbook is loaded with content especially compiled and translated in local Bangla language,” says Mohammed Forhad Uddin of D.Net, a not-for-profit research organization that is pioneering access to livelihood information.”

“…It provides answers and solutions to some of the most common problems faced by people in villages.”

“…In Bangladesh this means nearly three-quarters of the nearly 160 million that live in rural areas. From agriculture to health, sanitation and disaster management, the content follows simple text, pictures and engaging multimedia animations to include all users, many of whom are illiterate.”

Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst in India

Red Hat’s CEO James Whitehurst is currently on his first trip to India since he took over from Matthew Szulik last December. Whitehurst is to meet with top industry and government leaders. He is also scheduled to meet with members of the open source community as well as famous academics such as Dr. Deepak Phatak of IIT Bombay.

In an interview in Mumbai, Whitehurst hoped that open source software adoption would continue to grow as more e-governance projects are sanctioned. India’s central government continues to increase its investment to make IT services accessible to a larger percentage of people in rural and small town communities. Red Hat India continues to focus on growing Linux and open source deployment in four key markets in India – government, BFSI, telecom and education.

Localization and Open Standards

Other areas that Whitehurst sees as big ticket items for India are local language localization and adoption of open standards. Both these areas are crucial for supporting large e-governance projects. Red Hat India continues to make serious contributions to language localization by incorporating support for 11 Indian languages in RHEL and Fedora. Languages that are fully supported include Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Telegu and Tamil. Whitehurst reiterated the need for localization in helping reduce the digital-divide in India.

Whitehurst highlighted Red Hat’s efforts to promote open standards as a dynamic that could change society in the long run. Red Hat has made significant headway in lobbying for adoption of open standards by the central government. India voted against OOXML in favor of ODF earlier this year at ISO. However, despite objections against OOXML, it was approved by ISO as an international standard in August. Appeals from Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela that stemmed from irregularities surrounding the approval process were rejected by ISO.

India’s Fedora Community

Whitehurst also praised the Indian Fedora community for actively working on Fedora. India has the third largest group of contributors to the Fedora project. 26 contributors (many of whom work for Red Hat India) are listed on the Fedora project wiki.