New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) was started in 2002 out of the deep understanding that marginalised communities living in socio-economic backwardness and information poverty can be empowered to improve their lives on their own, simply by providing them access to information and knowledge on using digital tools. And so, in 2002, DEF was registered as a not-for-profit organisation under the Indian Societies Registration Act, 1860, to carry out this mission of empowering people digitally.
Today, DEF is one of the world’s leading practitioners in the field of Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). Its Founder and Director, Osama Manzar, is globally recognised as an expert in this field and he, or DEF as an organisation, is a member of several national and international government and non-government bodies, expert panels and task forces engaged in promoting a digitally-empowered and information-rich society.
Through all its diverse activities, DEF seeks to help people living in information darkness overcome the information barrier, learn how to use digital tools and the Internet to achieve greater socio-economic equality by uplifting themselves almost on their own using the power of digital devices to access information and knowledge.
So far, DEF has empowered more than one million hitherto marginalised people living in information darkness and socio-economically backward areas to become digitally literate and access the Internet. It has also enabled more than 5,000 entities such as civil society organisations, micro-enterprises, schools, public libraries, heritage sites and village-level local government bodies to adopt digital tools, set up their own websites and avail all possible benefits of an information-rich society in the age of information, created and driven by the architecture of information & communication technologies and the global digital and knowledge revolution. It has also created a knowledge network and database of more than 7,500 ICTD interventions and practitioners across India, South Asia and the Asia Pacific region through its various award platforms that discover, recognise and honour innovators using different digital media.
DEF has adopted a multi-stakeholder and multi-dimensional approach based on establishing community-owned and community-managed digital infrastructure and Internet access points in rural and semi-urban areas which operate in such a way that the entire community can avail the benefits of access to the Internet and the global information highway. This is done not only by establishing common Internet access points with all basic digital infrastructure such as computers, laptops, tablets, printers, photo printers, scanners, web cameras, etc. but also by spreading digital literacy among the masses either free of cost or at very affordable prices.
Today, DEF has its presence in 150 locations spread across 80 districts of 22 states in India through common access points called Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs). These community-owned and community-managed access points also enable DEF to roll out various other digital interventions across several dimensions with the overarching goal of empowering citizens, governments, businesses and civil society organisations by enabling them to use digital tools and access the Internet.
Over the years, DEF’s work has evolved to cover six programmatic verticals or major work areas under which several projects have been launched. These programmatic areas are:
1. Access & Infrastructure
2. Governance & Entitlements
3. Education & Empowerment
4. Markets & Social Enterprises
5. Knowledge Hub & Network
6. Research & Advocacy
In the last 15 years of its existence, DEF has initiated and worked on various projects with support from the Indian government and the state government; multilateral agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank; global civil society organisations such as the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Public Interest Registry (PIR); private national and international philanthropic foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Vodafone Foundation, Intel Foundation; and private sector companies such as Intel, Google Inc and Microsoft Inc; among many others.
In implementing its projects, DEF has achieved immense reach in truly grassroots communities and has acquired a great deal of knowledge of ground conditions in different rural and semi-urban areas of India through collaboration with thousands of civil society and community-based organisations.
In the past few years, DEF has grown rapidly from having just a handful of employees to a total staff strength of nearly 400 now spread across the length and breadth of India. And we continue to attract global talent.
Apart from India, DEF now offers help to civil society organisations engaged in the field of ICTD in Africa, South Asia and the Asia Pacific region.
To strengthen the global community and become part of the global development fraternity for an empowered world, DEF is affiliated to the following associations, bilateral, multilateral agencies as institutional member: