Nineteen initiatives were announced Winners and four others received Special Mentions at the Social Media for Empowerment Awards 2016 amid much discussion, debate, networking and celebration. On March 15, 2016, Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) — with the strategic partnership of Twitter — organised the 3rd Social Media for Empowerment Awards and Summit at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Earlier in the day, a packed house was welcomed for the inaugural session by DEF Founder-Director Osama Manzar who broke some myths with his first few sentences.
“We often here that we’re all on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. However, only 10 per cent of this country is active on Facebook or Twitter. According to a recent study, 72 per cent of Indian women do not have access to mobile phones. Forget WhatsApp and Facebook, they don’t even have the basic calling facility. It’s actually only 40 per cent of India’s population that is using one billion SIM cards,” Manzar said.
He added that the reason DEF has dedicated an entire platform to honour social media-led initiatives is for two key powers of social media. Firstly, it is extremely interactive and engaging, “so much so that you often forget you’re on the steering wheel and continue to type on your phone”, he quipped. Secondly, social media allows users to exercise their democratic rights without the boundaries of geographical locations, caste, sex or religion.
“Today, I can tag Prime Minister Narendra Modi and tell him about my problems through Twitter. For how long will he ignore me? If he ignores me, somebody else might notice my tweet and offer help,” he added.
Social media is not just about having personal conversations, people are not selling products through Facebook, and institutions are offering MOOC on YouTube.
Manzar also took the opportunity to thank FNF for their support to social media-driven initiates, and to Mr. Pankaj Pachauri for encouraging the youth to learn about media tools and use them for the empowerment of masses. Pachauri is the Director of the Jaypee Business School in Noida.
With that, the floor was opened for the keynote speakers among whom were FNF Regional Director (South Asia) Dr. Ronald Meinardus; the National eGovernance Division was represented by Head (Strategy) Mr. Deepinder Singh; Deputy Commissioner of Bokaro district Mr. Rai Mahimapat Ray; and Founder & CEO of Crowdsourcing Week Epi Ludvik Nekaj.
A journalist-cum-activist and a social buff, Meinardus, reflected on the grilling Jury process that 12 members were a part of in January.
“I was honoured to be a member of the Grand Jury earlier this year. And the Grand Jury took no short cuts till the very end, until absolute physical and mental exhaustion in an effort to do justice to the candidates and to select only the very best of the submissions,” Meinardus said, adding that whatever the results may be, for him all Finalists are winners.
However, Meinardus also brought attention towards several obstacles that India faces in its road to Digital India. Challenges in digitisation is one of the major problems in this part of the world but there is a lot of potential in this country if the dynamics of social media are rightly tapped.
“The technological push in this country is driven by a political leadership that is dedicated towards a ‘Digital India’ plan, which is visible in many activities being carried out under the government’s umbrella. However, on the voyage of a digital future, topping the list of funders is a growing digital divide and illiteracy,” he said.
Social media, fortunately, has the potential to counter and combat the inequalities — be it social, political, economical or cultural — in this country.
“Social media gives a voice to the voiceless and the marginalised, who are far too many in this part of the world,” Meinardus added.
To elaborate on the government’s role in giving a voice to the marginalised or a platform to the undeserved, was Mr Singh.
Though the government recognises that there are over 55,000 villages which are without any kind of connectivity, the government is taking several baby steps towards its vision of Digital India, and the MyGov platform is an example, he said. With the understanding, “Tech does not determine the society; it is the society,” the government has initiated a number of activities, schemes and projects that are empowering the country digitally.
“A digital divide is an economic and social inequality of persons in their access to use of or knowledge of ICTs,” and so the government is dedicated towards reaching out to maximum number of citizens through the online platform.
However, one of the youngest District Collectors, Ray, had views that questioned the government’s plan for Digital India. He disagreed with Singh’s view that the government as using social media in an efficient and optimum manner.”
“When we talk about social media, we conjure up the image of our favourite platform but we forget that all platforms, by nature, are social,” Ray said.
Ray believes ‘social media for governance’ is the way forward for efficient and effective governance in this country. However, social media has not completely been internalised within the government yet. Also, the government is using social media through a top-down approach.
Ray had several examples to share that highlight the impact that social media can make in various sectors and capacities.
There are several Facebook and WhatsApp groups with bureaucrats as members where they discuss matters across topics. “And it is a novelty in the administrative services to have a free discussion, ignoring the seniority or hierarchy of officers which you would otherwise see within our office walls,” Ray shared.
It were the younger officers who first understood the power of social media to directly connect with the citizens and answer issues in real time. At that time, however, the senior officers felt that social media was merely a distraction to increase their popularity or to stay away from the real brick-and-mortar work.
Ray shared an initiative where a bureaucratic officer had sent out a tweet, offering free biryani to those who would come up to help in the cleaning of a local river. The budget allocated for this cleaning task was Rs. 57,000, and the size of the river was 57,000 square metre, which meant a rupee for every square metre. However, the tweet worked wonder. Thousands of people gathered, and the river was cleaned up in six hours. “No payments were rolled out, just biryani!” exclaimed Ray.
More recently, at the time of the communal violence in Ranchi, Ray and his team were constantly looking up #Ranchi and #Jharkhand to keep track of the situation. The team was answering people’s queries and initiative a dialogue with them, in a time of serious distress, in real time. “Avenues for information are very restricted during a communal violence, especially when Section 144 has been imposed. Yet, 400 tweets were answered in 12 hours,” Ray said.
“Social media breaks down walls. You can’t fake the blue WhatsApp ticks. If it’s blue, you’ve read it. You can’t say that my PA read it and didn’t tell me,” he added.
Within a month of joining office, Ray was a member of 12 WhatsApp groups ranging from telecom, national highway and general administration, among others.
“We need to look out for instant solutions in this age of retweets. If I’m meeting 150 people in my office in a day, I can’t ignore the 125 who are trying to connect with me over Twitter or WhatsApp,” he said, adding that he hopes the use of social media is internalised within the bureaucratic overhaul.
Agreeing with the Ray, and adding to it, Nekaj asked members in the audience,” Yes, we have Twitter, Facebook and YouTube but how many of us our immersing ourselves and getting to the right places with these channels? Yes, social media has given us a voice but what are we doing with that voice? What are you doing on social media?”
Nekaj brought attention to the fact that these social media platforms are making millions because our eyeballs are glued to these platforms. “I feel the Internet has just started. Now, the crowds have multiple sources, reaching out to even peer-to-peer levels,” he said.
Speaking about crowds and sources, he brought the audience’s attention to the amazing world of crowdsourcing that is available online.
“We humans are part of a new economic model. I say “new” because for the last many years, we’ve seen that the capitalist model does not work as it’s not connected with the citizens. But in the future, I can see everyone is connected. And crowdsourcing is just one source,” Nekaj added.
DEF and the Crowdsourcing Week are co-hosting a summit on crowdsourcing later this year in Bengaluru, Karnataka.
The Awards Gala in the evening started with a scintillating folk musical performance by Meherdin Khan Langa and Umar Farukh, following which the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, R Jaya, addressed the crowd.
“These awards recognise the power of social media, which is giving a voice to the voiceless, the muted and the unheard. Eventually, leading to a such a loud noise that cannot be ignored,” she said, adding there are so many stories — of farmers or rural women — that have been heard, courtesy the various social media platforms.
Politician and economist NK Singh discussed the power of digital platforms, which is visible when in the reach of the voices though social media, which is far beyond the reach of mainstream media. He added, “The challenges of education cannot be addressed unless we look to innovative solutions in the training of teachers, in the learning process for children and in making available quality resources to children.” In the same way, we need not just digital but innovative digital solutions across sectors.
“‘Twin Flame’ or the partnership between passion and compassion is what will make a difference,” added Singh.
This year, SM4E received 266 entries. These were then filtered by a Virtual Jury and a shortlisted set of nominations then went to the Grand Jury for the final process. The winners were selected after a rigorous Jury process that saw a lot of debate and discussion to ensure that only the best and most promising initiatives win across each of the 10 categories. We wish all winners, Finalists and nominees the best of luck, and hope to see social media doing wonders in the area of empowerment of all sections of the society.
Below is a list of Social Media for Empowerment 2016 Winners and Special Mentions.
|OurKPK.com – Pakistan|
|Shramik Bharti – India|
|Communication, Advocacy & Development Activism|
|Aangan Trust – India|
|CHILDLINE India Foundation – India|
|The Catalyst – TC – Pakistan|
|Goonj – India|
|Annakshetra Foundation Trust – India|
|District Administration Kozhikode – India|
|Agni Foundation – India|
|BitGiving – India|
|Transparent Hands – Pakistan|
|Wishberry.in – India|
|Puppetica Media – India|
|Chhattisgarh Infosec Society – India|
|The Cyber Blog – India|
|Indian Institute of Management, Rohtak – India|
|Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department – India|
|Hyderabad City Police – India|
|Social Commerce & Enterprise|
|Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation – India|
|Desta Global – India|
|Breakthrough – India|
|My Choices Foundation – India|
|Red Dot Foundation – India|
To more details, visit www.sm4e.org.