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The Internet Saathi Programme

Sowing the Seeds of Change- The Internet Saathi Programme in UP
Started On

Internet Saathi is a joint initiative of Tata Trusts and Google (now managed by Foundation for Rural Entrepreneurship Development (FREND), a foundation promoted by Tata Trusts and supported by Google), launched to spread divide globally.When this initiative was launched, only 1 out of every 10 Internet users in rural India was a woman.The programme started in late November2016, in collaboration with six local partners, training 1,100 women representatives across seven districts of Uttar Pradesh (Chandauli, Ghazipur, Balrampur, Shravasti, Mahoba, Shamli and Ghaziabad).The programme’s objective was to ensure people digital literacy amongst women in Rural India and bridge one of the largest online gender in these communities, especially women, are aware of, empowered and included in the digitaleconomy.

As a strategy, it trains and prepares young rural women to becomeInternet Saathis who understand the basics use of internet. They in turn orient other women from their home village and other neighboring villages about the use of internet.Every Saathi has four villages as her work area where she meets and gives basic smartphone training to 600 beneficiaries. While generating awareness about the use of internet, one of the primary focuses remain on accessing information and services that can be used in a myriad of possible ways.In this process, we came to know that those women who were trained by internet saathi, they have increased their income by learning new skills.

Internet Saathi programme was implemented in a phased manner over the period of 2 years. The programme has been implemented on ground in 5 phases.At present Phia has trained about 20,368 saathis covering 97 districts, 76906 villages and more than 12 million women trained in some of the remotest parts of the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

The process of being trained and training other women emerged as an empowering process for the Saathis. They acquired greater skills in communication, leadership, conflict mitigation and negotiation while becoming more confident, independent and mobile. Umpteen stories of our Saathis challenging social barriers of caste, gender and patriarchy have emerged from our intervention areas.

Today Internet Saathi programme has expanded beyond the digital literacy aspect and is exploring various models of economic empowerment and promoting women entrepreneurship. This initiative aims at ensuring a regular and sustainable income to our Saathis through engagement in various kinds of digitally enabled avenues. This is a one of its kind initiative and which was started last year (2018) and is likely to grow in its experience and wisdom as it progresses.

The following are some of the initiatives under this program:

  • Internet Safety and Security Project: This project aimed at orienting women beneficiaries towards digital safety with the objective of maximizing the user's personal safety and security risks of private information while using the internet. 4200 Internet Saathis reached out to 4,67,847 women across 8400 villages in 178 blocks in 21 districts. They oriented these women about online safety and privacy and guided them to manage online personal data sharing with the help of videos and other collaterals.
  • Smart Betiyaan Project: Smart Betiyaan initiative of FREND along with UNICEF successfully accomplished its goals in December’18 bringing out the stories on positive deviance of child marriage in the rural region of Uttar Pradesh. These short video stories developed by Internet Saathis proved to be a powerful and impactful form of community driven content generation. In the second phase of Smart Betiyaan, the Saathis are engaging on other social issues like - nutrition, girl child drop-out, Right to Information and Child marriage. The Internet Saathis will create 600 videos with the help of adolescents in Shrawasti and Balrampur districts of Uttar Pradesh by December 2019. Saathi are provided with good quality of microphones and tripod for better assistance in the shoot.
  • Longitudinal Survey of Households and Institutions on Development Indicators: Internet: Saathis are carrying out longitudinal survey of health and education delivery status through health and education institutions along with surveying sampled households across 7 Districts in Uttar Pradesh (96 villages) and Jharkhand (240 villages). They carry out extensive interviews and questionnaire survey on education (Primary, Secondary and Higher Secondary), Health (District Hospital, PHC and Health Sub-center) along with a socio-economic development survey with the sampled households. The total saathis involved in the survey activities are 20 in Uttar Pradesh and 48 in Jharkhand.
  • Entrepreneurial Support: InternetSaathis who were keen to start their own venture were also supported and guided. There are 11 such stories from MP where Saathis started their own business-like beauty parlor, Boutique, dairy business etc. We also have stories from Bihar where one of our Saathi started her own play school post the literacy program and one of her beneficiary started creating soft toys and craft items. In Jharkhand 9 Saathis started small business around printing services, 3 Saathis started a boutique using designs from the web, 1 Saathi started providing digital services in her own village by opening the service centre in her own premises. All these were Saathis in 3 (Chatra, Gumla and Garwah) of the most naxal affected districts of Jharkhand. What’s really inspiring is how these women now use internet as an empowering tool to explore newer ideas and dimensions.
  • Google Bolo: Bolo is a learning app which enables a child’s learning capability. The role of a saathi was to download the app in the android phones and motivate the parents to make use of it among their children. This in turn would strengthen their vocabulary and as well as pronunciations. About 3964 saathis were involved in this project across all the 5 states namely Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.

The journey of empowerment of the Internet Saathis continue to inspire them, their families and their society. Constant conversations with the Internet Saathis has informed a deep rooted social change process where the programme acted as a stepping stone towards multiple dimensions of empowerment. This includes challenging caste and gender identity-based discrimination, raising critical questions onaccepted patriarchal social norms, finding financial independence through employment and entrepreneurship and realizing the value of independent mobility and decision making.

A cadre of 20000+ digitally and socially empowered women are waiting to take on the next challenge as their aspirational journey continues...