Awaaz De, a for-profit social enterprise, has been developing inclusive mobile solutions to help farmers in rural Gujarat, empowered women Self Help Groups in Assam and gave transparency of governance to NGOs and trade unions in Bihar.In 2016, a global survey conducted by Standard & Poor’s Financial Services revealed that 76% of Indian adults do not understand basic financial concepts. In a country where 224 million citizens live below the poverty line, the need for enhancing financial literacy and financial inclusion seems all the more imperative. With financial inclusion being one of its key areas of focus Awaaz De, a for-profit social enterprise, has been developing inclusive mobile solutions for client organisations to bring about an enlightening reform in sectors like agriculture, finance, governance and education. It was co-founder and CEO Dr Neil Patel’s desire to switch from working as a computer engineer in Silicon Valley to work for a more meaningful purpose that led him to start pursuing his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University. What began as a PhD dissertation involving a prototype technology to empower farmers in rural Gujarat to share agricultural advice soon turned into a communications platform that has been supporting 300+ organisations to create social impact in 12 countries.
The contributions of Co-founders, Chief Scientist Dr Tapan Parikh and Chief Growth Coordinator Ms Sonali Mehta-Rao, have further aided Awaz De in enabling them to reach to 680,000 users. Awaaz De’s work in the financial sector involves providing business-to-business communication services – in the forms of IVR, SMS, mobile apps and web – to clients ranging from full-profit and nonprofit microfinance institutions to banks engaged in promoting financial inclusion. Having been involved in several interesting projects, such as one with CRISIL Foundation in Assam aimed at enhancing financial literacy among women in Self Help Groups, which involves providing a wide range of financial literacy content, from keeping track of household expenses to government insurance schemes and women employment, through their mobile services; Awaaz De continues in its endeavour towards improving the access of information to the masses.
Another project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focused on analysing a cooperative bank’s customers’ financial behaviour and opinions regarding different products and services, especially digital financial services like mobile money. Quantitative data on their end-users’ interaction with financial literacy content reveal that in the ongoing project in Assam with CRISIL foundation, on an average, each woman from the SHGs gives a missed call to the system and remains connected to the call for a total of 4-5 minutes to listen to stories. As Vice-President- Business Development, Elliot Rosenberg puts it, “Probably for you and I, it may not be appealing to listen to such calls, but when we are dealing with poor, rural women and providing them with entertaining stories in the local language and they get information that’s viable for them and their families, and accessing which is free and doesn’t require internet access instead they just need to be to be able to make a missed call; the concept is quite appealing for them.”
In the agricultural sector, Awaaz De runs a mobile-phone based Interactive Voice Response service which has provided farmers across Gujarat the 24 hours a day, 365 days a year access to customised agricultural advice. In education, they partnered with Teach for India to enhance parents’ engagement in their child’s education and having used its platform as a medium for instruction enforcement with students and for training teachers, the company’s work entitled providing cell phone features for recording homework assignments, and short audio files comprising of the summary of a training or instruction module.
A promoter of effective and transparent governance, Awaaz De has worked for Stanford’s Liberation Technology program in empowering NGOs and trade unions in Bihar like the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan(JJSS) for combating corruption at the government level and the improper implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act(NREGA). Their work in this project has involved the use of the service Streams, which facilitates the broadcast of policy information to target individuals. Currently, in the process of releasing a new product in the next couple of months for the generation of a redesigned platform with an augmented user-friendly interface, and also intending to make the custom software development feature accessible to all clients and with a motive of widening the reach of financial services, Awaaz De’s techno-social journey continues on a reinvented path.
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