SMS Community Newsletter: Serving Mankind Smartly

Ravi Ghate

Pune-based Ravi Ghate runs a local SMS Community Newsletter service and his motto is ‘From Zero for Zeros.’ In 2006, he won the National Youth Award, Government of India’s highest award given to Youth Social Workers in India for his contribution in “Computer Literacy Mission” & “Technology for the Masses.” In 2007, he received the prestigious Manthan Award. The Manthan Award was in the category of ‘e-Youth’ awarded to SMSONE for “Self Employment promotion through Local SMS Communities” project. In 2008, it was a win in the YES Fund ICT Business Plan Competition 2008’ supported by CLINTON Global Initiative & Microsoft UP Program for his endeavour SMSONE. In 2009, so far, he has won the ‘NASSCOM Foundations Social Innovation Honor Award’, as the first place holder in the Profit category.

Not impressed yet? Here is more!

He was invited by IIM, Kolkota to present the ” Local SMS Community Newsletter Project” before some Japanese participants. It was so appreciated that he was asked to give another presentation before Indian ICT students. He spoke before the Commonwealth–Connecting Rural communities-2008 conference at Cochin and ICTD-2007 by Microsoft Research India at Bangalore. His work was taken as a case study for Rural Entrepreneurship Efforts at the Oxford University. The Social Impact International chose him as one among 14, for social entrepreneurship mentoring. He has been covered by magazines like ict4d and mymobile. The UNESCO has invited him to demonstrate his business model before them. I could go on and on about what this proponent of Gandhian philosophy does.

This is Ravi Ghate, who has chosen a social innovation model of an SMS network empowering the poor. He has created a new category of journalists, the mobile journalist, in implementing his goal of setting up the SMS as a local-macro media. His mission is to ‘identify and maximize the potential of technologies to build the platform for creation of common wealth.’  And in SMSONE he has done exactly that. The story of the empowerment of the jobless and basic educated rural youth of Maharashtra proves his social entrepreneurship. Which unemployed youth wouldn’t want a white-collar self-employment opportunity and earn 6-10K per month in a specified geographical area and be the first ever mobile-journalist of the locality?

His business model is not targeted at the tech-savvy IT graduate or journalism student. This endeavour brings dignity and a steady income to a number of tenth/twelfth failed and college drop outs in the rural parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and a few other states by connecting masses affectionately. Other countries like Malaysia are looking into Ghate’s model of social communication as an innovative social intervention.

Techgoss spoke to Ravi Ghate and here is an extract from the interview.

Techgoss (TG): Why would people choose SMS over radio, TV or computer as a medium to spread a message?
Ravi Ghate (RG): Your mobile is something that is always with you. The TV, Radio and computer are location specific or unwieldy to carry around and operate compared to the mobile phone. The mobile also retains the message for further readings and a receiver more often than not shares the message with more than one person. So a single message has large impact.

TG: You won the social innovation award of NAASSCOM for your concept of the SMS Newsletter. How does this SMS newsletter work?
RG: The mobile is omnipresent now. So the basic idea is to use the power of SMS as a medium to facilitate a communication network in any specific area by a local social-entrepreneur and thereby empowering the poor. We first identify an area; it could be a market, a village or a group of villages. Then we locate some youth in the area who are tenth or 12th failed or college drop outs, who are without opportunities and have no finance with them. They undergo our capacity building training and are designated community leaders and then go out to identify probable members of the sms network who have no objection to receiving SMS as a part of the newsletter. This is done by a survey where details of the people are collected and they are convinced about the need and use of a newsletter of the nature proposed. Their numbers are collected with their written permission because the TRAI rules allow suing of senders of unauthorized SMS. The members have no expense in receiving the SMS; they will also be given a particular id from which alone they will receive the messages. The target is 1000 members. This group, once identified and processed is used to receive SMS messages or advertisements just four times a month. Only one SMS is send per week, and one message of the monthly four will be a social message.

TG: So how do the community leaders earn the income?
RG: When the advertisers contact, the rates per message per person is negotiated by the community leader. It’s generally around Rs.2 per message per person. And the community leader passes on just 50 paisa to the head office, they can keep Rs.1.50/ as their income. So with 1000 persons, and three messages per month, you can calculate their income. When more people want to avail of our service in the same week we circulate the message of the person who can pay the most amount. For political parties, we charge more. But the additional earning remains with the community leader. I get 50 paisa even then, out of which I pay for the sms credit service also.

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TG: What kind of advertisers prefers the SMS medium?  Any advertisers trying to use your medium to reach out to the IT, BPO or KPO community?
RG: It could be anything like a function being held, the birthday announcement of a politician or a government agency trying to inform the community of an impending power/water shortage or cut, or social messages like blood donations camps, request for help etc. No, this is essentially benefiting a rural group; we don’t get IT sector people.

TG: How has the NASSCOM helped you to grow?
RG: The NASSCOM award helped certainly, that was an honor. I guess that’s all.

TG: Any plans of expansion?
RG Yes, I am now taking on Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Andhra Pradesh is already operational.

TG: Do you have any competitors providing such SMS news service in India?
RG: No not yet.

To know more about Ravi’s initiatives click http://www.smsone.in/localsms.htm

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