Sarvodaya Archives — Page 2 of 3


Everyone is looking for the killer app that can serve the non-digizen (non digital citizens). There is a lot of hype about smart phones but the practical field level thinkers have realized voice is the better solution. CGNet Swara a citizen journalism project, TCS Innovation Lab’s work on the use of speech for querying railway information1, IITM-RTBI’s Agriculture Information exchange, are a few of many Interactive Voice Response (IVR) enabled solutions that are taking shape in the region. Key reasons for the innovations surrounding IVR are to overcome the problems with key pad entry (pressing W thrice for Y) and traditional English based applications. It doesn’t get easier than pressing a few digits to dial a number and speak your mind or listen to a message.
The usefulness and ease-of-use of interactive voice, with Freedom Fone, for Sarvodaya Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members to supply incident information was blogged two weeks back. Now the question is “how is all that information put to use in responding to those incidents?”. In here we tell parts of that story. CERT members call one of the four telephone numbers to access Freedom Fone; then press the “reporting” menu item number on their phone keypad to record a “field observation report”.
We conducted controlled-exercises, with Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya (Sarvodaya) Hazard Information Hub (HIH) Operators and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members. The HIH data center is in Moratuwa. The study using interactive voice, field tested the technology in  Colombo, Matara, Nuwara-eliya, and Ratnapura Districts. Figure to the left shows an average ease-of-use of 3.95 and usefulness of 4.
We recently conducted a training and an exercise with Sarvodaya Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members in Colombo, Matara, Nuwara-eliya, and Ratnpura Districts. This was an action of the feasibility study to enable Freedom Fone with voice-based emergency data exchange (FF4EDXL). The training involved exposing them to the Freedom Fone interactive voice response system. The exercise involved the participating CERT members using the Freedom Fone system to supply answers to a survey. Each response was recorded as an audio file (MP3) through the telephone call and stored in the FF system.

Voice for alerting and response

Posted on August 9, 2011  /  0 Comments

Why voice for Sarvodaya’s emergency communication? The experience from the 2011 Foods in Batticaloa and Ampara districts was that Sarvodaya was able to secure aid from various sources by providing the actual ground situation through their web portal. It had images and information of rescue operations, victims, camps, and the devastation. The images and stories came from Sarvodaya head office staff who were deployed to the area. They used cameras, phones, and the internet to relay the ground situation to the Hazard Information Hub (HIH).
In 2005, we were approached by citizens and professionals to help raise awareness about the dangers of “an inland tsunami,” dam breaches. With the help of committed professionals, a small grant of around LKR 700,000 (around USD 7000) from the local initiatives fund of CIDA, an extremely generous partner in Vanguard Management, and the active involvement of community leaders including many from Sarvodaya, we conducted a participatory research project that remains to this day one of our most successful and rewarding efforts. The end result was a USD 71 million plus World Bank soft loan to help repair 32 of the most endangered dams. If not for that initiative, one wonders whether things would be worse than today, where we are suffering the effects of multiple small tanks breached, but all the big ones safe, so far. I wrote about the need to pay more attention to dam safety and maintenance, after the first flood of 2011.
Sri Lanka, especially the eastern seaboard, is in the midst of a massive flood disaster, said to be on the scale of the tsunami in terms of people affected (1 in 20 citizens according to government data) and perhaps the worst since 1957. Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest community-based organization and a long-term partner, was one of the first to respond based on its strong organizational reach in the worst-affected East. LIRNEasia staff contributions, matched 50% by the organization, amounting to LKR 174,750 will be used for the medical assistance that is being provided to the flood-affected. This is a drop in the bucket, but we are confident it will be used well to help those in distress. A note to friends and colleagues: The floods are far away from Colombo where LIRNEasia staff live.
The Real-Time Biosurveillance Program (RTBP) held a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka on September 14, 2010 at the Cinnamon Lake Side Hotel. This is list of the articles published in the News papers:
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s show – The National “Lifelines” – did a news program on the Real-Time Biosurveillance Program carried out in India and Sri Lanka; watch the clip here.
The tsunami occurred within three months of LIRNEasia’s founding. We were lucky. No one in LIRNEasia was directly affected, though there were several “what ifs”. It changed our research program for sure. We did three projects directly connected to the tsunami: NEWS:SL which was a study on how Sri Lanka could establish a robust, effective national early warning system (Note to the government: it’s not too late to implement even now), when we figured there would be no first-best solution, the HazInfo project that sought to understand how communities at the last mile could prepare themselves to receive government warning and respond appropriately, and a little pilot on how communities could be given voice called Webhamuva.
In developing countries such as Sri Lanka, when government has no resources to deliver the essential public good of early warnings, alternate methods must be advocated – that was the idea of the HazInfo research project, where civil society in villages were given training to respond appropriately to alerts received from the Hazard Information Hub located at the Sarvodaya Head Office in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. The technology and organizational structure of the HazInfo last-mile hazard warning system proved to work as designed and drew valuable lessons for a full scale implementation. However, the major dilemma was in finding resources to sustain the system. The Hoteliers’ Association of Sri Lanka agreed to obtain services from Sarvodaya for a fee to train and certify the hotel staff in disaster response. This fee would go towards the OPEX of the HazInfo emergency response planning component and operationalize a 24/7/365 Hazard Information Hub for issuing alerts; but to kick start the endeavor a nominal CAPEX is required.

Sarvodaya Fusion launches FarmerNet

Posted on October 8, 2009  /  3 Comments

The ICT arm of Sri Lanka’s largest community-based organization, Sarvodaya, launched its FarmerNet initiative last month. They have been kind enough to mention that the initiative had been triggered by a LIRNEasia presentation at a National Telecenter Alliance event. As an organization committed to catalysis, we are gratified. And we wish them well. The premise of the initiative is to create an efficient marketplace, using information technology to reduce transaction costs.
LIRNEasia is a regional think tank based in Sri Lanka. It works in 11 countries. In terms of its research, India occupies its energies more than its home base. However, LIRNEasia cannot be blind to what is going on around it. Several months ago, as the people held as human shields by the LTTE began to filter out, current and former LIRNEasians collected funds that were used by its partner Sarvodaya to purchase nebulizers for children in the camps.
Here are the summarised results from the telecenter operator survey done by LIRNEasia at the weCan workshop in October 2008. Sample was not representative, but large enough to get a general idea about the telecenter operations in Sri Lanka. Out of a total of 147 operators surveyed, the bulk, 101 were from Nenasalas, the 500 odd telecenter network created under the World Bank funded e-Sri Lanka programme. 10 were from Sarvodaya multi-purpose telecenters and 6 from others (eg. public libraries) 30 have not specified the type of the telecenter.
Your operator promises you x Mbps. Are you sure he keeps promise? If not, what you miss? LIRNEasia, has been researching on Broadband performance quality issues in Asia. One objective of our work is to create ‘EMPOWERED USERS’ armed with broadband performance information.
In 2006, Sarvodaya started a project with IDRC funding to help the burgeoning telecenters (under various names) learn from each other and solve the problems they faced in an environment marked by rapidly changing technology and consumer demand. As part of this effort, Sarvodaya Fusion organized two training sessions at the MAS Institute of Management and Technology in Tulhiriya. The presentation that Helani Galpaya and I did (Sujata and Chanuka ran a parallel session) included components on innovation in service industries, the external environment that made innovation so important for telecenter operators, and systematic learning from failures. Because we had to work with multiple languages, it was not possible to cover all the slides, which are here. One of the things we noticed was that there appeared to be two different kinds of problems: the first kind could be fixed through process innovation; the second kind was structural and required remedies that were outside the scope of an event like this.