Community Information Resource Centres
Serving community information & resource needs since 2007
Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) are community-oriented infrastructure and information hubs built to create digitally literate, information-empowered and equitable communities across the country. The CIRCs primarily offer digital literacy, digital services, information services, citizen services and business development services to create information-rich society under a sustainable model.
Lack of access to ICTs is a major developmental challenge as recognised by various national and global mandates such as the Digital India programme or the World Summit on Information Society. Digital inclusion of marginalised communities can eradicate poverty and help achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
CIRC may be considered as DEF’s flagship project for providing access to the digital world by creating the basic digital infrastructure. Since 2007, DEF has been setting up CIRCs in rural and semi-urban areas as its main vehicle for achieving digital inclusion, spreading digital literacy and rolling out its various ICTD interventions. CIRCs are community-driven and community-run, bottom-up public spaces that seek to bridge the information and access divide and transform under-served communities into information-empowered communities. As of January 2022, DEF has set up as many as 1,500 CIRCs across 135 districts of 24 states and union territories of India.
A typical CIRC is enabled with computers, cameras, printers, projectors, scanners, internet, Wi-Fi and broadband. They are run by enthusiastic, young and passionate community members who understand the meaning of information and how it can empower communities of all class and cadre through all possible means like digital literacy, ICT skills, employable skills, English language, entertainment, health, agriculture, entrepreneurship, RTI, e-Governance services, digital services and so on.
CIRCs at different locations may undertake different kinds of activities and offer different packages of services but all of them facilitate digital access for all and allow the community to avail their daily needs using digital and communication tools. CIRCs enable DEF to undertake a multi-dimensional approach to the task of digital inclusion. They also provide the basic infrastructure needed to roll out various other DEF projects to address various programmatic verticals.
CIRCs are also self-sustaining revenue earning entities. They earn revenues by offering various kinds of digital services.
Read more about the project on www.circindia.org
- 15 million impacted
- 10 million women impacted
- 10 million provided digital literacy, digital financial literacy, digital skilling, access to information & access to entitlements
- 70,000+ Women Entrepreneurs trained
- 600 Differently-Abled Entrepreneurs trained
- 50,000 PWDs provided digital access to employment opportunities
Wireless for Communities
Connecting the rural communities in India through unlicensed spectrum since 2010
In the last 25 years, half the world has been connected to the Internet and the almost infinite opportunities it has to offer. Most of these, among the 3.5 billion connected individuals of the world, are people who are largely economically empowered, literate and reside in urban or accessible areas. The biggest barrier to widespread connectivity is the high cost of infrastructure. With most telecom companies unwilling or unable to build infrastructure in far flung and rural areas, large swathes of the world have remained in media darkness. Evidently, most of those who are excluded from digital ecosystems are people who are largely at the bottom of the pyramid and reside in rural or inaccessible areas. They are people who have not been connected by the mainstream Internet Service Providers (ISP), and people who may have to wait a long time to be connected.
So, who will take the responsibility of connecting them? It has to be the community themselves.
Wireless community networks, also called community-based Internet service providers (C-ISPs) are networks whose infrastructure is built, managed, operated, and administered by a community-driven organisation or by a community itself by pooling their existing resources and working with partners to start-up and scale their activities.
Wireless for Communities (W4C) is a flagship programme of Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and the Internet Society (ISOC) that has been supported by various partners over the years. Launched in 2010, Wireless for Communities or W4C aims to connect rural and remote locations of India, where mainstream Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not willing to provide internet connectivity as they feel their operations would not be commercially viable. W4C involves line-of-sight and low-cost Wi-Fi equipment, which utilise the unlicensed spectrum bands — 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz — to create community-owned and community-operated wireless networks. The ideation behind the project was twofold: firstly, to democratize the availability of connectivity and provide internet access to information in rural parts of the country, secondly to address the issue of lack of content product and services originating from rural areas which affects the economy from percolating to the bottom of the pyramid. The programme has three main components:
- Training the trainers for technological know-how of wireless networking
- Deployment of wireless across rural communities, especially in clusters
- An open forum to discuss best practices, lessons learn and to educate them on issues from both a technical and policy perspective
Over the last 12 years, W4C programme has been providing affordable, ubiquitous, and democratically controlled Internet access in rural regions of India – established over 300 access points in 35 districts of 13 states. With the advent of 4g and the spread of commercialised Internet the need for these networks reduced over the years. Today there are more than 150 clusters who have these community networks.
Partners, including the Ford Foundation; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); Commonwealth of Learning (COL); Media Lab Asia; Ministry of Communication and IT; Mphasis; Indus Towers; Microsoft; Ericson; Nokia; Railtel; Tata Trusts and Vodafone Foundation; Goldman Sachs; & IEEE joined in the journey of connecting the unconnected.
Read more about the project on www.wforc.in
- 30,000 households inhabiting information dark rural and semi-urban areas provided infrastructure to access the Internet
- 146 locations provided wireless Internet connectivity
- 8 handloom clusters digitally enabled through a Wi-Fi-enabled ecosystem
- 100 schools provided Internet connectivity; 17 connected in the Little Rann of Kutch alone
- 50 panchayat and government schools provided Internet connectivity
- 177 Agariya families have been surveyed and mapped to enable them access to government schemes and entitlements
Internet in a Box
Bringing access to information dark areas through a rural ISP-based model since 2017
Launched under Phase VII of the Wireless for Communities project, Internet in a Box is a unique concept that offers Internet in a box, literally. Internet in a Box is an innovative and cost-effective concept designed by DEF that intends to bring into market a plug-and-play configurable networking solution for deploying a wireless network to people in pre-defined small-range coverage areas.
The box comes designed with built-in equipment and technology — including ethernet cables, relay cables, modems, connectors and user manuals — to deliver Internet connectivity at the last mile and, subsequently, promote adoption of the Internet for digital services related to information and entitlements, primarily in the area of livelihood, education and entertainment. By means of putting a completely localised user manual along with wireless equipment, radio, antenna, devices for measuring line of site, modems, accessories and toolkit to enable the use unlicensed spectrum packed in a physical box. The Internet in a Box can be used and installed by anyone and in any location with the help of a simple DIY manual.
The objective of the project is to create rural entrepreneurs who not only sustain themselves as rural Internet service providers but also cater to the information and digital services needs of their community members.
Read more about the project on www.wforc.in/internet-in-a-box
A rural entrepreneurship-based model designed to create ideal smart villages in India
Smartpur is a concept designed for a sampoorna gram (holistic village) or a digitally integrated ecosystem where people leverage digital tools to bring efficiency in daily lives, transparency in governance, economic prosperity for households, and ease of access to various kinds of services and information.
The concept of Smartpur emerges from the underlying idea of integrating technology in the existing practices and processes in an effort to enable communities to make their lives better and contribute to the overall well-being of the village. We believe that the mere availability of digital tools and Internet connectivity does not make a village smart; instead, it is the integration and optimum utilisation of these resources for social, ecological and economic impact that truly makes a smart village, and digitally strengthens six pillars of development.
With these guiding principles, Smartpur has adopted a rural entrepreneurial-based approach under which the project seeks to create a social enterprise model driven by rural youth and supported by community members, government bodies, private institutions and other relevant stakeholders. 10 clusters have been identified across 7 states and 10 backward districts where the program works on a hub and spoke model with one hub and nine spoke centres in each cluster. While rural entrepreneurs at the hub centre provide primary services under the pillars of education, health, governance, livelihood, finance and entertainment; rural entrepreneurs in the spoke centres will further redistribute these services in their respective villages. Together, the hub and spoke entrepreneurs will create a digitally-equipped and information-rich community setting an example of a model smart village.
Read more about the project on https://smartpur.in/
- 500 Villages
- 100 Locations with Wireless Connectivity
- 200,000 Households
- 741,062 Beneficiaries
Minority Cyber Gram Yojana
Ensuring digital literacy for minority communities since 2014
Keeping in view the low literacy level among the backward sections of the minorities, the Ministry of Minority Affairs of the Government of India in partnership with DEF launched the Minority Cyber Gram Yojana in February 2014. Chandauli, a rural hamlet some 12 kilometres from Alwar by road and about 7 kilometres as the crow flies, was selected for implementing a pilot project for one year as the village and surrounding areas had a high concentration of the minority community and also because the whole area had become notorious for high crime rate due to low literacy levels and the consequent lack of livelihoods.
In just one year after DEF’s intervention, the whole situation changed in Chandauli. Of the 3,500 households in the area, 2,650 households now have at least one person who is digitally literate. Almost all the children of the village have taken to computers just as ducks take to water. Parents and guardians who would have never allowed their young female wards to go out of the house earlier, except for school, now allow them to frequent the CIRC set up by DEF. Farmers are using the Internet to learn about best practices in farming for their chosen crops. Businessmen and traders are using the Internet to make good use of knowledge and information to expand and flourish.
Now functional from a third location, MCGY was first launched at the Rajiv Gandhi Gram Seva Kendra with more than 40 computers to enable the gram panchayat to become digitally empowered. But it never became functional as there was no Internet connectivity. None of the mainstream ISPs provide Internet connectivity in Chandauli. When DEF proposed they would connect Chandauli using wireless technology, the authorities were happy to hand over the Rajiv Gandhi Gram Seva Kendra to them to set up a CIRC. DEF already had a functioning CIRC at Alwar. Using the back-end connectivity provided by BSNL at Alwar, DEF first converted its Alwar CIRC into a Wi-Fi enabled entity and then connected CIRC Chandauli using wireless technology.
Today, Chandauli has become an astounding success story for DEF as it allows one and all to see how DEF’s vision and mission can be realised in reality. Even Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg was left “amazed” when he visited Chandauli late in October 2014.
Read more about the project on www.minoritycybergram.in
- 2,650 households have at least one digitally literate person individual each
- 3,000 youth, women and children made digitally literate within one year
- 1,000 farmers use the Internet to learn about best practices in farming, input pricing and sources, and market prices
- 250+ businessmen and traders use the Internet to source products, know about market trends and buy or sell products online
Empowering community radio stations across India since 2011
DEF along with the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) pioneered the concept of facilitating the set-up of community radio stations, content development and technology facilitation. Later, DEF along with CEMCA and other partners such as the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, set up a Community Radio Facilitation Centre to train people in setting up community radio stations and helping in the process of applying for and obtaining Community radio licenses. DEF has now switched to the next phase of trying to help community radio stations use digital technologies and digital media. It stresses on the use of mobile, SMS and the Internet as tools to enhance the effectiveness of community radio stations. The foundation helps community radio stations in understanding the benefits of new media like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Photo Stream, Podcast, e-radio, e-books etc., which can provide a common platform to a number of community radio stations to benefit from each other.
The project has also leveraged collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in India to train community radio stations across India in using digital tools, building a website and integrating social media for community radio stations
Further, Radio Jagriti in Birni village of district Giridih in Jharkhand and Radio Bulbul in Bhadrak district of Odisha are two other community radio stations for which DEF provides financial, technical, strategic and content support. Henvalvani Community Radio in Chamba region of Uttarakhand is also a partner for DEF’s Soochna Seva programme in the state. Over the years, DEF has also recognised the efforts of at least 25 others by awarding them with Manthan Awards under the category of Community Radio, which was introduced in 2007 to encourage such initiatives.
- 5 community radio stations funded
- 10 community radio stations taken online with exclusive websites
- 1,250 people from 50 community radio stations trained in using digital tools for outreach
Promoting better management of water resources through a drinking water and sanitation Information system since 2009
Neerjaal is a water mapping website that is controlled and managed exclusively by rural communities. It is an ICT-enabled water resource management system for grassroots communities. It collates groundwater-related information and organises water resources with the available information. The Neerjaal software facilitates generating, storing and making public water related information in a village. Above all, Neerjaal helps manage scarce water resources across communities in India. It is the first village-based interactive website that catalogues data and information on water tables and water sources in villages. It has been designed to map water sources, water bodies, consumption, harvesting, shortages and needs at a national level.
Read more about the project on www.neerjaal.org
Villages of India Network
Connecting rural communities in India through unlicensed spectrum since 2015
Villages of India Network Pvt. Ltd. (VOIN) is a social enterprise founded by DEF to facilitate Internet connectivity services in underserved areas using the low-cost wireless network and affordable but innovative ICT solution — until the last mile — to build information-powered societies in underserved communities. We have adopted a community based approach providing services on the basis of users’ demand and need with qualitative customer-care service. Working with a multi-stakeholder approach, VOIN is aiming to make inclusive and equitable communities where access to information, knowledge and experience services is for all, at all times and at all places. VOIN is now awaiting an ISP license from the government.
Connecting villagers to the external and internal knowledge ecosystem since 2019
An initiative of Intel and Digital Empowerment Foundation, IP Ville or Internet Protocol Ville has been envisioned as a digitally integrated and connected group of villages in Bakhtiyarpur district of Bihar.
IP Ville is a cluster of five villages, one Hub and four Spoke, with a well-equipped digital resource centre for each of the clusters and a common server linking the five. Every Hub and Spoke centre will provide a range of digital services and information to community members in their respective vicinity. Digitally-enabled public institutions, on the other hand, will be able to increase their productivity and efficiency by leveraging digital tools and technologies, thus improving delivery of public welfare schemes and services. Continuous efforts in the areas of Education, Health, Governance, Finance, Livelihood and Entertainement will ensure citizens have access to quality information.
In IP Ville, every household and public institution is connected to the outside world via Internet and to the inside world via Intranet. While the Internet offers community members to access an almost infinite world of relevant information and opportunities, Intranet offers villagers a chance to exchange contextual and traditional information in their local language to fight information poverty. This will eventually strengthen localised content on the server, building a digital repository of local traditions, cultures, folk music, folk tales and knowledge on traditional health, agriculture and other practices.
Access & Infrastructure
One of the primary goals of DEF that flows from its Mission and Vision statements is providing access for all to the Internet. This goal is also fully aligned with global and ational mandates with regard to digital inclusion and bridging the digital divide. All projects in this programmatic area have the overarching goal of achieving access — for all — to information and knowledge from the Internet and creating the infrastructure needed to do so.
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