Some days, community agricultural extension workers in India have to travel many miles between several villages in one day. Would it be possible to make these jobs easier through technology, to tap into existing organizational structures?
What started as a research project in Microsoft Research India's Technology for Emerging Markets team in 2006 evolved into an independent nonprofit just two years later. Digital Green by linking technology to field workers (also known as extension workers) they can transform the lives of the poor around the world. How? With videos made by and for community members and screened locally with a mediator. Digital Green works with partners to “communicate good practices to the community using locally produced videos and mediated dissemination.” Here is one of their videos:
Since 2010, Digital Green has reached over 3,100 villages and engaged 234,360 unique viewers. In August 2012, they began scaling up their efforts, hoping to reach 10,000 villages and one million farmers in India in the next three years. They have produced over 2,600 videos in 20 different languages.
Lakshmi Iyer is the Deputy Director of Strategy and Innovation at Digital Green. Through a Skype interiview, Iyer described Digital Green a “learning organization”, meaning that the organization itself learns and adapts as they analyze data. She says the power lies with the community. The program is..
…80% about community and 20% about technology. It is really more about layering technology to amplify the effectiveness of what is already in place.
Iyer describes the technology as an extra layer to the groups, mediators and the video production teams which make Digital Green effective on the ground. The video production training for community memebers involves storyboarding, camera work, and editing, with three to four people in every district being trained – usually those who are already literate.
Founder Rikin Gandhi said in the Hindu of the participants,
As they learn video production, they also develop greater self-confidence. They are seen as professionals in their communities.
While other organizations such as Farm Radio International and AgroInsight may be doing similar things, Iyer says doesn't think any other organisations are engaging with video to the same extent – a commitment resulting from an extensive study published in the journal Information Technologies for International Development.
Digital Green pays constant attention to monitoring and analytics, gathering data on how videos are being shared and adopted – and then responding to that data. If there are consistent, similar questions, a new video may be made or revised to ensure clear delivery.
Here is an example of their extensive analytics. In this example, 81% of the viewers in the past year in India were female, and 19% male, in part due to a project working to leverage pre-existing women's community groups.
While the initial focus was on agriculture, the organization is now expanding into nutrition and health. Iyer says:
We realized that in order to improve the livelihoods and lives of individuals we work with, it would be necessary to include nutrition and health as converging topics to agriculture.
Digital Green has received a learning grant from DFID India to test the effectiveness of the approach within new geographies (Ethiopia and Ghana) and expanding the approach to other domains of health and nutrition. Focusing on enhancing the capacities of government health workers, the idea is to “leverage the strength of local service providers”. Currently, the health program is aimed at maternal and infant child health.
In November, Digital Green was included in the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 as an example of an organisation “using tech to accelerate social change.” Iyer says one of their main strengths has been on data analysis and response “We have stayed open and a learning organization. It is not a cookie cutter, by any means.”
With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of India, as well as local partners on the ground, Digital Green is poised to scale up without losing its grassroots focus.