Doers: Bringing Change at the Grassroots with Technology [Aaditeshwar Seth, Co-Founder & CEO of Gramvaani]

Aaditeshwar Seth, Co-founder and CEO of Gramvaani
Aaditeshwar Seth, Co-founder and CEO of Gramvaani

Some months ago, we wrote about how a journalist is solving India’s biggest internal security threat with the help of technology. The journo Shubhranshu Choudhary, a Knight International Journalism fellow is trying to break down the communication barriers between the marginalized adivasis in India’s troubled hinterland and the mainstream with the help of community radio, social media and low cost mobile phone technology.

We then came across the good folks at Gramvaani, another community media platform working in backward areas of Jharkhand and other states to bring about change. Today’s DOER is Aaditeshwar Seth, the co-founder and CEO of Gramvaani who also taught Computer Science at one of India’s top engineering colleges. As an Assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, he co-founded Gramvaani with Mayank Shivan, a former McKinsey & Co consultant.

While doing his doctorate, Seth was working a lot on internet connectivity for rural areas. He set up low cost long distance Wi-Fi in rural areas and was at the same time observing the changes happening in the developed world. “Social networking was big and I though why not build a similar platform for rural areas,” he said.

Gramvaani started with community radio, but with regulatory constraints and licensing costs choking community radio in the country, the startup soon moved to Interactive Voice Response (IVR), a telephone based technology to implement the same concept. In the last year, he has grown the platform tremendously. Goonj, their voice based community media platform which can be accessed through phones gets over 2000 calls a day and is now planning to increase its reach significantly.

This year, he wants to grow to more than 20,000 calls a day and reach out to more than 100,000 people in Jharkhand. Goonj is running important campaigns to spread awareness in villages on issues such as water conservation and HIV/ AIDS besides airing regular programs. Gramvaani partners with content providers like Sesame Workshop, Gram Swaraj Abhiyan and Public Health Resource Network to source programs for its listeners.

At the startup, Seth leads the technology development and product design. He carries a Blackberry phone and his IBM Thinkpad, without which he says “nothing will happen.” His favorite programming language is Java and its variants and is passionate about improving communication in rural India.

For the last few years, he balanced teaching and starting up but now, he has taken leave from the IIT to focus full time on his mission. “Doing both at the same time was very challenging,” he says. His motivation? To enable people at the bottom of the pyramid. “We have always defined ourselves as a social media platform in low income environment,” he said. We wish him well on his journey.

How does Goonj work?Gramvaani
Goonj sources content from a community. It also acts as a feedback mechanisms to government schemes such as Nrega, Public Distribution System and the Right to Eduction scheme. Village groups call to a toll free number and narrate their stories. The stories are validated and published online. Its also broadcast onto the toll free number which others can dial into and listen.

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