Telecom Talk goes behind the scenes to bring you this exclusive interview with Mr. Osama Manzar, Chairman, mBillionth South Asia Award 2012.
What led you to get active on the idea of mBillionth Award?
mBillionth award basically came into our mind because we have been running manthan award for the last 9 years. About 3 years back we realized that the mobile has been really taking a serious impact on general mass of the country. And considering that we focus for the masses and see how digital tools can be empowering tools for the masses. We thought it is better that we focus exclusively on how mobile can change our life, how mobile can be motivated to impact the masses, how mobile can be seen as innovative tool to reach to the masses. Because we are a oral society by nature, and mobile by nature is an oral tool since the inception of mBillionth award 3 years ago.
And this is the 3rh year and it has been great start since beginning, we have being able to motivate and include a lot of lot of innovative solutions, innovative ideas, mobile innovations, telecom innovations into this platform. And have been able to recognize so far more than hundreds of innovations. Moreover, we have a database of more than thousands best mobile innovations collected from all over south Asia including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal Maldives Bhutan and so and so for.
The Reason why we call mBillionth South Asia Award Ecosystem?
Because its not just an event of an award but an award platform which identifies best innovations and give them award to recognize them. But it is a full lifecycle of identifying the best practices, bring in them to a platform, taking them through the best of minds and experts as a jury system and then identifying the best from them and collectively bringing them at one platform where they can be recognize as a best innovation across 10 or 12 categories including health, business, livelihood, finance, m commerce and financial inclusion and so and so forth including environment, tourism and journalism and news media. After giving them award or recognizing them, taking them to huge media outreach and then identifying some of them to take them into the mentorship fold and making sure that there nominations and innovations are not only merely for business purpose but also for those who are young and startups to take advantage of the experts take them forward to the sustainable business life cycle that’s very very important. If you come to mBillionth award it’s not only about applying as a nominations, but getting recognized, getting funding, getting support, getting mentorship, getting across hundreds of others possible partners and exchanging ideas and even multiplying your business prospects
One of the best examples I would say here, that why it is an ecosystem is because from the last 2 years with tie up with vodafone foundation, they have been funding us to further fund the socially oriented mobile applications which is used by several NGOs. And surprisingly, they are not one or two, they are almost more than two hundred we have accumulated in last two years , Who are using mobile for larger perspective and extremely innovative ways using very basic mobile features and we have been funding them, supporting them, mentoring them and continue to do this for several years.
What are the challenges you have faced in terms of connecting to the telly and community of the 8 countries?
As I said earlier, we have been doing Manthan award for the last 8 years, this is going to be the 9th year. So we had a very deep penetration in all these south Asian countries so we already have partners in all these countries who are ICT oriented, who are digital inclusive oriented and so and so forth.
So which really helped us to have just another partnership to take it forward to the mobile area and since mobile is also an ICT tool, it was not very difficult for us. The only thing that was challenging is how do we bring telecom or mobile based association which we did and thanks to Manthan award and digital empowerment foundation’s great work, We have been able to get very good partners in all these countries of south Asian region
What change do you feel in the Innovations market compared to past 2 years?
Well I don’t know about the innovation market how it has been progressing in the last 2 years, but what I know about the several innovations taking place in a mobile sector, which is disappointing as well as very encouraging. It’s extremely encouraging that how any individual, NGO’s or an organization and government on their own have been able to find innovative way to use mobile. Because it has reached to the masses to serve them either through the health services or through the financial inclusion services or through several other kind of services for example NREGA and all that. But what has been disappointing is that the biggest motivator of the mobile industry, are so called private sector and big mobile and VAS companies. I don’t find them that they are looking at mass market as how to reach there with the innovative solutions. I don’t know whether I should blame them or not, but there is something that our population need to serve them through the mobile and somehow these big people who could have done a much better job of reaching out to these population which they are not reaching out to them so far and still they are concentrating on VAS kind of applications and typical jingle based or IVR based and kind of applications, Only basically targeting the metros of the country. I don’t see too much that they are doing. There is a huge market line there at a grassroots levels in the rural India which I feel that the corporate sector or the leading mobile companies should target because they may have a financial strength to invest in that area to come out with the killer applications.
Who are the major change makers in the Mobile & Telecom Domain?
I feel the biggest change maker in the mobile and telecom domain are the social sector, NGOs or the social organizations and the government organizations. I am finding that they are the real innovative users of mobiles, power of mobile, mobile applications, either in the form of app or in the form of SMS or in the form of IVR or in the form of customized MIS applications or m-banking or something like that. For example the entire NREG is extremely successful in using mobile with biometric attached to it, t make sure that the payment goes to the person who has done the job rather than somebody else. So i see a great hold for the mobile to serve our country to the grass roots level through NGOs and the government sectors. However we need that innovation to take the shape of its standardizations, at the moment lots of innovations are happening in different different corners of the country and they are great application but somehow they are not being standardized. Hence, what we see in next couple of years that we take place.
What is the USP of mBillionth Award you would share, how it is different from others?
Well we don’t compare our award with any other award because we are truly very strong ecosystem. award is just a means to find out who are the best practitinor. Its merely a way to find out and encourage the people who are not recognized otherwise. it’s a process to recognize some unsung heroes and it’s not a commercial initiative. it’s an empowering initiative that’s why we called it a Ecosystem, Because it is a ecosystem of empowerment, ecosystem for identify the practices, it is a ecosystem for mentoring, it is an ecosystem for funding, it is an ecosystem for cross exchange of ideas and platform with each other, for example mbillionth this one of the strongest feeder of the innovative ideas to the govt organization how they can use our application and service provider and mobile content creators who can serves the various mission note projects or various other projects of govt. and we feel very lucky that we have been able to do that successfully.
What are the plans of upcoming years about taking this initiative to next level?
Well, the long term plan for mBillionth award is to consolidate this platform as a very strong corpus based funding and mentoring organization, where the focus is more towards empowering innovative ideas which can empower the local masses, local ideas, and local needs of the rural market. And the 2nd tier of this platform we like to create 1st the social entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs using mobile as a application to develop, to make a business out of it and reach out to the masses. So these are two things that we are trying and working out on a regular basis. The mobile for social good is already started with Vodafone foundation. We are trying to more consolidate on even without fund we can mentor or with fund how can we mentor and we become a corpus equity fund kind of thing, which basically invests in various ideas which creates social impact without compromising with the commercial returns. That’s our long-term plan. we have more than 100 best practices collected in the last three years in fact 1200 ideas. And we are trying to see how this entire ecosystem can use this 1200 ideas and reach to the larger numbers of entrepreneurs and larger number of people in rural areas using government as a platform and other NGOs as a platform and make sure that the mobile can become the tool for empowerment, for information poor society of this our poor country.