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Meet the real-life heroes who are using technology to improve lives in India

Initiating change, one ‘tech’ at a time

Gunjan Tomar and Ranjitsinh Disale both share a similar passion—that every child should get equal access to a good education. And to make their passion a reality, Tomar who works with children with special needs in Gurgaon, and Disale who teaches children in a rural Maharashtrian school, have each forged a new path in making education assessable to all.

“I wish to make each child functionally independent,” says Tomar. As the Head of Department for Special Education Needs and Middle School Mentor at Ridge Valley School, Gurgaon, Tomar’s work involves educating children with special needs of varying abilities. “This can be a challenge, since children with special needs process information differently,” she explains. To cope with these challenges Tomar had to think out of the box.

She found success in the case of a 16-year-old student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who has the academic ability of an 8-year-old. “Such children require constant reinforcing of the same concept, and this is when we started using OneNote and its Immersive Reader feature to build the students’ vocational/functional and communicative abilities,” Tomar says.

As a government school teacher of Z.P. Primary School in Solapur, Maharashtra, Ranjitsinh Disale faced a totally different challenge—providing rural school children with extra opportunities for learning.

“Textbooks and teachers are the only source of knowledge for a student from rural India. This makes learning at one’s own pace a difficulty for the children in our school,” he says.

To make learning beyond school possible Disale hit upon the idea of pasting QR codes in textbooks. “Now whenever a student wants to learn, he just has to scan the code,” says a jubilant Disale, who created a repository by tabulating resources for relevant data corresponding to the chapters/contents in the textbooks.

“These QR coded stickers include audio files in MP3 format of all poems, videos of related content, videos of a teacher and assignments. One can solve assignments at any time and get evaluated online. Now Learning-Evaluation-Recapitulation is possible beyond school,” he explains.

A responsibility to ensure everyone benefits

Both Tomar and Disale, who were chosen as Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts 2016-2017, recognized that technology is a powerful force for improving people’s lives. What’s more important is that they took the step to introduce technology to those groups of individuals who otherwise would not have had access to its benefits and opportunities.

“If each and every one of us contribute our bit, I am sure, if not to a large extent, but to some extent we can make a positive change in the world. We can be the change we want to see, just like the Mahatma said,” says Tomar.

She has since expanded the use of technology for teaching children with special needs. She now uses Bing’s speech recognition and simultaneous audio text playback to help students work on their reading and writing abilities, and Microsoft Word to help them with spellings and punctuation.

Disale has taken his QR codes a step further—this time using technology to protect the environment. “We were facing a problem of tree cutting. Farmers were cutting trees for their own reasons.” With the help of the school children, Disale collected information about each tree in the village from the internet. They then pasted QR coded stickers on every tree in the village. “Now, whenever a farmer tries to cut a tree, he gets information about the tree, and knowing the importance of that tree, he often refrains from doing so,” he says.

Reviving handicrafts and saving livelihoods through technology

“To realize the full potential of cloud computing, to create economic opportunity, and address the country’s most difficult challenges—its power must be available to non-profit organizations and researchers, and to individuals who lack access to affordable technology,” says Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India.

Chaitanya Bharati, a Vishakhapatnam-based non-profit organization, has been doing exactly that through Project ReWeave. Devastating floods, an increase in power looms, and exploitation by middlemen had led to the looms beings shut down in a weaving cluster in the state of Telangana.

Chaitanya Bharati took into account the weavers’ lives and livelihoods, and identified problems that needed to be resolved. They then provided all the solutions needed to revive weaving. The scope of intervention included counselling the weavers, conducting training workshops, securing customer orders for them, repairing their looms, sourcing yarn and other raw material for them, and supporting them throughout the process. The weaver’s works were exhibited at four national exhibitions during the year, to facilitate the showcasing and selling of their products.

Sudha Rani, Project Lead, Chaitanya Bharati, also partnered with Microsoft to set up a technology training center, where weavers can use design software to create motifs and have an online presence to sell their handicrafts. In the true spirit of collaboration Microsoft provided the funding and machines for the center, and the Government of Telangana provided the 2,500 square feet of space to set it up and Chaitanya Bharati took over the training.

The results have already started to show. “Today new customers are coming and buying sarees from us. We didn’t even know who was buying before. This profession will go on as long as clothing is necessary for man,” says a relieved weaver.

A tiny spark lights a fire

All you need is a tiny spark to initiate a fire of social change, and in Ashweetha Shetty’s case, technology became that spark. Shetty was introduced to technology late in life. She was 20-years-old when she first used a computer and was the first person in her family to ever use one. Her enthusiasm about technology and the change it can bring, was further encouraged when she participated in the YouthSpark Live Program, where she was trained on entrepreneurial skills using the Build Your Business Entrepreneurship Curriculum. An ardent believer in using technology to empower others, Shetty pitched the idea of starting a social business initiative–she wanted to empower rural college graduates with professional and leadership skills, enabling them to make informed decisions about their future.

Today, her enterprise, Bodhi Tree Skills is a social business initiative, which trains, mentors and supports rural college graduates empowering them to explore and choose the best career options possible. Shetty has not stopped there, but is exploring all facets of technology to take her social initiate further. She has launched a website and is working towards developing an app specifically designed for rural college graduates to access opportunities.

The stories above are just a glimpse into the changes that technology has brought about during the past year. More importantly, they embody the commitment to citizenship, a commitment Microsoft has been advocating from its early days—to do more globally to bring the benefits of technology to the people who need them the most.

Citizenship at Microsoft is all about empowerment—achieved through technology, resources, CSR initiatives, employee giving, and sustainable solutions. From empowering entrepreneurs through BizSpark, promoting societal welfare through the Microsoft Intelligent Network for Eyecare (MINE), and supporting philanthropic efforts with initiatives such as Tech4Good, Employee Giving, and Water Sanitation and Hygiene(WASH), citizenship is achieved in several ways.

You can read more in the Microsoft India Citizenship Report FY2017 here or get the downloadable version here.