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M.S. Swaminathan

M.S. Swaminathan

Partner in Profile: Envisioning a Wired Nation

At the age of 80, Professor M.S. Swaminathan has every reason to settle quietly into retirement and spend his days reflecting on past glories.
 
A close advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1960s, Professor Swaminathan was a key architect of the “Green Revolution” that drastically increased India’s food supply — leading to a rise in wheat production, for instance, from 12 million tonnes annually to the current 70 million tonnes.
 
In the early 1990s, he introduced the concept of  “bio-villages” that combines new methods of increasing the income of the rural poor, particularly women, with fresh ideas about safeguarding the environment.
 
But today Professor Swaminathan has his eye on the challenges of the future, not on the accomplishments of the past. He is spearheading a campaign known as Mission 2007 — Every Village a Knowledge Centre — to bring the benefits of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) to some 600 000 Indian villages.
 
Extending the impact of ICTs across India builds on advances made in rural Pondicherry where, with initial funding from IDRC, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), has given 12 000 people in seven locations access to crucial economic and environmental information.
 
This small IDRC-supported project helped spawn the mass movement that will bring the benefits of ICTs to rural villages across India.
 
The Government of India committed CA $28 million to Mission 2007 in its March 2005 national budget. MSSRF has developed a “hub and spokes” distribution model where Web-based data is downloaded in a community with an Internet connection and subsequently relayed through a local voice/data network to community Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) in six nearby villages. At ground level, the information is distributed to individuals through more conventional means such as loudspeaker systems and newspapers.
 
Professor Swaminathan is confident that the Pondicherry project can be replicated nation-wide, now that the idea has support from government, the high-tech industry, and other players.
 
“We started with a small project and now it has become a mass movement,” he says. “Government organizations, big companies, a whole series of nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions came together to achieve the same goal: Mission 2007.”
 
The point of this collaboration is to help poor villagers live better lives. Professor Swaminathan says knowledge, in many spheres, has been a key missing link preventing India’s village poor from translating their skills, resources, and determination into better living conditions.
 
“If I am a good farmer and I produce a lot of potatoes and onions, but I don’t know the correct price, I will be exploited in the market,” he explains. “So knowledge empowerment in terms of markets, and in health about the pandemics of HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, is essential. Now people in our villages have more knowledge.”
 
"VKCs are also based on the principle of “social inclusion,”  says Professor Swaminathan. “Anything that does not have a principle of social inclusion will again represent a win for some and a loss for others. We want to design a project that is win–win for everybody.”

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Fact Sheet: Making Waves

A small IDRC-supported project has helped spawn a mass movement to bring the benefits of information and communication technologies to rural villages in India. ​

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