Digital for Development: How Communication Technology is Presenting Solutions to Longstanding Social Challenges

Telenor Pakistan Is Leveraging Communication Technology To Change Other Industries

Mobile has already taken the center stage in today’s digital age and will have a greater role to play in the digital transformation of the future. Advances in telecommunications technology are giving birth to simple solutions for big problems, enabling individuals and societies to foster and prosper. The mobile is making the transfer of technology and its limitless benefits possible to the previously underserved. Growing connectivity and internet penetration are reducing inclusion gaps so effectively that ICT has emerged as a cornerstone of national agendas the world over. At the core of any social challenge lie two key factors: procedural complications of conventional methods, and lack of access to relevant and reliable information. In Pakistan too, the information and ease of access gaps remained wide until connectivity spread and mobile broadband penetration increased. The high mobile uptake opened doors to new opportunities and some operators started to realize its potential early on. Telenor Pakistan was one of them.

Telenor Pakistan Leveraged Communications Technology To Transform Other Industries

Through Easypaisa it brought millions of unbanked masses into the fold of financial inclusion simply through a mobile phone, Telenor Pakistan decided to leverage communications technology to transform other industries and areas of life too. This was just the beginning of the journey to some of the industry’s biggest milestones and the company set trends in how mobile can transform life on both micro and macro levels. Developments on this front ensued with Telenor Pakistan’s immensely successful and standard-setting digital transformations for social inclusion, digital literacy, and mobile agriculture coming into being.

Social Inclusion: Giving Children Their Right to Identity

UNICEF estimates unregistered Pakistani children to be at an eye-opening 67%, meaning that 2 of every 3 children go ‘invisible’. For reasons varying from excessive paperwork to multiple-window operations at select locations in the city, many people avoid registering their newborns altogether. Resultantly, they are rendered non-existent and go without a share in the economy, ending up fighting poverty their entire lives.

An unregistered child misses out on critical life-saving vaccinations, is more likely to be put to work before reaching the appropriate age, and is unable to undertake a transaction through the legal financial system. They are also denied access to the country’s education system as well as the right to vote and are subjected to child marriage and human trafficking. Moreover, in events of disaster, it becomes very hard to reconnect the unregistered children with their families as there is no existing record of their identity.

Telenor Pakistan convinced that the situation could change, joined hands with UNICEF to introduce the Digital Birth Registration (DBR) project. It digitized the whole birth registration process into 5 simple steps where a facilitator approaches a household (or vice versa), fills out a digital application form via an app and takes photos of the required documents, and submits it to local authorities via mobile. The authorities, after reviewing the application on their digital system, approve it and the birth certificate is issued. By the close of 2018, over 580,000 children had been registered across 5 districts in Sindh and Punjab under DBR.

Digital Literacy: Making Internet Safe & Constructive for Youth

Telenor Pakistan has been wary of the opportunities and risks of access to the internet, especially for the country’s youth. Being a strong advocate of conducting business with responsibility, the company has two programs in place namely ‘Safe Internet & School Outreach Program’ and ‘iChamp (Internet Champion) where it reaches out to underprivileged schools and educates children on staying safe online and using internet for constructive purposes. Through comprehensive capacity-building and awareness sessions, children are able to understand the online risks involved and equip themselves in a better manner. Under the Safe Internet & School Outreach Program, 355,664 children across Pakistan were educated on safe internet use in 2017 in Nowshera, Thatta, Vehari & Muzaffargarh.

Similarly, the second installment of the iChamp digital awareness training program trained over 630,000 students across 1,800 schools from Gilgit to Karachi, teaching and training them on how to make effective use of mobile technology to advance their learning skills. Run collaboratively with Free Basic by Facebook, the program aimed to equip Pakistani students with basic knowledge of mobile and data technology to help them advance and educate themselves for better future prospects. Over 80 percent of the participating schools were underprivileged that usually lack access to the latest modes of technology.

Mobile Agriculture: Empowering Smallholder Farmers through Mobile

Nearly half of Pakistan’s workforce is employed by the agriculture sector, while its contribution to GDP stands at about 24%. The gaps in employment to GDP ratio is due to a range of challenges that agriculture faces despite being the backbone to the country’s socio-economic growth. Some of these challenges include a severe lack of critical investments, innovation in faming technology and techniques, access to reliable sources of information. As a solution to these challenges, Telenor Pakistan launched its digital intervention for agriculture in the shape of ‘Khushaal Zamindaar’.

Launched in December 2015, Khushaal Zamindaar is a digital audio platform providing hyper-localized weather forecasts and actionable agronomic advisory to over 6 million and growing male and female farmers. The service is designed as a user-friendly Robocall, IVR, and SMS content-based service and the farmer simply needs to dial 7272 to subscribe to the service free of cost. Seeing an encouraging number of female farmers using the service, a women-specific extension of the program called ‘Khushaal Aangan’ was launched with additional advisory on household rearing, family health, etc.

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