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This is a compilation of articles and other resources and initiatives featured by the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), an APC member organisation, in their latest newsletter.

The Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) is a Delhi-based non-profit that is working to narrow the digital divide in India. They have released a set of resources in response to the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19, based in service facilitation. In tandem with more than 600 digital information resource centres and more than 10,000 people helping across 25 states, DEF has committed to multiple initiatives within their virtual community. These include supporting telehealth initiatives, internet support, career consultations and crisis counselling, information dissemination, and supporting public systems like welfare. DEF has designed a system that aims to reach over three million individuals and that could ideally be used and scaled for COVID-19 and other potential crises.

Their resource kit is a crowd-sourced resource pool that is available in both English and Hindi, and in addition to providing verified and relevant information on COVID-19, it also addresses the problems involved in the dissemination of misinformation and fake news. It can be downloaded here.


The newsletter’s cover story, Strengthening community resilience and sustenance through digital intervention features Shivkumari, an Internet Saathi from Madhya Pradesh who is currently producing 300 masks per day and supplying them to the local hospitals.

Internet Saathis stitch masks to meet the immediate demand: The COVID-19 pandemic is causing problems in India, where limited healthcare resources like medicines, masks, PPE, etc. are a major issue. Internet Saathi Shivkumari Kushwha from Madhya Pradesh, along with her team, is stitching masks for her community members and hospitals to make up for the lack of equipment.

Curbing misinformation and fake news around COVID-19: An “awareness camp” on COVID-19 was held in Tamil Nadu on 14 March 2020. The gathering was held to ensure that correct information about the pandemic is disseminated and to generate awareness about preventative health measures. The presence of misinformation available on social media requires factually correct information to reach the community to prevent panic and other adverse results.

Roti, Kapda, Makan or Internet: Roti, kapda, makan translates to food, clothing, and shelter, and has become a common refrain in India as the country has moved towards social and economic development since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. These basic needs characterise the necessities of survival and despite significant progress towards social and economic development, India still suffers from pervasive income inequality. This is currently exemplified and exacerbated by the digital divide, because the architecture of governance and the delivery of public services has come to depend on digital infrastructure.

Understanding Gravity of Coronavirus Pandemic in India: The COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading for about a month in India. The spread of the virus can happen so fast that the casualties are exponential: some projections suggest up to 30% of the global population will become infected, with mass fatalities. What does this mean for India?

COVID-19 Digital Foot Soldiers: ProtoVillage, based in Andhra Pradesh, is the prototype of a rural community that is being built for the villagers, by the villagers. The ProtoVillage has set up a hand sanitiser unit made with aloe vera and is producing masks which are being distributed to the frontline health workers, police officers and locals from surrounding villages. They are also distributing food kits to vulnerable populations.

Other initiatives:

Digital centres as relief hubs: The Indian government announced that ration kits will be provided to daily wage labourers. DEF coordinator Gurudev Singh in Rajasthan conducted a survey to prepare a list of those who are most in need of these ration kits, and he has assembled kits of various staple foods to be distributed. Similarly, DEF coordinators in Haryana and Bihar have created a task force who have received permission from the district to help with community outreach, mobilisation and distribution of necessary items.

Smartpur Digital Service Delivery Van: Through DEF’s Emergency Relief Program, the Smartpur project team in Haryana has been working to provide the essentials and government entitlements. However, because of the lockdown, it has become far more difficult for Smartpur to help those who need it. However, the Smartpur Digital Service Delivery Van has been delivering masks and rations in the villages of the Mewat region and raising awareness of the pandemic at the same time.

Smartpur against COVID-19: Smartpur’s COVID-19 volunteers have been working to serve the community. Their centres, in collaboration with local government, have been supplying essential items to those in need. Under the country-wide lockdown, access to many services like financial assistance, bill payments, etc. has become limited. To remedy this situation, their volunteers are working to make access to information, entitlements and digital financial services easier through Smartpur’s one hundred digital centres.

Virtual digital centres in lockdown: Rahul from Rajasthan is a differently abled person whose family relies on his pension. However, because of the lockdown, banks are only open at limited times and Rahul was unable to withdraw money. He called DEF’s digital centre coordinator Irfan and Irfan went to Rahul’s home to provide him the pension, using online banking. Irfan now offers door-to-door digital services so that people do not have to leave their houses during the pandemic.

Community Radio helps reach the masses: The Wanaparthy community radio station is run at DEF’s digital centre by an all-women team associated with Vanitha Jyothi Mahila Sangam, an organisation working for poor and rural women in Telangana province. Their digital centre allows the station to upload its shows online, as well as allowing it to help answer online queries, which has clear benefits during a pandemic. The Telangana State Agriculture Minister also sent out a message through the station on the Janata Curfew, asking the public to stay home.

Online trainings amid lockdown: The CSC Academy and Facebook’s joint initiative Digital Beti, which is tackling the digital gender gap among rural women, was launched a month ago, and recent reports suggest that the first online training sessions have been successful. Because of COVID-19, trainings in Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu were put on hold as the government called for the nation-wide lockdown. The programme has announced online training sessions for the time being.

Samarth SoochnaPreneurs begin door-to-door digital services: Kalu Ram Sen, a differently abled person from Madhya Pradesh has been delivering food to the vulnerable and spreading preventive health awareness. One hundred others, like Samarth SoochnaPreneurs (a digital entrepreneurship programme that invests in rural youth), have been doing the same with the support from Equally Able Foundation and DEF across India and are providing door-to-door delivery of essential items, digital services, and government entitlements to those in need.

SoochnaPreneur helps implement government assistance: A SoochnaPreneur in Jharkhand has collaborated with the local authorities to distribute cooked food to children and the elderly under the "Didi Kitchen Yojna" programme of the Jharkhand government. They are also helping to carry out this work in villages, which has also helped the women of the village to have an alternate livelihood in a time when the pandemic has taken away traditional forms of income.

Artisan clusters converted to manufacturing hub for masks: Under the Digital Cluster Development Program (DCDP), DEF’s local team has started working on spreading COVID-19 awareness while also producing masks. The programme began by providing materials and wages to 15 community members and they have now produced more than 5,000 masks and are distributing them to community members for free or at minimal cost. Other local health centres, medical shops and the municipality have reached out to them with similar requests. A similar model is being applied in Nuapatna and Musiri.

Immediate relief to migrant workers: While the total impact of COVID-19 is yet to be measured, the poor, vulnerable, low-income and socially excluded groups in India are the worst affected, and this is exacerbated by the reverse migration of workers from cities back to their hometowns. Jan Sahas, a non-profit organisation, with the help of the local authorities and non-profits, is providing some of these workers with food, shelter and health services.

Check out DEF’s YouTube channel for more coverage of their COVID-19 Digital Emergency Relief Programme.