Sunday, 15 May 2016

Digital Inclusion for Older people: The HelpAge India Experiment!

Ishanti Ghose from HelpAge India, working on creating the Smartphone Booklet for Elders
When Ishanti Ghose, a young working woman, sipped her espresso, at work, on a Monday morning while narrating to her colleagues, her weekend escapade with her grandmother learning technology, little had she known, that, just a friendly conversation with her coworkers will gradually take the shape of an incredible new project for social change sprouting from within  the organization itself! 

Ishanti works at HelpAge India.  

As Ishanti shared her grandmother’s innocence and excitement at learning Whatsapp and Skype, she also realized how this simple knowledge had the power to connect a senior at home to her old schoolmates across the world and also to her grandchildren with just a mouse click! She saw how giving older people access to technology improved the quality of their lives significantly by encouraging interaction and therefore, combating their loneliness.

Within precisely a few minutes, Ishanti had a candid chat with Manjira Khurana, Country Head, Advocacy and Communications at HelpAge India and within a couple of hours the project idea was firmly conceptualized. Manjira says, ‘It was an idea based on fulfilling a need, elderly had, and was backed by empathy towards the cause, conceptualized by a young person. We brainstormed how this could be a potential game-changer for providing digital access to at least the thousands of elderly actively associated with HelpAge through the pan India network of Senior Citizen Associations. Within a week, a basic tech learning primer was developed – “Making smartphone and computer learning, fun and easy.” Ishanti designed the booklet in a couple of days and before the end of the week, we got the booklets printed at almost zero cost and also made it available online on HelpAge India official website and Advantage website for anyone to download it for free. True information access happens when it is not offered at a premium. We wanted as many seniors as possible to start using the primer and get on the way to becoming tech-savvy.”

Young volunteers across the country are using the HelpAge India Smartphone 
Booklet to teach seniors.
HelpAge reached to 100 plus volunteers and young interns to take 2 day training sessions across 15 cities in India. The digital inclusion initiative started in November 2015 proved to be a success, with over 350 training sessions being conducted within two months.

Young volunteers across the country trained the elderly at the senior citizen associations on the basics of Google Maps, Whatsapp, paying utility bills online, booking a cab if stranded etc. One outstanding impact we saw post the creation of the smartphone and computer training primer was that several small local computer coaching institutes reached out to HelpAge India seeking permission to use the Primer to give free classes to seniors.. Several hundred Young techies from software companies have started using the Primer to teach seniors in their office neighborhoods as a part of their CSR efforts.

HelpAge volunteers teaching navigation on Google Maps to elders at a Senior Citizen Association, New Delhi
Says Raman, a young volunteer from an engineering college in Delhi, “The Primer with it’s easy step-by-step processes and with icons shown against each step gives confidence to the elders to revisit their lessons post the training sessions.
In an effort to fight loneliness, young HelpAge volunteers have picked up a crusade to teach the elderly, Smartphones, Skype, Google maps, Internet and more! These little things have gone a long way to make the seniors feel technologically and socially updated and included.

It is so very gratifying for volunteers when their elder “students” thank them, as was the case of Mrs. Neeta Chatterjee, 82 years from Chittranjan Park, New Delhi.

“When I asked my daughter to teach me how to use my new smartphone, I could not understand her rapid fire instructions. But when the HelpAge volunteer came with the technology primer, she explained it slowly going over each step and I suddenly started enjoying the process of learning new technology. Facebook, Google and Skype were no longer frightening strangers, but, became my friends. Today, I talk to my grandson in San Francisco, pay my Airtel mobile bill online, and can you imagine, I even bought a microwave oven on!” says, Neeta. She goes on to add, “My mornings are no longer lonely. After breakfast, I log on to my Facebook account and chat with six of my college mates - Batch of ‘62.”

With this experiment, HelpAge India is more committed than ever to include digital inclusion as one of the empowering pillars of Active Ageing being propagated.