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Directors' Report

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, we may say that working as a niche organization undertaking activities ranging from global advocacy to development research to large-scale projects is by all means a complex venture. More so in an area of social activism that is not yet clearly defined, certainly not in a relatively well laid-out manner which could lend it a basic identity and shape, which is needed in any area for a civil society organization to exist and grow in it, and yes, also get funded. (Let us clarify here that we mean the area of techno-social activism which is rooted in progressive ideals, existing in fraternal partnership with similarly-motivated activism in other sectors. The more liberal varieties of techno-social activism are today rather well-established.) But if it is challenging and taxing, it is also very satisfying both in its uniqueness and its overall impact in terms of our mission, which is of social change towards greater equity and social justice. In a global and national environment that is not very conducive to progressive advocacies, we have managed to stay afloat and still largely do the work that we would most like to do.

Yet, such is the range of our activities, no doubt connected at the base by the self-definition of working in the area of ICTs for progressive change, that forming overarching thoughts about them for the year that has passed can be difficult. We can perhaps take IT for Change to be a rhizomic plant, which is always setting out new roots in reaching to grassroots activists and communities, while gathering from the field the manure of knowledge through research, extending new solid branches that carry the weight of cutting-edge global and national advocacy, as also spreading horizontally to impact social structures directly, through demonstration as well as large-scale systemic projects. Our activities, at multiple levels, grew further this year, at times in a quantum change manner, while maintaining our underlying congruence of ideals and primary objectives.

Grass-roots groups today have largely given up any illusion, that may have existed earlier, of the techno-social being not very relevant to their real concerns. IT for Change now regularly engages with groups like women farmer associations and with state level networks of elected women representatives to local governance bodies. It interacts with human rights activists ranging from areas like right to food, to right to information and right to education. This year, we worked with activists groups that gather at the World Social Forum. In fact, a possible Internet Social Forum is being seen in this community as one of the most important and promising new areas, with near universal appeal.

In all this excitement of connecting with the people, we never under-estimate the role of the intellect and knowledge in social change. Our research has studied a large number of egovernance initiatives to develop guidelines for entrenching gender concerns in such programs, as it has devoted itself to understanding what conditions lead to teachers co-producing and sharing curricular resources.

This Photograph won the Fund for Gender Equality(FGE) Photo Competition 2015

At the same time, no key global policy process on information society issues, or national process around emergent Internet policy issues, can go unimpacted by our efforts. We make up for the paucity of resources by developing strong partnerships and extensive coalitions, a model that is increasingly becoming central to our work. We are there when the dominant governments are dragging their feet at global forums on engagements with global policy requirements, or when the national government begins to look at a policy issue like net neutrality.

Still, like the proof of the pudding is in its eating, it is the systemic impact on our social structures, which can be seen and touched, that often brings us the greatest satisfaction. In this regard, it is our work in transforming the role of ICTs in teacher education, and the agency of teachers in the school's processes, where we have gone the furthest. This year we especially saw a near national level recognition that 'our model' was the most appropriate and productive, and many states asking us to come and work with them in setting up similar systems as we have developed for the Karnataka public education system. We hope that education is just the first, front-line area (as in fact it indeed is for ICT induced social changes), and we would be making similar impacts on other social systems as they confront the transformative power of ICTs.

If we are to try and capture what it all means for IT for Change's overall role, identity and future in cutting a path towards a new area of progressive techno-social activism, we have the following musings to share. The exoticism that was associated with this area till just a few years ago by many in the social change sector is almost completely gone. Meanwhile, the shine of techno-centric activism, which posits technology as a quick-fix 'solution' to most development problems, is fading fast. Further, government officials and other mainstream development actors, are today much less likely to assume that the private sector vendors will do it all for them. Also, most people no longer take various Internet platforms and businesses to be innocent and largely benign. All these changes are very significant in building the right environment.

The 'need' for a different thinking and approach can now be said to be very much appreciated, but the 'form' of a recognized and recognizable field with a basic vocabulary and concepts, about and through which people could talk with one other, interact and form collaborations, is however still missing.

So, apart from doing the small and big things that we routinely do, as this report will describe, we are conscious that it is among our primary tasks to help shape that 'missing form' which can support sustained social activism for the progressive cause in this new and complex field. This is what keeps our diverse activities together, and makes us one as IT for Change.

Directors, IT for Change

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