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The Story Behind Zindagi Mobile: Why We Partnered With Neelesh Misra and BigFM

2nd January 2020
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Stories. A word that is relatable to a child as much as it is to an octogenarian. Some we cherish, some we forget and some we absorb. The beauty of a good story is that there’s something in it for everyone. Inspiration for some, and catharsis for others.

So, what does this have to with us? That’s a story too. Last year, we partnered with Neelesh Misra, an entrepreneur, a journalist, a storyteller and founder of Gaon Connection, to tell stories about the Next Half Billion and how the mobile phone has truly empowered them. You can watch those videos here. The characters and their voices were so strong and unique that we both agreed that we should do more.

Meanwhile, our thinking at Omidyar Network India was evolving too and we began thinking about our investment approach and what that means for every Indian. Today, we describe our investment approach as “good tech: har zindagi behtar”. This has two components:

  • “Tech for good”: We believe that technology, especially internet access, has become the source of a fundamental transformation in our society. It is creating inclusivity for the many, instead of exclusivity for the few. Over one in five people in India have a data-enabled smartphone which means that businesses and governments can serve people that have been excluded, underserved, or disempowered much more easily. This creates opportunities for them to reach their full potential, despite their background. 
  • “Responsible Tech”: We equally recognize that technology and internet proliferation also increases the vulnerability of individuals and society to harms. Data regulation in India is evolving rapidly, while data protection, inclusion, and privacy have become major public policy drivers, and must be at the very core of any innovation.

So, since we believe that innovating for the next half billion is key, and we believe that both the components of GoodTech are critical, we began to think about how we can enable consumers to, at least be aware of these issues, and at best, do something about it. Our ultimate goal is to empower the ‘next half billion’ India to make informed choices when choosing tech products and services.

And that is where, another conversation with Neelesh Misra, on a rainy day in Mumbai, kicked off the next chapter of our journey together. Having told stories about love, relationships, and even water conservation, we chatted about how we could create a show that seeks to inform, sensitize and help equip the audience to better understand how tech can help improve their lives, the vulnerabilities it creates and how to exercise their right to privacy. 

That was how Zindagi Mobile was born. BigFM was a very willing partner given their focus on creating social movements and quickly understood the potential of taking this conversation to as wide an audience as possible.

So, about four months after we first spoke about the idea, we are going on-air with a 15-minute show reaching 340 million listeners in 58 cities and towns across India. The show will feature stories written by Gaon Connection’s Mandali (its team of freelance writers) dealing with very real tech-related issues of real people – from how a smartphone can enhance your reach of critical services to the criticality of consent to dealing with fake news.

We will also be conducting research around the show in a few markets to understand how these stories help create behavior change on issues that aren’t always easy to understand. We hope to be able to genuinely make ‘har zindagi behtar’ through this show. We also hope to kickstart a movement that underlines the power of the narrative no matter the complexity of the message. To some Zindagi Mobile might just be stories, but to us, it’s the beginning of a journey that’s more than just a tale.