Facilitating better communication with frontline workers via IVR system

Contributed by Tanmay Goel, Assistant Software Engineer, Digital Green

Village resource persons (VRPs) are the key actors in Digital Green’s video-enabled learning approach that focuses on providing farmers the right information at the right time. At Digital Green, we constantly strive to provide these frontline workers effective, timely and supportive supervision.


A big opportunity that we could recently tap in to involved the reach of mobile phones in rural India. We observed that most VRPs had at least one mobile phone in the family, if not a personal one. Also, given the geographical expanse that each of our Program Managers have to increasingly manage, we felt that an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system could be used to pass messages between the Program Managers of Digital Green and VRPs. The advantage of the system was that extension workers could receive important messages directly from the Managers, like schedule of block meetings etc., rather than through the organisational hierarchy. The system also made it possible for VRPs to share crucial information or any issues back with the Managers at no extra cost.

We collaborated with Awaaz.De to conduct a pilot in Samastipur and Nalanda districts of Bihar from November 2014 – February 2015 and 69 VRPs were registered on the system. Messages about upcoming meetings and currently-relevant seasonal videos were broadcasted to all VRPs in a block. We also ran a contest to encourage listeners to interact more with the system.

A few statistics from the pilot:

  • 58 VRPs listened to at least one of the messages.
  • On 89% of calls, listeners heard the entire message.
  • A total of 87 messages were recorded on the system by VRPs and responded to by our Program Managers.
  • 50 of these were valid.
  • 26 out of 58 listeners attempted to leave a message.
  • 34% listeners left at least one message that was not blank and contained a message other than hello.

One of the most fascinating outcomes of the pilot was the sheer number and variety of messages left by VRPs on the system. When VRPs became familiar with the system, they started using it to get their messages across to the program managers. Their messages included requests for relevant videos, invitations to shoot good adoptions and reports on adoption and screening progress in their villages. Some messages were really amusing; One VRP said, I want to see Satyamev Jayate episode on pico projector and another said, Happy new year to all! In this new year, when will have our first meeting. In fact, managers felt that a wider variety of issues were voiced via IVRS than in other public fora where CRPs were reluctant to stand out.

We observed that the IVR system was not very easy for VRPs to use. Some IVR prompts referred to Beep sound and Hash key that VRPs encountered for the very first time, and due to this recording messages was difficult and unintuitive. Yet, we were surprised by VRPs effort to learn the systems usage and, with a little bit of training, they used it avidly and actively.

Ultimately, the project was a great learning experience. We enjoyed listening to VRPs voices sitting in our office, and our Program Managers felt that IVR system reduced delay in resolution of issues and facilitated communication (group and one-on-one). In future, we will be designing structure research projects to measure the impact of such a system.

Images from the field – Bihar

Photostream of images from a review meeting attended by village resource persons, master resource persons, JEEViKA and Digital Green staff and scenes from a community video screening session clicked by Sasmita Nayak, Assistant Program Manager, Digital Green

Between work and witnessing the world

Contributed by Ajinkya Deshmukh, Program Manager

As I sat at my desk in the Delhi office after 21 days, submitting my trip reports and filing my monthly timesheet, I noticed I hadn’t taken a single leave in the month of March, and yet, I was barely in office. I looked at my travel calendar and realised I’d criss-crossed the country for work. From a district in the central Indian Vidharbha region to a small seaside town along the Konkan coast in western India, finally ending with an organisational retreat in the eastern state of Bihar. These were places that dont feature in the everyday imagination of urban India and travelling to them is its own reward.

Kelwa is one such place. Barely three hours north of Mumbai, the sleepy town is at once charming and forgotten. A fortnight ago, I was there with two other colleagues to kick off Digital Greens work with the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihoods Mission (aka Umed). We were to begin working in the districts of Thane, Palghar and Nandurbar. The project would focus on video documenting and disseminating best practices around cotton, soyabean, goatery, and non-farm livelihoods activities in 114 villages in the target districts.

We arrived in the dead of the night, trying to locate our beachside hotel by listening for the sea. As dawn broke, we saw the breathtaking beach only a 100 metres from our hotel.

Over the next week, between long meetings and video production training sessions, we made time to swim in the sea, ride horse-drawn tongas, eat delicately cooked Bombay Duck, and meet some great people (like this brother-sister duo collecting crabs for dinner from under rocks at low tide)!

The programme launch meeting with representatives from all three districts and the video production training were a resounding success. At the end of the week, we were able to map the future course of action for our work in western Maharashtra, and also produce two videos in Marathi on seed selection and the preparation of beejamrut (an organic concoction used to treat seeds before sowing).

Ajinkya taking a session at the training of new partner staff.

What had seemed like just another work trip had offered up so much more! The opportunity to travel had cast new light, literally and figuratively, on the everyday churn of events. I left Kelwa feeling refreshed and rewarded, despite a most hectic work schedule eagerly looking forward to the next time work brought me here.

Despatch from the field – Experiences from Gopalganj and West Champaran, Bihar, India

Contributed by Rishiraj Shukla, Assistant Program Manager, Digital Green

Digital Green and JEEViKA or government-led Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project have been partners for the last three years, using an ICT-enabled collective learning approach to promote best practices among rural community groups . I recently joined the Digital Green team and have been witness to the scale and depth of the partnership, specifically in two districts,Gopalganj and West Champaran.

At times we often come across people who are willing to learn and adapt to new things without any training or knowhow. These videos on system of rice intensification have made my work easier, I learnt so much from them. Now I am confident that I can deliver the same on the field, says Mr. Abhishek K. Singh who happens to be the JEEViKA livelihood specialist of Narkatiyaganj block of West Champaran. Initially he had no clue about this method of rice farming and hence, was worried about how to implement the practice in the field. Watching the videos helped him in understanding the practice and appreciate its benefits. Abhishek then guided village resource persons on effectively screening the videos in their respective villages, educating the farmers about the practice and how it could increase their yield.

A review meeting at Kuchaikote, one of the blocks in Gopalganj district, could serve as an apt illustration of the relationship between Digital Green and JEEViKA. Things cannot be taken for granted; we will have to work hard, if we want results, said Rajnish Kumar, Livelihood Specialist, JEEViKA, taking the lead during the whole review meeting, motivating the village-level functionaries to go the extra mile in producing quality videos and screening them effectively.Rajnish also shared some great ideas about the videos that can be produced in the region. He was quite excited about the fact that the video production team would be based in the district, which meant that the community would get to see videos in the local language, Bhojpuri, helping them connect better and adopt the agriculture practices shown in those videos.

Contrary to stereotypical notions of tardy government systems, my observation of field-level JEEViKA operations have been largely inspiring. We had requested the district project manager of Gopalganj to procure a video camera for the district so that a video production team could be set up. Within the span of a month, a video camera was purchased and 10,000 copies of merged formats for dissemination and adoption were printed and delivered to the respective blocks. The district project manager at Gopalganj is extremely active and has also helped his counterpart in Nalanda district in procuring a video camera for his district. Our experience with the district project manager at West Champaran has been similar; he has been extremely helpful and responsive to process improvements.

Digital Green, through its ICT-enabled approach, not only strengthens its partners capacity to develop and deliver services in the field of agriculture, but also enables farmers to effectively engage with the government, setting in motion powerful mechanisms for their participation and their engagement. A partnership is based on a common consensus and each partner can work and function smoothly only if they get adequate support from each other. The Digital Green – JEEViKA is an example of a healthy partnership which continues to evolve.

I found the JEEViKA staff at the district level as well as at the block level very approachable. They acknowledge the role of Digital Green in helping them mobilize and build the capacity of village resource persons to deliver information effectively.

To the lay reader, some of these details might seem mundane and simple but these traits and aspects make a huge difference, while working in partnership to roll out community-centric interventions.There is no shortcut if we want our farmers especially small scale farmers to adopt the best practices in agriculture for improved and sustainable livelihoods and for better agricultural output. There is much scope for improvement of such partnership. There is a constant and consistent need for proper monitoring and evaluation and to realize the goals we have set for ourselves, we will have to be accountable to each other, and most importantly to the farmers and the rural communities for whom we work.

digitalGREEN team retreats – a quick look back

Our team in Karnataka surprised us all by screening this short video that captured the team retreats of the past through bits of videos and photos they had collected over the years from various colleagues.


The video helped put things in perspective as we were just starting our 6th Annual Team Retreat with over 70 staff.


The video starts with the first digitalGREEN (DG) video ever made in 2006 capturing our work on the ground to some snapshots of the first annual staff retreat in 2009 – then called “Bootcamp” which was held in Odisha.


Watch this video for a quick peek into our team retreats since the very beginning…



Digital Green Annual Staff Retreat 2015 – Rajgir, Bihar

The Digital Green family spread across India and Ethiopia came together for a three-day retreat in Rajgir, Bihar from March 24 – 26th.

It was a fabulous opportunity for everyone to connect with each other, with quite a bit of fun, introspecting, learning and brainstorming thrown in, thanks to some super facilitation by the folks at Organization Development Alternatives, India.

High notes included a cultural evening where each regional team got to showcase their impressive musical, dancing and theatrical talents, a visit to the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya and the ruins in Nalanda, and a World Caf session that had different teams sharing their big learning/innovation/idea in a creative way.

Here’s a fun picture of all of us at the retreat – do watch this space for more on our annual event!


When 20 people said Lights, Camera Action!

Contributed by Namita Singh, Senior Program Manager – Training, Digital Green

March 9th, 2015 was a beautiful day. Twenty people from various Digital Green offices, including India and Ethiopia, had come together in Delhi. There was palpable excitement in the air, some people were meeting each other after a long time, new team members were getting introduced to people from other regions, and some were just catching up with their colleagues. The Training of Trainers (ToT) on Video Production was set to begin.

Rikin Gandhi, our CEO, opened the training, emphasising that the ToT was a step towards ensuring that Digital Green trainers are fully equipped to handle the pace of operations and also constantly innovate to make our video production processes more meaningful and engaging.

The 5-day training was packed. The facilitators, Ajinkya Deshmukh, B Praveen and I, all trainers from Digital Green, had brainstormed to design this training to be as creative, fun and participatory as possible.

Day One started with basics of camera operations such as types of shots, camera angles and composition. While these were basics, we introduced some really cool exercises, such as use the 5 basic shots to establish who that person is. Day Two continued with more fun exercises on the technical aspects of light and sound. One of the groups shot bad and good lighting in the same space and set-up. They demonstrated how a little bit of difference can make a shot either well-lit or badly-lit. Their exercise was so good, that we will definitely use it as an example and instructional video from our next training onwards!

Second half of this day focused on storytelling, where we asked people to go wild with their creativity. We mostly make videos on agriculture, health and nutrition practices, which sometimes gets monotonous and people find it hard to break the pattern and come up with different ideas for their videos. We wanted the participants to start thinking afresh to get out of their monotony. They went so wild with it that we ended with stories about pink baby dragons, politicians and toothache! There was much more on storytelling and narrative techniques the next day. The groups worked on their skills to develop interesting first person and third person narratives with proper beginning, middle and end sequences. Some used voice-overs to talk about road safety and others about benefits of yoga. All the videos generated much laughter (and I believe brought down the stress levels of the participants substantially!), but were also reviewed critically by the facilitators and other participants on technical and conceptual aspects.

On the last two days of the training, the participants were divided into groups of four, each group to develop a 8-10 minute story on a topic of their choice. The first day was for shooting and the second day was for editing. The day for the shoot began early in the morning at 6:30 AM. Groups came up with stories on female foeticide, gender inequity, foreign tourists in India and alcoholism. All the groups worked hard to make their video the best. While there was a lot of excitement to shoot their videos creatively, the participants were also particular about the technical quality, checking and re-checking their shots to ensure that sound has been recorded properly and the visuals look fine.

Next up was a comprehensive review of all the videos. We ensured selection of the best video was a democratic process, with everyone giving marks. The video on female foeticide won the Best Video award – it was shot beautifully, had a good concept and our lead actors acted like professionals. The teams behind the videos on alcoholism and foreign tourists in India were also acknowledged for their effort. Vinay Kumar, our COO, handed out the certificates encouraging everyone to put the learnings into practice.

It was then time to ‘Pack Up’. After these intense 5 days, participants left with some good learnings, lot of motivation and great memories. We do hope to produce more interesting and creative videos following this ToT, so keep watching our videos!

Voice from the field: Letebrihen Gidey, Ethiopia

Meet Letebrihen Gidey, 42, mother of three, resident of Medebay Zana village, Hekifen district, Ethiopia.

Letebrihen is a single parent, bringing up three kids on her own, two daughters aged 13 and 15, and a son who is 18. All three kids study in Medebay Zana Middle School and help their mother on their farm after school. Letebrihen’s big dream is to be able to see her children escape the cycle of poverty one day. She believes education is the way out for her kids and insists on them attending school regularly.

As part of a women development group, Letebrihen has attended Digital Green-enabled video screenings on local best practices and adopts relevant practices featured in these videos. One of the practices she has adopted is inter cropping of teff and tomato and line planting of maize. She watched the video and realized that although the new technique did require more effort than the traditional farming methods she is used to, the benefits are immense.

She recalls having mixed feelings after watching the video, excited about trying it and getting the same benefit as the farmer in the video and anxious to see the results. Letebrihen was convinced enough to practice the new farming technique with the help of her children just a week after watching the video. I was able to maximize my land use. This is the first time I produced tomato without using irrigation, as I took advantage of the rainy season. My income during this cropping season has gone up as well because of these two crops I planted simultaneously. I have basically doubled the land I once had, she says triumphantly.

She is a woman’s group leader and tries to empower and teach women what she knows about farming. However, the idea that she can reach more women to inspire and encourage has been an exciting one for her. Her progressive traits led the district level video production team to feature Letebrihen in one of the videos on integrated crops and livestock farming system.She says, I remember watching one of the first videos and being amazed at how I am able to learn from this farmer who lives far from where I live. So I am very happy that other people in another village will be listening to me and watching me. It is such a great opportunity to have.

Know more about Letebrihen and other inspiring individuals in Ethiopia whose lives we have touched

Scaling up the Digital Green approach in Ethiopia

Since 2012, Digital Green has reached more than 30,000 smallholder farmers in Ethiopia with improved agricultural and livelihood practices using community-sourced videos.

Here’s a short film on the impact of the Digital Green approach on the Ethiopian agricultural extension system and the way ahead:

Inspiring stories of change from Ethiopia

Gebru Dereje, from Gumer District in SNNPR State gave up city life to move back to his place of birth (Zizencho Kebele) and became a farmer.


At the age of 67, he says he is happy to dedicate time to watch a video being screened for his local farming community despite a busy schedule.


We don’t mind giving this time, regardless of how busy we are with our chores because an hour is nothing compared to the time we had to dedicate to learn something earlier [before Digital Green’s video-enabled learning approach was introduced], shares Mr. Gebru.


Walking all the way to the Farmer Training Center (FTC) to peer at the action taking place on the demonstration plot over the shoulders of many who have arrived before me was almost pointless, but I went anyway because I was eager to learn ways to increase my farm’s productivity.He no longer has the energy he had when he was young to make the trip to the FTC.




Till date, we have reached more than 640,000 individuals across India and Sub-Saharan Africa in over 7,000 villages producing over 3,500 localized videos in 20 languages.


Heres a compilation of stories of some of the many lives we have touched over our journey. These stories have been made possible through the collective efforts of Digital Green staff and our partners, and most importantly, the communities with whom we engage.


Read on for more such inspiring testimonials and stories


Voices From the Field (Ethiopia) February 2015