How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

Technology has the power to unleash the vast potential of India and its talented people. It has set up information highways connecting all Indians, empowering people and driving innovation; technological prowess enables access to better services for education, health care and agriculture besides ensuring transparency and accountability.

India’s development journey has been fraught with smart utilization of technology. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of m-Governance – offering services on Mobile phones and securing access to online services for all is an incredible reality; we can find the world in our mobile phones, quite literally.

Under the Digital India Programme, the implementation of initiatives such as Aadhaar, UPI and DigiLocker are ensuring faceless, cashless and paperless Governance that have laid the foundations of a strong, robust and secure Digital India. The laborious efforts of all stakeholders of the Digital India Programme to enable Digital Infrastructure, Digital Services & Digital Inclusion are helping India transform steadily into a digitally empowered ‘AatmaNirbhar’ (Self- Reliant) nation.

We have been battling the deadly Covid-19 Pandemic. While each one of us has struggled and given our all to rise to every challenge that the pandemic has posed, it has made us realize the value of a Digital India, more than ever before. The world has seen an astounding digital transformation in every sector since 2020.

Technology has played a major role in fighting the pandemic; Last year, the best of our minds from the Industry, Academia and Government converged and built AarogyaSetu- the contact tracing App, which has more than 20.81 Crore registered users. Our Vaccination technology platform – CoWIN is a robust and scalable platform that was developed by National Health Authority with technology support from the Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology.

This platform has enabled vaccination and issuance of certificates to over 1 billion Indians. India is also building a robust digital platform for healthcare through the National Digital Health Mission that will enable access to health care for all and also facilitate electronic health records and telemedicine services. Last year, more than six million people have accessed remote health care services through the eSanjeevani platform.

To give an example, Ms. Kanti Devi, a 73-year-old resident of Gawandri, East Champaran, Bihar is a mental health patient, suffering from severe anxiety, unfortunately aggravated by the pandemic. Instead of traveling 500 kms to a hospital in Lucknow, from her village, the eSanjeevani platform made it possible for Ms. Devi to get medical advice, through regular clinical consultation with her doctor online, right from the comfort of her home. This is the remarkable power of a Digitally connected India.

Digital India has proved to be an invaluable asset for the country, especially during the pandemic, as timely investment in creating a digital backbone of e-governance services has helped transform the lives of millions of Indians. Over the past few years, I have come across inspiring stories of many such people who have benefited immensely from schemes and services under Digital India.

I am working in the National e-Governance Division which was created by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology as an Independent Business Division under the Digital India Corporation.  Since 2009, NeGD has been playing a pivotal role in supporting the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology in Programme Management and implementation of e-Governance Projects and initiatives undertaken by Ministries/ Departments, both at the Central and State levels.

I have been a part of NeGD since 2009 and my role is to devise media and communication strategies, execute multiple activities such as mass media campaigns encompassing different modes of traditional media, social media and events to inform our citizens about Digital India, its vision, projects and services, with the aim to better their lives.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

One of the most inspiring and impactful project I worked upon was promotion of the CoWIN platform.  During October 2021, India reached the 1 billion Covid-19 vaccination milestone. The credit for this feat goes to a large extent to the CoWIN App which has emerged as the digital backbone of India’s vaccination drive and connected stakeholders at various levels of India’s health system.

CoWIN made it far easier for people to get vaccinated as per their convenience, thereby enabling greater vaccination coverage. Another project that I have found exhilarating is Responsible AI for Youth- a National Program for Government School Students. The Program was started with the objective to empower students, and support them to become part of the skilled future workforce in an inclusive manner.

This exclusive program was for students from classes 8 – 12 across the country and trained them in emerging technologies like AI who created extremely useful projects such as using AI tool to detect real-time conditions of the road and minimize the probability of road accidents; AI-based solution designed to provide in-depth information on medicinal leaves and herbs with just a single image; smart data based AI tool that identifies the most suitable crop for soil by analyzing the various nutritional components present in it; AI app to measure the health parameters of athletes and recommend nutritional diets and workouts accordingly, to name a few.

What is the one unexpected learning from 2021?

The most unexpected learning from 2021 was that working from home and remote working have become the ‘new normal’.  In these trying times, when the entire world has been fighting a pandemic, the work culture- be it corporate, government, industry or education; has gone through a paradigm shift.

In these times, it has become important to define the ‘purpose of office’ rather than ‘where your office is’. Employers are gradually starting to identify roles which may not require employees to come to office at all and can permanently work from home. Remote working has made geographical location a redundant attribute. There are suddenly more employment opportunities to the people of tier 2 & tier 3 cities, because of this phenomenon.

The new brigade of ‘borderless employees’ can be recruited from any part of the country. This means that being in a metro or a tier 1 city may not be contingent to landing a good, high-paying job. In regard to the same, there will be a shift in critical skills and competencies as remote work and flexibility increases. Employers will look at skills like agility, transparency and resilience in the coming times.

And video conferencing, e-Office solutions, and digital collaboration tools have of course ensured that e-learning for school and college goers, and both private enterprises and government entities have continued working smoothly during lockdowns, wherein their comfort and work productivity is not hampered. Moreover, this has helped contribute towards safeguarding our environment with less transports on the road with reduction in traveling, saving time, money and energy.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

As the pandemic was looming large on each one of us across the world, my favourite memory from 2020 and 2021 is staying connected to my family, friends and office colleagues, digitally.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022 ?

Working remotely can also bring a lot of security breaches to an organisation, which has become a global issue. However, here’s where emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain etc., can come into play.

The pandemic has taught us one thing very clearly, remote working is the future. In regard to the same, we recently organised a global conference Responsible AI for Social Empowerment or RAISE 2020 to discuss the ocean of opportunities that AI can bring, more today, than ever. AI will be the tool to ensure seamless work from home culture and I am keen to know, explore and learn about all the AI backed tools which will pave our path towards a hybrid work culture.

What are your priorities for 2022?

To promote the vision of Digital India, digital services and benefits of such services so that more and more of the population adopts the digital way will continue to be of top priority.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

There are several mentors that I really respect and look up to; first and foremost is my current President & CEO, Mr. Abhishek Singh who is not only a par excellence Indian Administrative officer but is also extremely hard working; he inspires me to not only work hard and give our best but think out of the box and give quick fix solutions to any hurdles that may arise.

Our erstwhile President & CEO, Mr. M S Rao has been an inspiration for always listening to all his employees and taking in their view points, teaching me that it is vital to be a team player.

Our COO, Mr. Vinay Thakur has been an inspiration with his motto of never saying no to any kind of work and his agile ability to juggle different types of work. There are miles to go and a lot to learn from each one of these brilliant officers that I have had the remarkable good fortune to work with.

What gets you up in the morning?

My professional journey has been deeply influenced by my passion for social equity, inclusive development and the desire to make impactful change. I believe working on the Digital India Programme is a once in a lifetime chance to serve the nation. While the target to make digital services reach every nook and corner of our country is mammoth, the opportunity to make our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s dream a reality, is grand.