Solutions in Action - an Update from Ray Umashankar of ASSET India

Posted by Connie French on Jan 8, 2009 8:55:10 AM

In September of this year, we announced that a Challenge to create technology for solar-powered wireless routers had been solved. The purpose of this Challenge was to provide marginalized women and children in rural India access to the skills and knowledge needed to escape the sex trade.

The Seeker organization for this Challenge, ASSET India was founded by Ray Umashankar two years ago, with his daughter Nita and his wife Sushila. In the two years since ASSET was founded, the organization has opened several training centers in urban areas in India, where 369 students have been enrolled. Plans for 2009 include two or three more training centers and 600 or more enrolled students. Now with the availability of wireless, solar powered routers, he can reach many more people, including those who live more remote rural areas.

In December, Umashankar was recognized with The Purpose Prize which celebrates and supports "outstanding individuals 60 or older who are producing significant social innovation and accomplishing work of great importance. "

I recently caught up with Dean Umashankar, to get a status update on the implementation of the wireless router technology, as well as an update on the organization's plans for the future.


Hello Dean Umashankar. It has been a few months since the solar powered router Challenge was solved - what has ASSET been up to in this time?

ASSET has been busy raising funds to pay for the hardware, student wages and faculty salary. The total budget is $42,000 and so far we have raised $8,000. The two prototypes for the router should be ready and tested by September 2009.

Our partner organizations are eagerly awaiting the deployment of the routers. Once the technology is deployed successfully, we will be able to open several centers in rural India. ASSET has had many requests for setting up centers in small rural towns.

How do you anticipate that this deployment will help expand the ASSET mission?

Our target population consists of children of sex workers and girls rescued from trafficking. Since these girls living in rural areas lack the confidence and skills to move to larger cities to find technology related employment, we had to find a way to take the work to them so that they do not have to relocate. Innocentive's assistance in solving the technology problem is of great significance and we plan to share the solution with other NGOs ( Non Government Organizations) that can benefit from it.

One of the exciting possibilities is the setting up of a center in a village where a large number of girls rescued from trafficking live. These include girls who had been dedicated to temples and subsequently ended up in brothels.

Interestingly, the overall downturn in the economy has not affected entry level IT positions at all- in fact the numbers are expected grow dramatically in the next couple of years.

Do you have plans to post any more Challenges on InnoCentive's marketplace?

Yes. I most certainly do. In fact the biggest challenge I face now is finding qualified English language teachers for our centers. I have to identify a technology solution to make the delivery of English language lessons non-teacher dependent.

Congratulations on your recent Purpose Prize - can you tell us a bit about that?

The Purpose Prize recognizes social entrepreneurs over the age of 60. There were 9 prizes of $10,000 each and more than 1,200 nominations. The process took nearly 10 months and I was one of only two selected for a project outside the U.S. The reception took place at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This prize has given great exposure to ASSET's work and increased our credibility enormously.

Thank you so much for your time.  We wish you well in the expansion of ASSET's good works and look forward to your next Challenge with InnoCentive!Thank you.

Dean Umashankar was recently profiled in a major online Indian publication - you can read this inspiring piece here - 'Success doesn't require any special skill, except passion'

Topics: Seekers

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