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‘Life Apps’: Better technology sans the language barrier
SATARUPA PAUL  8th Jul 2012

Sachin Gaur in Andhra Pradesh during the shooting of Life Apps

t's a cellphone world...calls, texts and apps," begins the narration in the opening montage of a new series of documentary films called Life Apps. "So can we design apps to help each other and make a better world?" the narrator asks while images of farmers laughing, talking on the phone and brainstorming with software developers from Africa greet us. The five-part series then sets forth to explore this possibility; each follows young software engineers and entrepreneurs in five different countries who are making mobile apps to not just make money but also help people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Conceptualised and produced by Television Trust for the Environment (TVE), the idea behind Life Apps was to tell inspiring stories of how easily available technology, like the ubiquitous mobile phones and mobile applications which are presently gaining rapid popularity, can lead to development and empowerment even among the most backward of communities. "The idea was not so much to investigate as it was to inspire," says Christopher Miller, South Asia co-ordinator, TVE. "It was to encourage people to think differently. We wanted young techies to believe that even they can make something, which will not just fetch them money but also make them feel good about doing something for the society."

Set up 27 years ago by the UN Environment Program, UNHabitat and WWF, TVE is an international non-profit trust that initially used the power of television to spread awareness on environment, conservation and climate change. But soon it spread its umbrella to bring development issues, technological advancements and social enterprises under its belt too. Life Apps combined it all to emerge as a set of five films which, after premiering at the just concluded United Nations' Rio Summit, are now being broadcasted all over the world on major TV channels.

While researching we found that the instances of farmer suicides have actually decreased in AP over the last few years. So we wanted to explore what positive factor had contributed to this. — Arjun Pandey

Life Apps – Mobile Harvest is the Indian film in the series. It is directed by Arjun Pandey, a National Award-winning filmmaker based in Delhi, who has previously made several documentary films on wildlife, environment and social issues. "For our protagonist, we shortlisted three young entrepreneurs out of many. The idea was to find that one person who had a background of software developing and who could take time out to travel with us to rural India and build the app," he says. So the team zeroed in on Sachin Gaur, an award-winning software engineer and an expert on mobile security.

The film follows Gaur as he makes several research trips from Delhi to the rural hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh to meet farmers and hear first hand, the accounts of farmer suicides and the subsequent problems the families had to face. In the midst of it all, he also comes across farmers who have changed their dire fates by employing several traditional practices. "So the basis of the app that I've developed, and improving upon now, is simple: with three taps of a button, any farmer can record their success stories; and with three taps of another button, anyone anywhere can listen to them and employ these practices for their betterment," says Gaur.

"We wanted to work in one of the states where farmers face severe problems, so we had Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra in mind," says Pandey. "But while researching we found that the instances of farmer suicides have actually decreased in AP over the last few years. So we wanted to explore what positive factor had contributed to this and if we could reach it out to other states as well."

The other films in the series too follow such software developers as they travel from their 'cappuccino culture' techie hotspots and get out among the marginalised community to find what they want and need. In Kenya, app developer Muniu Kairuki takes up the challenge to develop an app that can help small-time farmers who live far away from the burgeoning Silicon nerve-centre of Nairobi to help them reach out for better business opportunities. While, for the extremely poor ghettos of Rio de Janeiro's North Zone, it's a game app that can help with green business initiatives.

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