This profile was prepared when Sunil Abraham was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999.
The New Idea
Although information technology (IT) is generally associated with the highly profit-oriented software/hardware companies and expensive equipment, Sunil Abraham aims to make IT compatible, accessible, highly useful/pertinent, and inexpensive to the Indian voluntary sector with its comparatively limited financial resources. He sees the potential for the Internet to promote a democratic flow of knowledge and information; to provide an effective platform for citizen organizations to share resources and ideas, support each other, and actively address common concerns together; and to reach out to the vast Indian public and greatly increase domestic and public funding of the Indian voluntary sector. He says, "We will ensure that technology does not become a bottleneck for organizations wishing to exploit the global potential of the new media." Thus Mahiti, Sunil's web-design and technology organization, offers new and practical tools to bridge the growing digital divide that has often excluded the average Indian citizen organization from the use of expensive patented programs. His program capitalizes on the success of Linux, an increasingly popular computer operating system characterized by open source coding, which allows individual users to access programming codes which are normally restricted in commercial software production. Mahiti has designed, for example, knowledge management software which works on a Linux platform. Mahiti will be distributing the software free from its web site, or, for Rs. 200 (US $4.78), an organization can purchase a CD multimedia training module; the commercial equivalent would cost the organization more than Rs. 200,000 (US $4,786). Moreover, they will be giving away the source code to any software developer to solicit feedback and suggestions to fine-tune the software and add extra features.Individual organizations will be able to modify the software to suit their own needs after receiving training from Mahiti. Sunil explains, "We can build customized products: for example, an inventory management system at the Association for the Physically Handicapped, a Rag Picker profile management system for REDS [Ragpickers Education and Development Scheme], or an online documentation retrieval site for the Center of Education and Documentation." Mahiti can also easily implement different Indian language fonts on all the applications used by its clients, thus enabling diverse citizen organizations to communicate more easily with each other.