The SoochnaPreneur Award 2023-24, honored and recognised those individuals that have showcased exemplary work at the grassroots level for leading positive transformation and digital innovation, intervention and empowerment in the rural communities of the country. The award celebrates outstanding achievements in community mobilisation, sustainability goals, women empowerment, skill enhancement and information dissemination with the most effective utilisation of ICT tools. In this way, the award identifies and facilitates those individuals who extended their capacities to work for the upliftment of the underserved and helped them connect with mainstream progress and improve lives. We received over 1200 nominations from 26 states in three categories: Male, Female and Persons with Disabilities (PWD).

The Male Category is dedicated to acknowledging the exemplary work and achievements of male individuals who have demonstrated exceptional efforts in promoting digital empowerment at the grassroots level. By recognizing the contributions of men, the awards aim to showcase diverse role models and inspire others to actively participate in initiatives that drive positive change through digital interventions. The award ceremony was presided over by Kumar Sambhav and Shaifali Chikermane. Here are the digital changemakers and their stories:

First Prize Winner: Parvez Alam

Parvez Alam plays a pivotal role in operating the Smartpur Center located in the village of Shahavpur, Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh. The center is dedicated to meeting the daily needs and facilitating the benefits of government schemes for an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 rural residents residing within a 6 km radius. One of the key initiatives of the center is its active promotion of financial literacy and government schemes. This is achieved through organised camps and comprehensive door-to-door awareness campaigns conducted by the center’s team. Despite facing challenges, such as network issues and gender disparity in education, the team is committed to community education. They distribute informative pamphlets and masks as part of their outreach efforts, emphasising the importance of continued engagement and awareness.

Second Prize Winner: Mohammad Asik

Mohammad Asik has been the dedicated operator of an eMitra center in Tapukda, Khairthal, Tijara, Rajasthan, for the past decade, catering to a cluster of approximately a dozen villages and serving around 15,000 residents. His center is a hub of over 50 services encompassing e-governance, finance, health, and education. Equipped with three laptops, a tablet, printers, biometric devices, and cameras, the center extends its services to rural communities, actively creating awareness about various government schemes among approximately 10,000 individuals. Mohd Asik identifies the unique needs and capacities of the communities he serves, facilitating development initiatives that emphasize crucial skills such as problem-solving, risk assessment, teamwork, and community assistance.

Third Prize Winner: Mustkeem

Mustkeem Khan, a resident of Bensi village in Haryana, has been at the forefront of a digital center initiative since 2018. His comprehensive services span education, finance, and governance, benefitting approximately 40,000 individuals across several villages in the region. Armed with essential digital equipment, Mustkeem offers diverse services, ranging from basic computer courses to facilitating financial transactions. His commitment extends to community empowerment, with a special focus on engaging women, men, and children in the learning and utilization of digital services. Mustkeem’s vision revolves around the expansion of services and ensuring the continuity of efforts to bring about sustained betterment in his community. Through his dedication and the varied services provided, Mustkeem contributes significantly to the digital empowerment and overall development of the region.

Special Mentions

Best Social Entrepreneur: Mukesh Kumar

Best Social Entrepreneur: Shyam Sharma

Best Social Entrepreneur: Santosh Ojha

Best Sustainable Digital ChangeMaker: Lakhana Khan

Best Sustainable Digital ChangeMaker: Santhosh Kumar

Best Sustainable Digital ChangeMaker: Vaga Ram

Best Presentation: Rajesh Gour

Best Presentation: Mukesh Yadav

The female category is designed to honor and celebrate the remarkable efforts of women who have played a pivotal role in digital empowerment initiatives. Recognizing the achievements of women is crucial for promoting gender equality and highlighting the significant impact that women can have in driving positive transformations in rural communities through the effective use of digital tools. This category serves to inspire and empower more women to take active roles in digital innovation and community development. The award ceremony was presided over by Mathew Cherian and Shobitha Kedlaya. Here are the digital changemakers and their stories:

First Prize Winner: Gorle Varalakshmi

Gorle Varalaxmi, a proactive leader from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, is making significant strides in digital empowerment through her community center located at Garlivanipalem Paravada. Her focus on providing essential digital services and information has transformed the lives of the locals, predominantly comprising agricultural and daily wage earners. In an environment where digital literacy was once unfamiliar, Gorle took the initiative to bridge the gap, particularly targeting the youth and women in her impoverished village. Through her center, she offers crucial digital services such as downloads, printing, and imparts valuable information on schemes and online safety. Gorle’s center has emerged as a vital educational hub, attracting local students eager to acquire computer skills and navigate the digital landscape.

Second Prize Winner: Mala Khatun

Mala Khatun has been an integral part of the SoochnaPreneur network for the past 2 years, making a significant impact in Jhanjha Rukanpur, Murshidabad, West Bengal. Her center is a beacon of empowerment, primarily catering to the Muslim community and offering a diverse range of services encompassing digital literacy, government entitlements, and banking services through AEPS. Mala’s outreach extends to various segments of her community, with a focus on women, students, and senior citizens. Her center plays a pivotal role in addressing the multifaceted needs of the community, offering essential services such as Xerox, photo services, money withdrawal, assistance with train ticket bookings, and disseminating crucial information about government schemes.

Third Prize Winner: Kiran Kumari

Kiran Kumari, a resident of Brinda, Jharkhand, serves as a catalyst for rural employment and women’s empowerment through her Common Service Centre in the remote areas of Giridih. Her impactful contributions to Digital India services, including Jeevan Praman, Aadhar enrollment, Banking, Railway Ticketing, and Stree Swabhiman, have earned her recognition, including the prestigious Digital India Award in 2015 presented by the Prime Minister of India. Kiran’s commitment extends beyond conventional digital services as she actively collaborates with Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to raise awareness among women and generate income. A notable aspect of her work revolves around menstrual hygiene management, where she addresses the prevalent silence, lack of awareness, and limited accessibility to menstrual hygiene products in the community.

Special Mentions

Women Entrepreneur of the Year: Gayatri Patra

Women Entrepreneur of the Year: Poonam Bai

Women Entrepreneur of the Year: Naureen Banu

Women Entrepreneur of the Year: Shivani Lodha

Women Entrepreneur of the Year: Tarana Najmi

Best Digital ChangeMaker: Kalyani Tandan

Best Digital ChangeMaker: Anusmita Roy

Best Sustainability Model: Arpitha GR

Best Sustainability Model: Mamta Vati

Girl Icon: Ataiya Bano

Girl Icon: Priti Chauhan

Girl Icon: Swati Tiwari

The inclusion of a category specifically for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) underscores the commitment to inclusivity and recognizing the unique challenges and contributions of individuals with disabilities in the digital empowerment landscape. This category aims to highlight the achievements of PWDs who have utilised digital tools to overcome barriers and make meaningful contributions to the betterment of rural communities. By doing so, the awards promote the idea that digital empowerment should be accessible and beneficial to all, regardless of physical abilities. The award ceremony was presided over by Madanmohan Rao and Shalini Kala. Here are the digital changemakers and their stories:

First Prize Winner: Pratap Singh

Pratap Singh, a resilient resident of Alwar, Rajasthan, has defied physical limitations to become a beacon of support for his community through his SoochnaPreneur center, established in 2019. Despite being 81% disabled in his legs and unable to walk, Pratap’s unwavering dedication and trustworthiness have earned him a special place in the hearts of the people he serves. A graduate with a commitment to service, Pratap’s center attracts customers from various demographics, including students, elderly individuals, women, youth, and working professionals. Despite the presence of alternative options, people patiently await the opening of his center, a testament to the reliability and impact he has on their lives. Pratap’s services go beyond the confines of his
center, as he takes the extra step of visiting the homes of women, elderly, and disabled individuals. This personalized approach reflects his genuine concern for the well-being of his community.

Second Prize Winner: Bandana Kumari

Bandana Kumari, a resident of Dhamaura Village in West Champaran, Bihar, has been operating a Digital Services center since 2020. Despite facing physical limitations, Bandana has shown exceptional determination to improve her own life and contribute to the betterment of her community. Her resilience and goodwill towards her work have earned her the titles of “Digital Beti” and “Digital Bahu,” symbolising the impactful role she plays in the lives of the people around her. Bandana encountered various challenges, including knowledge deficiency, cultural drawbacks, and physical limitations, in her journey as a SoochnaPreneur. However, her current success stands as a testament to her inspirational journey. As a woman, Bandana has garnered magnetic support from students and women in her community, establishing herself as a reliable source of information.

Third Prize Winner: Sushma Kumari

Sushma Kumari, a 23-year-old post-graduate, operates the ‘Oracle Center,’ a SoochnaPreneur center in the Byang village of Ramgarh District in Jharkhand. Despite facing visual disability, Sushma is determined to serve her community, focusing on individuals with disabilities and the elderly. Her center, equipped with BC Sakhi and CSC ID, provides a wide range of services, including assistance in applying for Pan Card, e-Shram Card, Ayushman Card, and various financial and digital services. Sushma’s dedication extends beyond her own village, reaching neighboring villages that lack proper travel provisions. The Oracle Center serves as a vital resource for communities, especially considering the village’s location 8 km away from the main road. Recognizing the financial constraints of her community, Sushma offers services at lower costs, attracting a growing number of people. To further empower her center, she invested in additional devices, ensuring that anyone seeking her services does not leave empty-handed.

Special Mentions

Best Social Entrepreneur: Virendra Kumar

Best Social Entrepreneur: Nani Gopal Biswas

Best Social Entrepreneur: Brijesh Kaji

Best Social Entrepreneur: Jahid Hasan

Best Presentation: Jakir Hussain

Best Community Leader: Pappu Kanwar

Best Sports Entrepreneur: Wazid Ali

Best Sports Entrepreneur: Kanta

Best Sustainable Digital ChangeMaker: Rupali Konwar

Best Sustainable Digital ChangeMaker: Sandeep Kumar

At the core of this initiative lies the recognition of exemplary efforts in uplifting rural communities through digital interventions. From mobilising communities to empowering women, enhancing skills, and disseminating vital information, the SoochnaPreneur awards celebrate the outstanding achievements that harness the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools for an equal digital future for all.