The Sunday Times says

A tech lifeline for the poor

Social media can be a useful tool to spot those who have slipped between the cracks of society, as the Social and Family Development Ministry has learnt in recent years. It gets alerts about victims of alleged child abuse, those in need of financial assistance and others via its Facebook page.

It's a positive development, of course, that new media is being tapped for this purpose by the civic-minded. It would be even more gratifying if the chatting, posting, blogging, texting and tweeting can also mobilise people to do more for the needy than just report their plight to the authorities.

Their involvement might be deepened, for example, by using new media to crowdsource services and ideas that can benefit the poor.

Technology can do more than just facilitate charitable efforts to alleviate the effects of poverty. It can be instrumental in reducing poverty itself. One obvious way is for the poor to be taught how to use the very technology harnessed by benefactors. Mobile devices, computers and the Internet have proven useful to help the disadvantaged earn incomes, get information, learn skills and ease their social isolation.

Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates predicted that the battle against poverty will be driven by technologies in health, farming, financial inclusion and education. For example, India's Kisan Call Centres allow poor farmers to use a toll-free number to get guidance from agriculture graduates and experts. And Bangladesh's bKash offers mobile banking to the illiterate poor to help them make and receive payments, earn interest on savings and apply for loans. For such schemes to take off anywhere, more interaction is needed between the digital haves and have-nots.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'A tech lifeline for the poor'. Print Edition | Subscribe