Sarika Gulyani, Director & Head-ICT, Digital Economy at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry-Indian Language Internet Alliance Division Sarika Gulyani, Director & Head-ICT, Digital Economy at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry-Indian Language Internet Alliance Division
Jul 02

INDIAN LANGUAGE INTERNET ALLIANCE SET FOR EXPANSION OF DIGITAL INCLUSION

Among the world's fastest-growing economies and one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world, India has understood the value of “inclusivity” for the growth of its digital economy. “An Open, Inclusive Internet is a Global Economic Driver” we have all heard this lore for quite some time now. With increased internet usage world over, major digital economies have also woken up to the need of a multi-faced and inclusive internet. Unless we make the internet accessible for people in their own native languages, people will not be able to uncover the full potential of the internet and the value it will add to their everyday life, writes Sarika Gulyani, Director & Head-ICT, Digital Economy at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry's (FICCI) Indian Language Internet Alliance Division

India’s population is estimated to be 1.37 billion according to latest UN data. Also having the second largest telecom network in the world with total subscriber base - 1,197.87 Million and second highest number of internet subscribers (604.21 million, end-December 2018), India is a force to reckon with in the coming years. In a country where 9 out of 10 people feel more comfortable in accessing information in their native language, the available content on the internet is overwhelmingly English. 

The regional language user base in India is currently around 234 million which accounts for 66% share in overall content consumption surpassing English. By 2021 regional language users will account for 75% of India’s internet user base. These numbers point at enormous potential for the digital sector which has a far-reaching effect on how all businesses in India will be and should be carried out. In a multilingual country like India, regional languages will determine how intricately technology gets woven into our daily lives. 

To leverage the opportunity that Indic languages present, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the largest and oldest apex business organisation of the country established in 1927, started the FICCI-Indian Language Internet Alliance (FICCI-ILIA) initiative in April 2017. FICCI history is closely interwoven with India's struggle for independence, its industrialisation, and its emergence as one of the most rapidly growing global economies. 

FICCI-ILIA bring together the disparate, yet key, players of the Indian language industry and facilitate a collaborative climate to leverage off the unique diversity of the Indian multilingual nation and turn it into a competitive edge. FICCI-ILIA intends to bring content creators, content generators and content enablers to ideate, innovate and advocate the importance of looking at Indian regional languages as a game changer for the economy and the power of a unified voice to enable that change and growth.

With a member base of 300+ organizations and growing, FICCI-ILIA is in a unique position to provide a platform for all stakeholders to come together to shape the policy narrative in the country that encourages innovation, research and action while keeping a strong focus on business growth. 

In the last two years since inception, FICCI-ILIA hosted some key industry events to bring in the much-needed momentum in the Indian Languages Technology Industry helping to build an inclusive Indic internet. We hosted our annual national symposium “Bhashantara”, on 30th July 2018. The symposium was instrumental in bringing all the stakeholders of the industry on a single platform to deliberate the challenges of the industry and discuss the way forwards. A roundtable meeting was organized with Ministry of Electronics & IT, GoI on 26th June 2018on Natural Language Processing (NLP) industry, it was attended by several start-ups in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and NLP sector. FICCI-ILIA participated at the annual general meeting of ICANN from 19th- 25thOctober, 2018 at Barcelona and organized a conference on “Language Localization” on 15thOctober 2018 regarding the challenges faced by Indian government departments to avail localization technologies. We also co-organized the annual “Tech Conclave” with The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), GoIon 4th-6thApril 2019 and organized the regional conference “Marathi Conclave” with Government of Maharashtraon 6thMay 2019, to focus on the development of Marathi and other regional languages. 

Global language association bodies like EUATC, GALA, ELIA and internet bodies like ICANN, IANA, ITU and UN have focused their energies in making the internet open, inclusive and secure irrespective of geographies and languages and also promoting adoption of latest technologies. Taking a cue from the global policy narrative that is heavily inclined towards building a multilingual next generation internet, India is deeply committed to take necessary policy and technological initiatives to bridge the Digital Divide. Along with technology advancements, it is pertinent that government bodies collaborate to champion the cause of multilingualism in the digital ecosystem.

Collaboration sought

In the coming months, the focus of FICCI-ILIA will be able to establish a collaborative environment with our members nationally and internationally and reach out to further relevant businesses to understand their need and challenges through different regional, state level connects and international conferences. The aim is to take a holistic approach and understand the ways in which language technologies can be further integrated into the various business sectors like healthcare, agriculture, ecommerce, etc. Additionally, FICCI-ILIA will work on creating a conducive and collaborative environment to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in AI and NLP and Indic language computing and publishing. The idea is to collaborate with our members and key government departments to identify ways to nurture talent and innovation aimed at the growth of Indian language technology industry. 

We at FICCI-ILIA believe that the ability to participate in the internet is no more a privilege but a right of every global digital citizen. The gains from the internet should be universally available and equally shared. The task ahead for governments, companies and citizens is to work together to close the many gaps like income, region, gender or any other demographic trait to ensure the Internet is a truly open and inclusive sphere. 

Hence, we look forward to participation of members of EUATC at the FICCI-ILIA platform and look forward to sharing our knowledge and best-practices to understand each other markets in a better way. 

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