Free Press Journal

From me to we: Decoding Dharavi’s aspiring coders, Nawneet Ranjan


Nawneet Ranjan Founder – Dharavi Diary & Filmmaker 

Started in 2014, Dharavi Diary is a slum innovation project by filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan. Using open source development, the project helps children build mobile apps to tackle their everyday problems. Ranjan got introduced to the neighbourhood in 2012 while working on a documentary called Dharavi Diary. Two years later, he moved to Mumbai from San Francisco to work closely with the community.

I started the project with 15 students and today the number has reached 200.

Q- You were more into films and direction, how did you come up  with the idea to teach coding to  girls in Dharavi’?

The idea is not only entertainment but also using technology as a learning medium and using it for a larger change. When I visited Dharavi for my documentary, I realised learning new things and the spark of curiosity was completely missing in them. I saw that the people in slums had phones but they used it for playing games. So I thought of leveraging the platform and creating an impact. The whole idea gave a lot of confidence and now as they have executed it they have started learning new things. Coding is important as it helps solve problems at both personal and social level.

Q- You didn’t have any technical or educational background in coding, so what inspired you to take it up as the core of your project at Dharavi Diary?

I think we all do coding in our day-to-day life. Learning from your personal experience, the journey starts from ‘me to we’. There is a pattern we follow in our everyday life. We understand the problem statement and get to the solution. The same thing applies to coding, but the only difference is that there’s a different language for it. I made sure not only the kids, but also women in the neighbourhood learn coding and data entry instead of tailoring, as it will help to get the holistic view.

Q- How did you raise funds for Dharavi Diary? How long did it take you?

Lot of things in the project were self funded also family and friends were there to support. Now with about three years, tech companies are coming forward and helping us reach out to people in Mumbai, Pune and nearby areas.

Q- What are the challenges you faced in your journey?

Initially, convincing parents was a difficult task. Even those enrolled were not regular, and as this was completely new to them, understanding the concept was time-consuming. But I got positive feedback. I started the project with 15 students and today the number has reached 200. Also, other challenges include inadequate resources and lack of volunteers. Though the project doesn’t fetch good income, the package comes in terms of happiness, and with the project, child marriage has also reduced. That keeps me going.

Q- What are your expansion plans?

We are planning to arrange for a mobile van so that people in rural areas can learn technology and get exposure to expertise. With the growth of urbanisation and learning new technology, these people can also participate in urban planning. It will also help them face challenges in a better way. Besides, I will be teaching coding to the kids in the juvenile prison of Mumbai.