AIMF Grantee Speaks: Dr Ganesh Bhutkar

10 Oct 2019

AIMF Grantee Speaks: Dr Ganesh Bhutkar


My India-Africa journey started with a short visit to the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) conference at AfriCHI 2016, Nairobi, Kenya. A short interaction with Dr Melissa Densmore, University of Cape Town, South Africa and the realization of our common interests set me on the path of exploring the opportunities to work on a collaborative research project.

Dr Densmore and I had started discussions to work on use of information and communication technology for mothers of neonatal infants; this was when an avenue to visit UCT and further the collaboration opened up in the form of the Africa India Mobility Fund.

I grabbed this opportunity and applied for the AIMF grant in 2018.

In early 2019, I received the AIMF grant from India Alliance for my research visit to my host African University, UCT. UCT has a lovely campus on the slopes of the magnificent Table Mountains. I was hosted here at the Centre in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) by Dr Densmore from June 11 to June 25, 2019. It was my good fortune to get to work at ICT4D established by Prof Gary Marsden—a pioneer and passionate advocate of HCI for development.

Dr Ganesh Bhutkar at the campus of UCT

India and Africa face similar challenges with respect to poverty, illiteracy, and diversity. There is scarcity of resources, especially in city suburbs and rural areas. There are some differences such as scale and density of population; use of technology and smart phones; reach, speed and cost of the Internet. We—VIT Pune and UCT—have developed an ICT application prototype, one in the Indian context and other in South African context, for mothers of neonate infants. Currently, we are evaluating them in each other’s environments using Technology Acceptance Model (TAM).

In the past 5 years of my research career, I have made several visits overseas mainly for conferences and workshops. However, AIMF gave me the opportunity to travel explicitly for work and collaboration. Most importantly, this is the first foreign collaboration initiative set up at Centre of Excellence in HCI, VIT Pune.

Dr Ganesh Bhutkar with Dr Densmore and her doctoral research scholar, Wanjiru Mburu

Since international exposure can have an influence on career progression, mobility grants like the AIMF are important for early-stage researchers in developing countries. Such exposures provide researchers like me an opportunity to study their research problems in a different, parallel context.

Personally, I realized the importance of research collaborations and used my visit for understanding diverse perspectives of problem solving, studying user experiences at different work places, analysing cultural impact across borders, and checking out for challenges of scaling up my work at global level. I now have a better view of the similarities and contrasts in our approaches and proposed solutions to neonatal issues. This may lead to interesting high-quality collaborative research outcomes in the near future.

Indian researchers, especially those working in the healthcare sector, can enrich their research through interactions with their African counterparts; such interactions help broaden the understanding of one’s research problem. If applying for the AIMF, one requires a reliable African host university working with similar kind of research project or at least, ready to explore a new topic of research. This may be time-consuming and daunting task. Nevertheless, the experience can be quite enriching.

I am grateful to UCT, VIT, the African Academy of Sciences and India Alliance for their support. We have an enthusiastic student group working on the NeonateMom app at the Centre of Excellence in HCI and I appreciate the contributions of these students to the research project. I look forward to more opportunities to continue my association with the African Academy of Sciences and India Alliance in the future.

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