Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Aishwarya Ratan, 30

Converting paper records to digital in real time

Yale University

Paper trail: Designed to help rural microcredit lenders keep better records, this slate digitizes entries as they are handwritten in a ledger, then displays and speaks the recorded amounts.
Credit: Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Sunandan Chakraborty

Beginning in 2009, while working with Microsoft Research India, Aishwarya Ratan spent 15 months figuring out how to help local microcredit co-ops, which often struggle with handwritten entries that are illegible, incorrect, or incomplete. Her solution combines digital technology with the familiar paper notebooks that villagers prefer. Co-op members use an electronic ballpoint pen to write in ledgers placed on a slate equipped with software that recognizes handwritten numbers. The slate provides feedback on whether the records are complete and legible, stores them in a database, and gives real-time balance updates, both on a screen and verbally in the local language. The database can be shared with the nongovernmental organizations and banks that back each co-op.

In field tests, the hybrid slate yielded entries that were 100 percent complete and made record keeping faster while letting co-op members retain the paper records they are comfortable with. The potential of the system is tremendous: microfinance co-ops serve 86 million Indian households. High-­quality record keeping could make them more efficient, helping members save more and repay faster, and it could allow the co-ops to borrow more easily from banks.

In June, Ratan became the director of the Microsavings and Payments Innovation Initiative at Yale University, which as part of its mission studies how technologies can help the poor financially. Meanwhile, the NGO that Ratan was partnering with continues to test the slate in villages. —Prachi Patel

2011 TR35 Winners

Pieter Abbeel (video)

Robots that learn from people

June Andronick (video)

Software that can’t crash

Jernej Barbič (video)

Speeding up simulations of complex objects

Dan Berkenstock (video)

Cheaper satellite pictures

Brian Gerkey (video)

A common language for robots

Jeff Hammerbacher (video)

Managing huge data sets

Gert Lanckriet (video)

Teaching computers to classify music

Alina Oprea (video)

Guaranteeing cloud security

Aishwarya Ratan (video)

Converting paper records to digital in real time

Noah Snavely (video)

Synthesizing 3-D models from 2-D photographs

Piya Sorcar (video)

Software that can be localized to teach taboo topics

Kun Zhou

Creating movie-quality graphics in real time


More Innovators Under 35: