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(Photo credit to Turbo-Weasel)

Well blow me over, but Akvo’s bold marketing to the water development community at Stockholm World Water Week went down a storm. In fact, our strategy to put film posters around the venue, promoting fictitious movies about characters building their own toilets and rope pumps has created a momentum of its own. Everyone now wants to know when the real movies will be released.

The movie theme resonated in other ways, too. While many of our first investors recognise that Akvo can scale up microfinance-based reporting and monitoring via our system, a second wave see a wider opportunity – for short movies themselves to become part of the reporting process on how micro-loans have been spent, how problems have been tackled, and how communities are changing as a result. And this isn’t just about checks and balances – this is seen as a method by which to engage donors in the developed world – schools in the United States, for example, who can use such movies to bring to life in eyes of pupils the real potential they have to act.

Are we ahead of our time here? Not necessarily. Getting a digital film crew out to locations is much cheaper than it was. More importantly, the cost of filming and sharing amateur video and photographic content online has collapsed, due to the rise of camera equipped mobile phones, cheap digital cameras and much better video sharing sites like YouTube and FaceBook. Of course, web access in many of our project regions is far poorer (or non existent) compared to richer countries but it is changing quickly. Indeed creating the desire to upload and share movie content, probably inspired by a set of initial commissioned work done by combinations of a touring film crew and local community members (who are trained in the process), could be the most realistic option.

We need to turn this…
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into this…
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The next question is how do we organise this process? I’m not willing to invest our initial hard-won finance in making these films – that budget, much of it committed from public sector funds, needs to be invested in building the core Akvo system.

Our opportunity now is to take the initial momentum and draw in new supporters who are willing to support this movie phase, who see it as a vital way for them to engage fundraisers, corporate sponsors and those who recognise that success is really, in the end 40 per cent technical excellence and 60 per cent marketing (Thomas is allowed to disagree).

Where we go for support here is tricky. On Friday I met with the ever creative Kim Hoedeman who now splits her PR career between London, New York and the US west coast. Kim turned HP’s HYPE Gallery, a completely open digital art gallery that bravely launched in 2004, into something that won support from Europe’s top art figures, by turning upside down the hierarchical relationship between gallery (publisher) and artist (creator). We talked at length about the opportunities to plug Akvo into Hollywood finance networks. The problem, Kim stressed, was that such groups would want to have complete control over who writes the scripts, who films the things and who distributes it afterwards. Yet as I have said before, open source marketing challenges every rule in this book, and I don’t think Akvo should tie itself up in a film project where the content cannot be shared (or improved) openly, via multiple distribution channels.

We need these films to inspire people to participate in the slums of Delhi, telling their own story about how they built a toilet or fixed a roof to collect rainwater. These movies will become a major tool to report back to those who loan money through microcredits. At a second level, we want these movies to inspire our Akvoeditors, the content creators who tirelessly work to populate, edit and refine our knowledge base. And we want the movies to act as a catalyst to engage potential donors in the developed world, who through film are able to see what we do and why they can actively, directly contribute. Think of that American school teacher again, who can show their class how basic knowledge sharing can transform people’s lives.

Do we need Hollywood (or perhaps more appropriately Bollywood) anyway? I spoke at length last week with Christian Banfield, a London-based film maker who is passionate about the opportunities that result from the breakdown of the TV advertising sector. Christian sees a changing world where short films, funded (my words) via a form of patronage from corporate brands becomes the norm. Such movies reflect the context and mindset of those whom the big brands wish to engage, rather than just pumping mindless messages to a target group. It’s closer to the vision put forward by Al Gore’s Current TV, with its short film ‘pods’.

But I’m open to suggestions on what to do next. Add a comment below or drop me a line if you want to become part of Akvo’s movie team.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo and leads marketing and communications.