To coincide with today’s open source publication of Akvo’s video strategy, Vinay Gupta argues in this guest post that “the collision of the internet and the poor is clearly a major turning point in human history, in which we are players”.
The purpose of most television shows is to make you sit through the adverts. It shapes the content and it defines the target audience. The same is true of print media, albeit tempered by journalistic culture.
There’s an inherent tension between the extremely “horizontal” Akvo model and the us-them messaging which dominates traditional ad-funded media stories on the developing world. As an economist in The Hague put it to me recently, “200 years ago, the term New World meant exactly what Developing World means today”.
Focused on being off-message
Akvo has an implicit understanding of this reality – that the developing world is a radical, fast-moving place with nearly unlimited possibilities. It understands that we largely exist to facilitate these people getting organised to get what they want and need out of life. While the immediate business model is to support NGOs that are helping these people, we all share an implicit understanding about who our fundamental customers are.
This presents a very clear “off-message” problem when dealing with mainstream media, who have only the vaguest notions of human life in the poorer areas of the world.
Most of the things that Akvo wants to film have never been filmed before and will not be filmed unless we do it. Below is one example. There is simply no generally-available film of Karamta Village in Gujurat, India, other than what Akvo’s Mark Charmer shot recently when visiting the community with Arghyam and local NGO Sahjeevan. Their faces, and their story, are invisible to the global audience. A few hundred people know the local wells were built, perhaps more if the local NGO is communicating well (and Sahjeevan does). But once that story is recorded in a video that can be linked globally, these people and their village become part of the global discourse on water, on development and on poverty.
The emotional language of the mainstream media message about the developing world is filled with the kinds of things we point scorn at in our private conversations: sad children looking into muddy holes and helpless natives waiting for help. This probably implies that there will always be problems moving the “standard” Akvo content – such as video clips and Really Simple Reporting text and photo updates – into mainstream media through channels like television news, documentaries and “big push” aid extravaganzas because it is profoundly “off message.” The picture Akvo paints – The Woman Who Built Herself a Toilet – breaks the frame. Even positive stories about the developing world carry deeply-ingrained assumptions about western cultural superiority. We need to build and maintain an awareness of these kinds of issues in our communications, not just in terms of what we put out, but in terms of the biases of the organisations we hope will amplify awareness of our activities or carry our messages.
We value the little documentation we have of historically significant events, like the first flights of heavier-than-air craft. The collision of the internet and the poor is clearly a major turning point in human history, in which we are players. Understanding our place – our role, and how it relates to others – is the most important thing we can do right now.
You can see more of Akvo’s emerging video work at www.akvo.tv