TIPPING POINT – ARCHITECTS OF THE FUTURE
6. Stalin K & Jessica Mayberry
It doesn’t take much to achieve scale in India. Take Internet usage: we are the third largest users of the Internet in the world and yet, only 10 percent of the country’s population — 120 million, almost exclusively urban — have Internet access. This kind of skewed information access is what prompted two innovators, Stalin K and Jessica Mayberry, to find a way for rural, remote voices to be heard by the mainstream.
MAYBERRY WAS A television professional in New York, with stints at CNN and Fox News behind her; Stalin is an award-winning activist and filmmaker based in Goa, known for his pioneering community media work. When Mayberry moved to India to see if news could be done differently and used to empower people, she and Stalin started to work together on individual projects. It was in 2006, though, that the idea for a new model of community media struck them and they founded Video Volunteers, today one of the largest community media initiatives in the world.
WITH A STAGGERING percentage of citizens who live outside the net of mainstream media coverage, a vast majority of what goes on in the country remains largely unreported. The impact is twofold: millions of citizens remain cut off from information about policies, their rights and laws that could aid them; parallelly, the government, institutions and mainstream media are cut off from factual on-ground information on the challenges and aspirations of these people. The challenge, then, was to find a way for authentic information about rural conditions to flow ground-up, and mainstream information to reach inaccessible areas.
INDIAUNHEARD IS A network of 30 Community Correspondents spread across 24 states. Representing the country’s most marginalised perspectives — from Dalits and tribals to religious, gender and language minorities — these correspondents are trained to document, tell compelling stories, file video reports as well as use SMS and social media as information tools. A project launched by Video Volunteers, the brainchild of activist-filmmaker Stalin K and journalist Jessica Mayberry, the correspondents are picked from local communities and report on those same communities, giving them access to the true picture as well as driving real change.
Once identified, correspondents are given short-term training — journalistic and creative skills as well as critical thinking — through workshops. They are then equipped with Flip Cams — simple, inexpensive cameras that allow them to record video. By putting media production into local hands, IndiaUnheard allows the correspondents to pick the important stories, rather than use external, often biased filters, when identifying what stories need to be told.
From a tribal woman reporting on the impact of displacement on their children’s education to Dalits being able to discuss political representation in a free, frank manner, IndiaUnheard removes ignorant or vested interests from the reporting process and bridges the disinformation gap.
PERHAPS THE GREATEST motivator for the correspondents is the tangible impact they have on the lives of their community. Viewers also reach out with solutions. “A correspondent from Manipur made a video about lack of medical facilities. A Manipuri viewer living in Bengaluru saw the film and wanted to help. We connected him with our correspondent, Daniel. The viewer then introduced Daniel to a local NGO and together, they organised the distribution of medicines,” says Stalin. Video Volunteers is currently forging partnerships with nonprofits to try and leverage this incredible content on a wider scale. Currently, TEHELKA and CNN-IBN share reports from IndiaUnheard’s community correspondents.
The Way Forward
“WE WANT A community correspondent in every district of every state in the country,” says Mayberry. “We’d like to create a rural newswire that is the definitive source of rural news and information.” They are also hoping that eventually, policymakers and researchers start to use the content created when drafting vital policies.
We are looking for innovators!
We are combing the country to find examples of intelligent, scalable innovation; and we are going to pick 20 of the best to be featured on the pages of TEHELKA. These are some of the most important ideas of our time and they reflect a brand-new India. A country that can meet and master any challenge. To clue into these incredible stories, follow us on Twitter (@MahindraRise. If you have a similar story of innovative change to share, you can follow and join the conversation at #ThinkToRise or log on to tippingpoint.thinkworks.in