Photography and Development – An interview with EveryDay Mumbai

I’m off to Mumbai next week to speak at a Conference on Social Media for Development, Innovation and Freedom. During my research I came across Everyday Mumbai and spent hours looking at some of the wonderful images that creator Chirag Wakaskar has curated. So I contacted Chirag to ask him a few questions:

What inspired you to start @everydaymumbai

Back when I started this project (6th July 2014) there were probably very few working photographers from India on it and the pictures on the medium were mostly the typical oversaturated fluff of sunsets, mountains, beaches etc but there were a few western photojournalists on the medium sharing some interesting work and while I was on it with moderate success perhaps because photojournalism based content is not as popular in India as something that provides a much more departure from daily dreary lives such as a beautiful sunset or your favourite celebrity having fun is (I guess). I loved what @everydayafrica was doing and thought of having something on similar lines but since there weren’t really a lot of photographers around that I knew personally I decided on a curated platform rather than a collaboration. There was also a thought in the back of my mind of seeing the city through local eyes, which included a lot of non professional photographers who also contribute to the project.

How do you select which images to curate? Are there certain issues that you deliberately focus on e.g. I noticed that there are many images documenting the LGBT community in Mumbai and also on pollution. What is the motivation for highlighting certain issues?

I generally look at photographs which have something to say beyond the visual. I often feel many times images of such issues are sidelined in mainstream media in India which is more focused around political news, celebrities and sports coverage. Even Instagram is primarily dominated by Bollywood & vanity. I hope to make space for highlighting various issues and making a strong case for photographers who document such issues.

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Do you think that @everydaymumbai can be used as a tool for development? If so, how?

I would like to think it can be used as a ‘model’ because it reaches an audience through a medium that is easily accessible to them so that they can understand or know a little more than they usually would. I would love to see communities self documenting to better understand for themselves as well as others. I’ve actually written a guide and put it up on the website so that someone who wants to start off a project like this would know how to go about it. It can be found here – http://www.everydaymumbai.com/how-to-start-your-own-everyday-project-on-instagram-by-chirag-wakaskar/

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Have you ever been contacted by local government or NGOs about your work?

I have never been contacted by government. A couple of times NGO’s have reached out to share something. Though I have often proactively shared something I think would help share a good message or help someone out.

You mostly provide quite detailed supporting text – how long does this take?

The credit is all to the photographers. I will often egg them on to write more in terms of either jouralistic captions or even what they may think about what they have photographed. I also share with them resources such as  caption methodology such as AP or NPR so that they can get an idea as well or even some photography resources that I have found helpful. I maintain a small database of articles Ive liked – http://www.everydaymumbai.com/resources/

You receive lots of comments on the images that you curate. How long does it take for you to maintain the Instagram account?

I share just one photograph a day after looking at the hashtag and usually will message the photographer if I need to have any more details included. I have notifications off except for comments so that something inappropriate doesnt pass through. I’m generaly quite liberal in terms of comments and even with negative feedback but never outright for any hatred, lewdity, violence, etc

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Do you know if any of the photographers that work you curate have received photography commissions as a result?

This is a difficult one for me to quantify, but I do share the work of lot of young photographers with the hope that journalists, editors, curators who follow the project will commision them work or perhaps write articles about them particularly when they have some projects, exhibits, books & so on.

What is next for @everydayMumbai

I’m currently working on creating an offline exhibit in public spaces so that a wider audience can reached, particularly those who may not be on social media or even the internet. I’m also looking to reach out to mariganlized communities to help train them to document themselves and create social media based projects like these for their communities so more people can know about them.

Thank you Chirag for such an interesting and inspirational interview. I can’t wait to see some of the projects working with marginalised communities.

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Catholic Relief Services – A day in the life of Immaculate

I recently saw a campaign which followed the day in the life of a young girl, Immaculate in Northern Ghana. The Twitter Moments series starts with Immaculate doing her daily chores to help the family at 6:15am and ends with her walking home from school with friends at 4.00pm. I spoke to Michael Stulman who is the Regional Information Officer for CRS in West Africa who lead this campaign.

What inspired you to produce the Day in the Life of Immaculate campaign? / What is the main purpose of the campaign

We wanted to create content that would inform and inspire our audiences on Twitter. Just like any book or film, there is typically one main character. When you focus on too many people, people can become overwhelmed. By highlighting Immaculate’s experience, it became more personal. And photos and video provide more context and make it more engaging, which is especially important on Twitter, where everything moves so quickly and content is easily missed.

How did you select Immaculate and how long did the filming take?

CRS staff that are based in that area know the community quite well, and they spoke to the school administrator to get his recommendations on who might be willing and available. I met with a few families, and in the end, we chose Immaculate because of her willingness and availability. We filmed for just one day.

Did Immaculate receive payment in any way?

We are really grateful that Immaculate and her parents allowed us to follow her throughout the day. Her participation was completely voluntary. Our staff in that area had met with her in advance to explain what we were hoping to accomplish, and she was happy to participate.

In what ways was the campaign successful and how would you do it differently next time? 

We looked at key metrics after the campaign was launched, and found that a lot of the content performed better than average, in terms of engagement. We’re always trying new things, and hoping to improve how we tell stories. For example, we’ve used Twitter Moments to highlight specific donors or issues and people. And for each Moment, we’re experimenting with different types of video, GIFs, memes, photos and quotes that help tell a story.

I brought a lot of photography and videography equipment with me – much of which was useful at some point during the trip, but my iPhone was probably the most productive tool for collecting content we can use on social media. Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple!

And like most trips to the field, you need to do a lot of advanced planning, but that’s mostly to set expectations around what you’re hoping to accomplish and why. In terms of what actually happens day-to-day and hour-by-hour, everything can change quickly and you need to be flexible.

With social media, I’m always testing, testing and testing. Next time I’m in the field and collecting content, I’d like to try the “Day in the Life” format again, but I may try adding more depth to the story by incorporating perspective from other friends and family. I’ll probably focus more on video content, as well.

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Fadhili Ibrahim, Ismael Suleiman, fish sellers, Msambweni, Kwale, Kenya 2018

UNDP Kenya – Development Photography Project

I stumbled across the following tweet from UNDP Kenya back in March which alerted me to their fantastic new photography initiative.

Intrigued as to why they had commissioned three photographers to document their work I contacted Ngele Ali, their Head of Communications.

Why did you decide to document development in Kenya using photography? What informed the decision to commission this work was that, while we were telling our story and reporting about the impact of our work, the country office lacked compelling images of Kenya and Kenyans that could enrich our narrative. Our main aim was to document the breadth of development with authentic imagery that form part of our photography library. We deliberately went out to photograph and get stories informed by the SDGs, while exploring thematic areas aligned to UNDP work in Kenya such as: inclusivity, gender equality and youth empowerment, climate change, devolved governance, technology for development among others. We therefore went out in search of empowering stories and images of ordinary Kenyans at grassroots level who were doing remarkable work of transforming their lives and lifting themselves out of poverty; with the hope of giving the term development a face and to demystify the concept of leaving no one behind. We leveraged photography as a tool for storytelling, to capture everyday lives of people, their personal perspective and achievements, that sometimes words don’t do justice. With images gathered from this mission we hope to build a library that is rich with a wide spectrum of powerful images encompassing of genuine human interest stories that may inform how we perceive and communicate on development matters and help shape our future interventions and interactions with Kenyan communities.  

How long did the project take and how did you choose the locations?

This was a month-long mission where three Kenyan professional photographers were commission to work with the country team comprising of staff drawn from programme and communications departments. To capitalize on the time available, and to ensure we had images back in good time for various activities that were in the pipeline, the teams went out to the field simultaneously covering all the counties including those where UNDP has project on the ground. The idea of this project was to inclusively cover Kenya as wide as possible beyond our project areas as a forward-looking opportunity to scope for possible areas of future engagement and to ensure that we have a good collection of images that represent the face of Kenya in consideration to the fact that UNDP works with state and non-state institutions at national and sub-national levels.

Tell us why you chose the three photographers you commissioned?

The three were shortlisted from a competitive process that had invited photographers working in Kenya to submit their portfolios and proposed costs to undertake the assignment. The three were shortlisted from a pool of photographers following a rigorous review of portfolios based on experience of working on similar projects; demonstrated understanding of what was required of the assignment and knowledge of the terrain; and samples of work submitted.

How many photographs were taken?

Approximately 2000 final photos were submitted.

What is your favourite photograph and why?

Each photo has a unique story behind it but I particularly love photos from the marginalised communities as they are not the usual photos of abject poverty. The images that we got back paint a picture of hope, abundance and highlighting communities and people making a difference in a dignified and positive way. They are images that authentically celebrates Kenyan communities and their way of being.

What kind of supporting information did you capture for case study and caption material? Did this take a long time?

Information gathered was contextualised based on personal accounts and covered issues of livelihoods, family, future ambition, employment, state of being among others, which helped to frame each photograph in a unique way. This process was rigorous as it also included getting consent of the people we were photographing; The conversations were either written or recorded and later transcribed. Upon return to work it took at least another roughly four weeks for colleagues to complete captioning after the photographers made their final submissions. UNDP teams also submitted detailed back to work reports which is a standard requirement.

How will you be sharing the photographs with the people in the pictures?

We had release forms where we recorded details of the people being photographed. For those who expressed that they would like us to share with them the photos we will make necessary arrangements to do so – either directly or through our partner organisations working in those locations. Majority of those photographed were happy and satisfied to view their photos on screen after the sessions before we departed from location.

How do you plan to use the photographs?

The photos taken form part of the UNDP country office library; we intend to use these photos to support our conversations with regards to the development agenda in Kenya. This will be in our programmatic reports, annual report, factsheets, website, among others. None of the photos will be used for commercial purposes. The photos are also available for other UNDP/UN offices, development partners and donors upon request as long as they are credited accordingly.

Will you be using social media to share these images? If so, on what platforms?

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Exposure

What kind of problems did you encounter on the project?

Getting instant buy in to participate. Our teams spent a lot of time explaining what we were doing in some cases the people we encountered were not as friendly while others demanded payment for their participation. It took a while for members of the public to warm up to us and we only worked with people who were willing to participate freely. Working with local contacts helped in breaking the ice and gaining trust.

Language barrier – while Kiswahili is widely spoken across Kenya, in some remote areas, language was a hindrance and we heavily relied on local translators.  The distances between locations could be gruesome and exhausting especially in remote areas where the road network is not so good.

Are there any recommendations for other development organisations who might want to do something similar?

Logistics and planning is critical prior to the start of the project to ensure that your teams are well prepared and any concerns and questions are covered before departure to the field as helps in ensuring that all are working from the same perspective for desired results. We planned for this mission for at least 3 weeks before teams left the Nairobi office.

Always seek consent of the people you want to involve in your project. Taking a few minutes to explain the purpose of your mission and how you intend to use their images helps with members of the public feeling valued and the result is more enriching.
Work with professional photographers – professional photographers are a major asset for this type of assignment engage and work with them as part of your team. Let them understand your approach prior to the start of the project as this ensures that they understand what is expected of them and can deliver better results.

Give people an opportunity to tell and share their stories without influencing their thoughts. People feel appreciated and respected when allowed to tell their stories without the pressure to skew the narrative to suit your perspective.
Always take time to clarify any information provided and ensure it is as factual as possible. Request to use a voice recorder which you can play back when transcribing for clarity and ask the local fixer/contact for further clarification when in doubt.

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Springster – a mobile first platform to connect vulnerable girls

Springster – a mobile-first platform to connect vulnerable girls to each other and to relevant information and advice.

The world is getting more connected every day. In 2017 there were nearly 5 billion unique mobile users – 66% of the population. Globally there is a much more burgeoning connectivity amongst females, which means that there are more and more vulnerable girls online. In the next 5 years it is predicted that two out of every three new mobile owners is going to be female.

I was delighted to interview Esther Press, who is the Global Content Manager for Springster, a unique mobile-first behaviour change platform, created by Girl Effect, which aims to build vulnerable girls’ confidence, knowledge and skills. One of Facebook Free Basics’ top five most visited sites, Springster is available in 69 countries across the world and translated into 17 languages. Each time Facebook announces that it will be launching in a new country, Springster ensures content is available for that market. Springster is currently launching in Cameroon, Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire.

The project has been designed after extensive research in Asia and Africa with over 350 girls, 100 boys and a number of parents, experts and influencers. Insights from these research workshops enable content to be created that helps girls face their everyday challenges.

Springster has been optimised specifically for low-bandwidth environments so that it is available on feature phones as well as smartphones. The content is inspired by teen media platforms like Buzzfeed and the Khan Academy. Springster currently has around 1.3 million average monthly users and received 30 million unique visitors since its launch in 2015.

Springster has four key ‘deeper dive’ markets – South Africa, Nigeria, Philippines and Indonesia. In each of these markets there are dedicated content teams made up of girl writers, researchers, creatives, planners and account managers.
Esther commented “We have a unique evidence-based approach to content creation. In each of the key markets we carry out extensive research into the cultural and social elements which affect the kind of content that girls want to be delivered. It’s super localised and personalised. The rest of the markets benefit from a global content set and Girl Effect work with global freelancers, where we have a roster of incredible writers who are based across the world. We don’t just work with writers in the UK. In the future we aim to localise and tailor content in more countries.”

Moderation and Safeguarding

In each of the key markets, there are dedicated moderators called “Big Sisters”. Their persona is a trusted, sassy, older sister. All of the Big Sisters are trained in child safeguarding and gender issues and work on the Springster content management system to answer all the comments. In Nigeria they can receive over 3000 comments per month. There’s also a stringent flagging process in place for profanities and risky comments, whereas in the global markets comments are not switched on.
People can only comment on the site once they have registered. When individuals register no personal identifiable details are taken. The big difference from platforms like Facebook is that no personal information is asked for. Individuals are encouraged to set up a username which has no link to their real identity. There is no messaging platform within the site, so no one can contact individuals directly.

Entertainment with a purpose

Springster at the end of the day is a behaviour change product. The site needs to be entertaining to capture girls’ attention, but every single article has a purpose. Girls benefit from the reassurance and advice generated by shared stories and experiences from other girls like them. Content that caters for girls’ needs is often hard to find and topics they want to find out more about e.g. periods, relationships, sex are often not readily available. It is important that articles are culturally on trend, looking at topics of the day such as K-Pop and celebrity culture. As Esther commented “We put the girl at the heart of everything we do. We want to celebrate the diverse, inspirational and convention-defying experiences of girls. We look at the attitudes, knowledge and behaviour that we need to change to impact their world.”

Even the use of imagery is extensively tested so that it is relevant. In Indonesia girls responded mostly to quirky drawings and cute illustrations, whilst in South Africa the research showed that girls would find photography more appealing and engaging.
Measuring Impact
Springster has a custom-built dashboard to measure the impact of its activities. Using a range of measurements such as surveys, comment analysis, site analytics and interviews with girls who have used the platform they are aiming to measure changes across all of the impact areas that they have identified. This data also informs what kinds of stories Springster need to focus on in the future.

Future Plans

In the future Springster intend to extend their reach in the social media ecosphere. They are currently researching options to introduce YouTube and Instagram in their key markets, but are also considering BBM, WhatsApp and Dark Social.
Crucially, the team are working on plans to better utilise the incredibly rich data related to reach, engagement and participation on Springster, by launching a new measurement dashboard in 2018. This dashboard will not only measure how girls use the platform, but to what extent it has helped shift girls’ knowledge, attitude and behaviour in the offline world too. This innovative approach has seen the brand featured as a best practice case study by DIAL, the Digital Impact Alliance at the United Nations Foundation, as part of their series on the ‘Principles for Digital Development’.

To find out more about Springster click here: http://www.girleffect.org/what-we-do/springster/

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A social media guide for volunteers and travelers

Many of you will already have seen the fantastic Instagram account Barbie Savior which critiques voluntourism – well now she has teamed up with the equally fantastic Radi-Aid to develop a social media guide for volunteers and travellers. With the rapid rise in voluntourism over the last 10 years, many of us will know someone who has travelled overseas to volunteer in a developing country. Whilst overseas, these volunteers will often document their experience by taking photographs and sharing on their various social networks. These images will usually be innocent portrayals of their everyday lives whilst volunteering, other times they can be potentially insulting or reinforce stereotypes of people living in poverty.

This new guide warns volunteers of the damage that images can have on the representation of distant others. The illustrated guide follows four main principles:

1. Promote dignity
2. Gain informed consent
3. Question your intentions
4. Use your chance – bring down stereotypes

There is also a handy checklist – see below cheklist

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