I was recently the lead researcher for a study in collaboration with Radi-Aid about the use of imagery in charity / NGO communications. In the study, participants in six Sub-Saharan African countries spoke about their perceptions of aid campaigns and other visual communications from international NGOs (INGOs) and development organisations.
The research involved 74 people from 12 focus groups in aid-receiving communities in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. They discussed imagery from campaigns by Amnesty International, Care International, Cordaid, The Disasters Emergency Committee, Dubai Cares, Oxfam, Save the Children, Unicef and War Child.
Key findings from the study include:
• The majority of respondents thought the images in adverts offer an accurate representation of the situation in Africa.
• There is a need for aid communication to show more diversity in terms of age and race.
• Respondents acknowledge that aid communication is complex, with no single solution.
• It is important that respect and dignity is preserved in the portrayal of people in aid communication.
The frequent portrayal of Africa as a continent in need prompted sadness among the respondents in the study. Such campaigns often depict black children in need, and several of the respondents wished that these stories could be complemented by showing children of other colours or backgrounds, or black doctors, professors or aid workers. They would like to see portrayals of people with agency in their own situations and results of their accomplishments.
I was extremely pleased to be part of this research as it gives people in aid receiving countries the opportunity to voice their opinions on the type of imagery used to depict their continent. Instead of stigmatising poverty and focusing on problems, I hope that aid organisations will respond by showing the positive outcomes of development programmes too.
One of the things I often discuss with students, academics and communications professionals is that development organisations produce a massive amount of communications materials, and the vast majority of them are neglected in critiques by the media and academia. Social media offers organisations the opportunity to tell more nuanced and contextualised stories which are not restricted by an expensive 15-30 TV adverting slot or a billboard with limited space. I hope this report will encourage NGOs and charities to continually improve their representations of poverty and inequality by showing a broader range of stories. Participatory photography and video are excellent tools to enable recipients of aid to tell their own stories and I see these tools being used more and more in the future.
Radi-Aid Research is a collaboration project between the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) and the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia.
Duckrabbit are well known in the charity/NGO sector for both their filmmaking and their superb training courses. They have just produced an excellent introduction to filmmaking which is packed with tips. The guide takes you through the process of pre-production right through to post production with advice of budgets. storyboarding, editing etc. The guide also links to examples of films which is really handy.
A few years ago I wrote a quick blog post Top 10 tips for making an NGO video – this new guide from duckrabbit is ten times better and packed with some really simple advice which is often overlooked. A must read for anyone wanting to maximise their film budget in the development / NGO / charity sector!
According to Kennected testimonials, a great new resource on social media can help agriculture in developing countries has just been produced by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The publication ‘Embracing Web 2.0. and Social Media’ features case studies from Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Ghana, Samoa, Rwanda, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago.
The case studies are the result of 120 training events in 37 African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries, where training was given to more than 3,500 people. The publication offers a range of examples of how Web 2.0. technologies and social media have contributed to policy dialogue and advocacy, value chain development and the provision of information services. These case studies include tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Skype as well as Wikis, blogs, discussion groups, the use of search engines and crowdfunding.
I was particularly interested in the Do Agric advocacy campaign which aimed (and succeeded to remind leaders that they had promised to commit 10% of budgets to agriculture. The petition was signed by more than 2.2 million people.
Another story that caught my eye was an NGO called the Women in Business Inc in Pacific Island State of Samoa. Through social media they have increased their e-commerce side of the business to sell indigenous products. Some of the finest traditional woven Samoan mats sell for around 2,290 Euros. Most of the initial enquiries about the mats are received via Facebook.
A new fundraising campaign from Cafédirect #OneBigTweet offers the public the chance to donate to Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation (CPF), a charity that supports smallholder tea and coffee farmers around the world, without spending a penny.
By signing up, people can join a large network of twitter users donating their followers. CPF wants to grow #OneBigTweet so big that is can be auctioned for charity. The buyer will then be able to auto-retweet their #OneBigTweet from the accounts of supporters for onetime only.“When we looked around at the saturated fundraising market, we felt that there’s not much chance for a small charity struggling to be noticed in this environment” said Katie Messick Maddox, Business Development & Investments Manager at CPF. “Rather than wanting to resort to the same old tactics, we at CPF want to set ourselves out from the crowd.”
Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation won the Google Impact Challenge in July 2014 and used the £500,000 to launch their first subsidiary social Enterprise, We Farm. They are always looking for new and exciting ways to build upon their past successes and engage with new audiences to have an even greater impact on the 280,000+ smallholder farmers in their network globally.“Our programmes with farmers look to support them in developing and sharing their innovations and knowledge with fellow farmers across our smallholder network,” says CPF General Manager, Claire Rhodes “#OneBigTweet is designed to reflect this by leveraging social media to create a new kind of crowd-funding movement.”
There have been quite a few Thunderclap requests from charities before, so it will be interesting to see if this campaign gets traction.
I recently organised for Steve Melia, Head of Film at WaterAid UK to speak to students on the MA Media and International Development course that I teach on. The seminar was a huge success and many students (and myself) were engrossed by a film ‘Across the Tracks’ that WaterAid produced this year. I caught up with Catherine Feltham, the producer/director to find out more about the production.
Trailer for Across the tracks by WaterAid.
Why did WaterAid produce this film?
We were commissioned to tell an in-depth, character-led story that people would be able to connect emotionally with, while also demonstrating the impact of WaterAid’s work in India through the HSBC Water Programme.
After meeting HSBC NOW TV, a web-based TV programme broadcasting weekly to HSBC’s 265,000+ employees and wider community around the world via the organisation’s intranet and external YouTube channel – we set about identifying the right story to give an insight into WaterAid’s work in India. We were struck by one particularly challenging urban slum, where lack of sanitation was a major issue. We quickly identified that violence against women and girls was prevalent in the slum, and that the lack of toilets only added to this risk. This also felt the right time for WaterAid to make its own in-depth documentary film, which could be pitched to different audiences such as film festivals and media outlets.
We planned for a shoot that would enable us to gather the depth of content for HSBC NOW and also to enable production of a 20-minute film to be pitched at broadcasters, and a 10-minute film to be pitched at short film competitions, festivals and other online sites.
What are the objectives?
At the front of our minds was that this story should meaningfully contribute towards the national and international conversation around Clean India, a campaign launched by the Indian Government in October, which aims to see a toilet in every household by 2019. As well as attracting global attention to sanitation issues, we were keen to show that not having access to somewhere safe and clean to go to the toilet doesn’t just impact on health, but also dignity and livelihoods.
One of the key messages we wanted to emphasise was that everyone, everywhere should have access to basic necessities such as a toilet, regardless of where they live.
Who is the main audience?
We wanted to reach a wide audience, from HSBC employees and WaterAid supporters, to policy makers and people working in development. We also wanted to tap into an audience of film enthusiasts and the culturally engaged.
How long did it take to produce? How many people were involved?
We undertook a recce in April 2014 to identify potential characters for the film. This took place in as part of an existing WaterAid supporter visit to Kanpur, India. This was really crucial for the planning of this film as it enabled us to gather interviews with several people living in the slum, get a sense of people’s personalities and how they might be on camera, and to start to work out who the key individuals were who were engaged with the WaterAid project there.
After the recce we started regular communications with WaterAid India and the project partner, a charity called Shramik Bharti, which delivers the project in Rakhi Mandi and therefore knows the community closely. We discussed the full implications of filming with them, impacts on the project, people’s time and the logistics around filming the construction of Radha’s toilet from start to finish. We wanted to film ‘in the action’ and actuality style footage, rather than after the event, so we needed to ensure this was possible. We didn’t want to turn up to a toilet already half way through construction!
As the shoot only had one content-gathering objective, we had time to consider how to create a product with high production values. So we researched film techniques and styles and this is when we decided to gather aerial footage. We booked an Indian drone operator called Nikhil Thakkar, from Wonderwork Productions, and worked with him to gather general shots to show the scale of the slum, the location of the slum, the area the community used for the toilet, and also to gather shots of each character from above. We felt this footage would be integral to telling the story by showing the challenges of the urban slum environment.
The shoot took place in October 2014 over ten days, with the first two days used to complete the recce and plans with no cameras out. The core team on the shoot was made up of myself (producer/director), the DOP, a second camera operator/photographer, and two translators. In addition we had fantastic support from Shramik Bharti day-to-day, and WaterAid’s Partnership Communications Manager joined for half of the trip to help with logistics, and wider fact and story gathering to build the context. We also had the local drone operator join for two days of the shoot. Having the support of the WaterAid India local team was also integral to making the shoot a success.
In December we began the edit and completed the 20 minute and the 10 minute film the day before the deadline (25 January) for the first competition we wanted to enter! We were shortlisted in the final 10 films (of over 100 entries) in the Rankin and DocHeads short film competition 2015. Our 10 minute film is now live on the Rankin site as a result of this exposure. We hope that this is the first of many distribution opportunities for the film and Radha’s story.
The film also aired HSBC NOW on 6 February and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from employees including converting an editor from HSBC’s production company into a new WaterAid monthly donor! The intranet version of their film has reached nearly 16,000 people so far. As you can probably gauge, a lot of people were involved in the project overall, from internal WaterAid stakeholders, to the partner organisation, the corporate partner and production staff.
How did you choose the main character?
The main character is Radha Verma. Radha immediately stood out as she had engaged with the WaterAid project work very early on in an environment where it was very difficult for our partners (Shramik Bharti) to gain the trust and ears of the community.
Rakhi Mandi slum is situated next to the Delhi-Kolkata railway line in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. Rakhi Mandi is one of the oldest slums in Kanpur, thought to be around 65-years-old. There are at least 3,500 people living here. The biggest challenge with the project work was to change people’s mindsets. Living on unofficial land with no support from local government, people thought nothing could be done and that they were born to live like this and that going to the toilet in the open was just the ‘norm’.
Before the project could get underway, Shramik Bharti had to bring a largely disparate community together. Community facilitators described families in Rakhi Mandi that were not close, with high levels of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse. It took a long time to identify potential leaders and build people’s trust. In the first five months they visited Rakhi Mandi every day, focusing on cleanliness, and started to encourage families to build soak pits to dispose of household waste water, which would bring a visible change to people’s homes and surrounding areas, and go some way towards tackling serious drainage issues in the slum. Shramik Bharti first talked to people about their personal problems, their health, their kids, and built up a bond, before identifying leaders, forming a water user committee and training them on how to access services from local government officials.
Radha shone as an example of someone who wanted to change her situation and understood the benefits to her and her family. She had been one of the first in the community to build a soak pit and was also really determined to get a toilet for their home as her daughter Nisha has narrowly escaped an attack when going for open defecation. This incident also demonstrated the very real dangers women and young girls face, as a result of having no safe place to go to the toilet, without sharing the detail of some of the more violent stories we were aware of such as rape in the community.
The secondary characters we selected – Kalavati (who features in both the 10 and 20 minute film, and HSBC’s film) and Laddan (who features in the 20 minute film) also both stood out as key individuals in the change taking place in Rakhi Mandi. They represented the hope and life that the project has.
Do you think it will share very well on social media?
We believe that social media will be a powerful tool for promoting the film and the wider story the film tells. Already the trailer for the film has received nearly 1,500 views on Vimeo without any real push to it yet. It was liked by well-known filmmaker Philip Bloom who tweeted it out in the first few days and we saw a huge boost to views after this.
We have not started social media activities around the film with full force yet as we are still pitching and entering the films into competitions and to media outlets. However, the small social activity we have done so far has proven to engage with audiences. For example, we edited a 15-second ‘Instavid’ version of the trailer of the film for Instagram and published it the day that the Rankin/DocHeads film competition winner was announced. The film gained 277 views, and nearly 10% of those people used the URL link we provided to visit the website to view the film. Our average views on an Instavid on our channel range between 200 and 300 and we don’t usually provide URL links as these are not direct links within Instagram, so we were pleased with the rate of people who used the link to visit the page.
We have more Instavid’s edited and ready to use as we begin to push the film out further and we will also be using Twitter and Facebook to promote the film. The social media pick-up will of course be more successful if we can link the film to a film festival or screening as we will be able to tap into wider networks outside of WaterAid.
Are you going to enter it into any film festivals?
Yes, absolutely. We have already begun the process and will be continuing to submit the film throughout the year. Before we went on the shoot we put together a draft distribution plan which included film festivals, competitions, online sites, media outlets and screenings. Our colleagues in India are also researching festivals in India that we can submit the film to.