This is the final post in a 4-part series in which Video Volunteers is sharing what we’ve done over the last year, our experiences, and what we’ve learned. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.
After five years of doing community media in India, we’ve come to understand what Video Volunteers is good at. We’re great at training — the people we work with keep doing this for a long time after they’re trained. And we’re great at getting impact in the villages. We know how to produce the content that people in rural India want to see; the evidence for this is that people turn up in large numbers for the screenings and actually take action.
The Indian government has several major programs to bring Internet and information to rural areas — one is the Common Service Centers, a program to bring fiber optic cables to every 10th village; another amazing one is the $35 video-enabled tablet computer.
We think these new government programs can give a huge boost to community media in India, and they can help us scale, provided we create the right partnerships. We’re thinking about things like web channels for content aimed at rural audiences for the tablets, and citizen journalism reporting apps. The public screenings on projectors that the people in our Community Video Units do are immensely powerful, but in time, a similar effect will emerge as people are able to share videos in villages over their cell phones and watch them on computers.
So far, these programs are conceived as a way to push information out to the rural areas, so the poor get information on government programs and plans. We come in, because we can reverse the system — we can bring the knowledge and ideas of the poor to the government. We can enable people to produce content for these new distribution pipelines. No one will use them if there is no locally available content.
So when we meet government officials, our message is this: Enabling the poor to produce content, to be heard, and to share their own knowledge is crucial for democracy.
Why funding matters
In Part 1 of this series, I focused on Video Volunteers’ work with IndiaUnheard, our flagship rural feature service. But many other projects have kept us busy this year: We did a series of trainings for tribals in Gujarat, India on documenting local culture for a local museum; we provided support to a community radio station called Sramik Bharti; and we launched a very exciting program with UNDP in Eastern UP where 20 rural women are trained to use video to monitor their self-help groups and the use of funds that are earmarked for their investment.
We received visits from Semester at Sea, the University of Nebraska Journalism school, and several Indian NGOs (non-governmental organizations). We spoke about our work and showed our videos in numerous places: the WSSCC international water conference; the Dalit Solidarity Network Conference in Kathmandu; TEDx Mumbai; the India government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting conference; and the University of Nebraska where I was an “Innovator in Residence.”
Funding has continued to be hard, and we haven’t been able to take on as many new community correspondents as we would like, because for the last year we’ve relied a lot on smaller donations that are harder to come by. We find that the obsession with “something new” is making it hard for us to fund projects that we’ve been running for more than a year, such as our Community Video Units program, which is 5 years old.
However, I’ve recently met with several foundations that seem to really see the value in creating a model to bring content out of all rural areas, and so I hope we’ll be able to make the leap from a $300,000-a-year organization (where we’ve been for the last five years) to an organization with twice that budget. As I’ve said in the past, the costs of maintaining rural stringers for all of India are relatively low (around $400,000 a year), and we hope that someone will see the value in being able to make information flow from remote areas in a rational manner.
Watch a few of our best videos from the year: