Saturday, 31 December 2011

Women Stuck in Poverty in Asia

[Editor's note: This article was written by Aisha O'brien and was originally featured on]

Despite an economy in recovery, women workers in Asia still face a life of poverty and exploitation because of prejudice, according to a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Women face discrimination when trying to get better jobs or more pay. This is due in large part to cultural norms and lack of governmental investment. Women continue to remain at the lowest rung in unstable industries.

This ceiling is much more brick-like than glass, and it has serious consequences for their economies.

Enormous economic losses for the region
The ILO and ADB also report that the Asia Pacific region loses $24 billion to $47 billion a year because of limited opportunities for women as well as a loss of $16 to $30 billion because of the gap in education.
Asia's female labor force accounts for around 734 million women. That's a lot of missed opportunity.

The solution, of course, is to better educate women, allow more business opportunity, and fundamentally change the way cultures view working women. Although this report is disheartening, there are other places these ideas are working.

NigeriaThe Southeastern region of Nigeria is experiencing a boon in the education of young girls. In 1999, 115 million girls were out of school. According to recent numbers, in 2008, 67 million girls were out of school - a 42 percent decrease.

This, in spite of the fact that the region has received the least amount of government aid. So why the change? According to the Nigeria Country Directory of Ipas, Dr. Ejike Oji, in the Daily Independent, "It has to do with the cultural orientation of the predominantly Igbo-speaking group people."

The change in cultural dynamics has reduced poverty by 50 percent across the region, according to Oji.


In the small town El Carizal, work is often temporary, seasonal, and available only to men.
Even so, small group of women is making solid headway, according to an article in Hispanic LA.

Despite a momentary boom in the economy due to CBS's Survivor filming, women still find it hard to work and make enough money. However, while "the men" were working, women in the area started more long-term projects, like the Condiments Carizal Co-Op.

The Co-Op is made up of 10 grandmothers and mothers who decided to become entrepreneurs in their community, selling organic, home-made jam.

With the help of American investors, these women were able to learn about the jam-making process and to boost the effectiveness of their new business. Their five most popular flavors are mango, passion fruit, dragon fruit, pineapple and tamarind. You'd be hard pressed to find these flavors at your local super shopper.

But you might. One of the women, Ilicia, 69, says she hopes the jam can be shipped overseas. Tim Kelly, an initial investor, thinks Americans may see their jams on the local grocery shelves in one to two years.

Image courtesy of Alexandre Roschewitz (cc)

*Reproduced from

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Voice of Chhattisgarh: A CGNet Swara Origin Story

Re-produced from:
Post written by: John Converse Townsend

The citizen media movement is built on one key premise: Everyone deserves to be heard. 
However, freedom of expression is often limited by a lack of access to the press; too often, expression is a right exercised only by those in power. No money? No voice.
But thanks to a free voice-based portal accessible by even the simplest mobile phones, even those citizens living on just a few dollars each day can report and discuss the top news stories in their region. The project democratizes media by enabling marginalized communities to manage their own content.
This is particularly important in areas of rural India where, in many cases, half of the population is illiterate, offline, isolated, and at the mercy of the mainstream media’s top-down power — and spin.
“You can call it information poverty, but you can also call it being held hostage,” Arjun Venkatraman said. “Because it’s information that you don’t have, but that someone else does.”
Venkatraman is a social entrepreneur with a history of “architecting bleeding-edge, tactical IT solutions into enterprise IT projects.” In layman’s terms, Venkatraman is no stranger to technology. 
He’s a young man dedicated to giving rural communities access to information by connecting them to the Web. He’s also a technology and strategy advisor for the Indian social enterprise CGNet Swara, an entrant in the Changemakers Citizen Media competition, supported by Google. 
CGNet Swara was founded in 2004 by Shubhranshu “Shu” Choudhary, Venkatraman’s stepfather. Choudhary is a Knight International Journalism Fellow with decades of experience in the field of journalism, having worked as a TV and radio producer for BBC Asia, a reporter for The Guardian’s South Asia bureau, and a reporter for the Hindi-language Daily Deshbandhu
It wasn’t until Choudhary returned to his small home town of Manendragarh in Chhattisgarh, a primarily rural, underserved tribal Indian state, that he had the revelation that led him to social action. He discovered that his old classmates had become Maoists (exploited and influenced by the ongoing insurgency) not because of political or ideological issues, but because of a lack of transparency in communications and an insufficient citizen media infrastructure. 
As Venkatraman pointed out, these issues are not a just a Chhattisgarhi phenomenon:
“There are nearly 90 million tribal people living in India whose languages are varied, but none are mainstream. There is no media in these languages, and very few administrative organizations understand the needs of this population.”
No money, no voice. Choudhary wanted to change that. He wanted to bridge dialogue between India’s top ten percent and the rest of the population. 
Naturally, he turned to the Internet—only to realize that the Web reaches only about five percent of India’s citizens. Community radio wasn’t really a possibility, either, in part because law restricts its practice, but mostly because it’s much too expensive for people living on less than one dollar a day.
“Indian law restricts community radio quite seriously,” Venkatraman said. “You can only use your liberty to buy equipment from specific government-approved manufacturers, it’s extremely costly to set up, and the amount of coverage you get for your high-investment radio station is about 15 kilometers. So, for five lakh rupees (about $10,000), you get about 15 kilometers of coverage.”
Choudhary then turned to a tool that the renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs called the “the single most transformative technology for development”: the mobile phone.
“Given that radio was out of the question, he looked at mobile as the next option, because it’s the next most ubiquitous thing that’s with everybody now. The mobile population in India is insane; it’s about 850 million users.” 
Choudhary teamed up with a group of MIT students who developed an open source, voice-based citizen media portal, Audio Wiki. Audio Wiki is a system powered by the mobile phone, easily accessible to the illiterate and capable of publishing user-generated content from just about anywhere. 
The customized tech solution became the basis for the CGNet Swara release, which was tested in a training session with a pilot group of more than 30 citizen journalists in Chhattisgarh. It was a hit. Within a year, CGNet Swara began to support an average of more than 2,000 users each week.
Using the service is as easy as one, two, three. Members of the citizen media, tipsters, and callers phone into the CGNet Swara system. An automated operator then prompts callers to press either “1” to record a new message, or “2” to listen to messages that have already been recorded. 
After callers record their message from the field, a professionally-trained journalist accesses the system via Web-based interface to review and verify each report. Approved news reports are made available for playback over the phone or online on the CGNet Swara website, where transcripts and summaries of the stories are provided and translated from local tribal languages. 
News reports and tips are varied, ranging from infrastructure failures, government corruption issues that affect public health (like doctors making outrageous money demands), to human rights violations. CGNet Swara was the first news source to break news of a Maoist offensive in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, where forces burnt down almost 300 homes and granaries, sexually assaulted three tribal women, and killed at least three men.
Venkatraman himself shared a few anecdotes about violations of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, India’s flagship rural development scheme that guarantees rural adults 100 days of unskilled manual labor at minimum wage. He reported instances where dead men received wages, while some living laborers were denied their fair share. 
Venkatraman said these reports don’t go unnoticed: “We know that both The Hindu and the Hindustan Times services pick up tips from CGNet Swara because we keep phone records. We know who’s calling.”
In addition to its technical service, CGNet Swara and local grassroots organizations collaborate to host training programs with members of the community. Venkatraman points to these sessions as one of the major reasons CGNet Swara has been so successful. 
Budding citizen activists learn the basics of journalism, as well as technical skills like audio editing and mobile phone navigation for first-time users. The five-day in-house training programs culminate with participants being assigned to complete a field report and produce a radio program. 
CGNet Swara is a powerful tool, and one that continues to elevate the voices of India’s people: the first step in bridging the divide between the haves and have-nots.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

“Telling a Story is a Form of Activism” - INTERVIEW WITH NAVEEN NAQVI

Changemakers recently sat down with Naveen Naqvi, co-founder and executive director of Gawaahi, to discuss her work in Pakistan’s turbulent and often violent environment, where she uses citizen media as a tool for political engagement and raising public awareness. 
Gawaahi, which means “witnessing” in Urdu, is a Pakistan-based citizen-sector organization that produces digital stories of survival and resistance. Through its online platform, Gawaahi shares stories about women's human rights, child sex abuse, unfair labor practices, and religious persecution. 
With a background in journalism, Naqvi was previously the senior anchor and morning news presenter at DawnNews, Pakistan's first English-language channel. Before that, she was a producer for NBC News and online contributor for Naqvi is serving as an expert commentator for theCitizen Media competition.

Changemakers: Can you tell us about how Gawaahi was started? 
Naqvi: Our first project was the website The co-founder and I wanted to create a platform that was crowdsourced, but not news-based; that was the basic idea behind it. Now, as you know, every idea needs fuel to get it going. So we had grants from Take Back the Tech, the Pakistan Software Houses AssociationVoices for All, and Deutsche Welle, the German media house. 
With these grants, we created this site to publish our own videos and blog about sexual abuse, minority rights, and women’s human rights in Pakistan. We started with a stockpile of videos and blogs like that, and then we started talking to people. 
We used Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to call for submissions on human rights issues. We went on television, on the radio, and we were also covered in print. We told survivors that we would protect their anonymity, and so many of our readers and followers become contributors as well.
Gawaahi’s video series, My Pakistan, featured young, everyday Pakistanis speaking out about their vision for their country.
Changemakers: How does storytelling translate later into activism?
Naqvi: I think that just telling a story is a form of activism because you are speaking out. Once you have spoken out or emerged in a virtual reality, I believe you can then bring that activism into more mainstream or conventional modes, such as street activism.
We started with telling stories of child abuse. First we had our own stories — I have my own story in there as well. We used an innovative, multimedia medium of slide shows so that a person could maintain anonymity and still tell a compelling story through the use of photographs and audio. 
"Ordinary Pakistanis are desperate for the world to understand what it is that they go through every single day. They really want a more sympathetic audience than they feel they have."

What I think that this did for a lot of people was that it encouraged them to come forward. A lot of survivors came to tell their stories through us. We discovered later — through their comments, email, or their work for Gawaahi later on — that they were visiting other sites dedicated to preventing child abuse, or volunteering for NGOs that did this kind of work. 
Changemakers: On the global stage, we’ve seen how Pakistan is still experiencing waves of violence, including a suicide bombing that occurred earlier today. Has Gawaahi engaged its audience to address this violence?
Naqvi: Gaawahi’s advocacy campaigns that relate to religious persecution, for instance, work towards increasing tolerance in a society that is becoming more and more radicalized ever since September 11 and the militarization of the region.
And our most popular videos were the My Pakistan montages, a project that was aimed at getting young Pakistanis to think politically. We talked to kids from private schools, government schools, and universities. And we asked them what kind of Pakistan they wanted, what they thought of Pakistan as it was now. 
I think it made the students feel that their voices mattered. It made them think politically. 
For viewers, it showed that Pakistani kids had dreams just like kids anywhere else. For me, it revealed how traumatized kids are by the violence that surrounds them. 
"Pakistan has been declared to be the most dangerous place in the world for journalists."

If someone had asked me the question, “What does Pakistan mean to you, and what do you want for Pakistan?” when I was at school, I would definitely not have said that I want a Pakistan where I’m not fearing a bomb blast every day.
Ordinary Pakistanis are desperate for the world to understand what it is that they go through every single day. They really want a more sympathetic audience than they feel they have. 
Changemakers: In your view, what are the biggest challenges today for media in Pakistan? 
Naqvi: The biggest challenge for the media in Pakistan right now, the most urgent issue, is the security of journalists. As you may know, Pakistan has been declared to be the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.
This is because of the recent killings of reporters who were exploring questions against the powerful military establishment, for instance, or the mafias of Karachi. Those killings have not gotten the kind of legal attention that was needed. This gives rise to more insecurity for journalists. 
It’s like a cycle where journalists start living in fear, and they become more insecure. However, it becomes more important to report on these kinds of incidents, because perhaps it would keep some kind of check and balance in place, which seems to be missing at the moment. 
And there is of course the reporting from gun battles, like those that take place in Karachi every day. I know people who are reporters that I follower on Twitter who are right there in the middle of it, working in those conditions. So that for me, is the biggest challenge for the media right now – their own security.
Apart from that, for online journalists, the arbitrary banning of sites by the government is a problem.
Print is facing similar problems here as elsewhere in the world, with more and more people focusing on television here in Pakistan. At the same time, I’ll say that there are papers opening up shop here, so that’s a very interesting phenomenon.
Changemakers: What are the most promising trends or tools in on the horizon of Pakistan’s media space? What does the future of media in Pakistan look like?
Naqvi: Pakistanis are really looking at the new media right now as something they want to explore. They are very excited about it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – it’s unimaginable the world that these sites have created for ordinary people to tell their stories. Pakistan has about five million Facebook users. 
I, for obvious reasons, am deeply invested in online media. For Gawaahi, we wouldn’t be anything if we didn’t have the Internet behind our communication technology. While online journalism has a precarious position in Pakistan, I do believe that the future is very, very bright there. 
And I don’t think I’m the only one. Very recently in Karachi, we held the first social media summit of Pakistan, which was organized by the U.S. consulate and a whole bunch of other corporations. They clearly believed that it was worth the effort to bring together all of the prominent bloggers, microbloggers, tweeters, and so on to come together and engage in dialogue and workshops. 
In addition, mobile technology is an untapped tool with great potential in Pakistan, where 65 percent of the population owns a mobile phone. So that’s another additional medium that has great power and influence. 
Changemakers: Finally, do you have any advice for growing social innovators in citizen media?
Naqvi: I would say: find a plan that works for you. Gawaahi is a testament to how amazing social innovation is right now, and how much can be done through the use of social media and the new media. We created in a hostile environment, at a time when spaces to challenge injustice were shrinking. 
We created something that we thought would give a platform to people that were working against those norms that were emerging in our society, and that were completely alien to us. We created this platform for those voices to come together and have some dialogue. So for you, you should do what works for you, in your context. Don’t be afraid. And let your project grow to follow its organic evolution.

Written by: Kristie Wang
Re-produced from:  

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Solutions in Health Crossing Borders
Editor's note: This post was written by Chloe Feinberg, Health Specialist for Knowledge and Learning at Ashoka Changemakers.

It’s time to look at health challenges through a new lens. In the Ashoka Changemakers Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition, we are looking for solutions that work in your region — and that will work in other countries, too. 
No two countries, beneficiary groups, or innovative models are exactly alike. But we are seeing the lines blur between health challenges faced in both developed and developing countries, and in rural and urban areas. 
Throughout the world, pressure on national health systems is increasing as populations grow, people live longer, and individuals moving into the middle class have more money to pay for health care. At the same time, the burden of diseases is spreading globally. 

For example, consider two women: one lives in rural India, and the other in urban New York City. Both have been diagnosed with diabetes. Traditionally, these two women would be regarded quite differently. Certainly, the causes of their diabetes are likely to differ significantly. And their treatment and management will also vary significantly. 
But both women suffer the same condition, so there may be ways that the health systems in their countries can learn from each other. What innovative approach from India can be adapted and applied in New York City? And vice versa? 
There are many intersection points where innovation can occur, including diagnosis, treatment, treatment adherence, social marketing about the disease, prevention, affordability and financial access, patient empowerment, and the mental health aspects of chronic disease. Why couldn’t the innovations that exist around the world travel across the world where they can be adapted and applied locally? 
The same story can be told over and over again across geographies. Dental health is another great example. Where are the innovations for encouraging better dental hygiene within communities, or for creating access to dental health where it did not exist before? What innovative processes within these models can be repackaged and applied elsewhere? 
Health challenges are similar throughout the world, although they present themselves in different ways. Health care is too costly, both for governments and individuals, and there isn’t enough of it; the doctor-patient ratio in most countries in the world is too low to allow everyone to access to a physician; preventative health is often overlooked and creates great long-term health challenges down the line. These are stories are common all over the world. 
So rather than focusing on solutions in a single locality, this completion looks at innovation through a different lens and asks, Where else can this work? Who else could benefit from this process? What other populations or patient-types could use this type of model? These are the questions we look forward to exploring with you in the solutions submitted to the Innovations for Health online competition.

Disclaimer: Re-produced from