Before I get into the next project — and before descending too far down the inevitable path of hopelessness/doubt/boredom as illustrated by Austin Kleon — I’m trying to keep in mind the stuff I learned from the last one.
The last project turned into a 40-minute film, ‘Unladylike’, about women and girls who box. It was the first time I’d made a documentary and the first time I’d worked with my two co-filmmakers.
The stories of exiled Congolese entrepreneurs Patrick, Alex, Mimy and Chantale finally made it into Vice, also appearing in the UK print edition of the magazine (with my trip supported by One World Media’s production fund). It’s perhaps an unusual destination for an article about refugee lives in Africa; sitting next to headlines like ‘People’s stories on the last time they faked an orgasm’ and ‘We went on a tour of London’s worst-rated nightclubs’. But the Canadian-American outlet, which is squarely aimed at younger audiences and embraces the provocative and politically incorrect, isn’t only about sex, crime and entertainment. News is now their fastest growing division, according to Creative Review, in which Vice’s CEO was quoted earlier this year saying they tapped into a “big white space…. there was a perception that Gen Y didn’t really care about news which is obviously not true, so that will continue to grow.” Here’s hoping.
I’m back in Uganda, this time with funding from One World Media, researching a story about refugee businesses.
Here’s the premise: 86% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries. Uganda, a relatively stable nation in a rocky region is now home to over half a million people seeking refuge from South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It now hosts the third largest refugee population in Africa.
But what makes Uganda intriguing is its unusually open door policy: all refugees are granted freedom of movement and the right to work; in rural areas they get allocated their own plot of land. So while most countries try to contain refugees in designated zones set apart from cities and towns, and to stop them from competing with locals for jobs, in Uganda refugees can (and do) become traders, workers, employers, entrepreneurs.
Since the spring, a team of us at On Purpose have been working on a collaborative storytelling project. A few weeks ago, we finally unveiled Humans on Purpose.
It’s not the first rip-off of the simple yet captivating Humans of New York idea – but it may well be the first to share stories of social purpose. We’ve got a pretty wide range: from CEOs and young entrepreneurs to former priests and ex-offenders. They’ve talked to us about their mums and their children; about pivotal moments and long-enduring passions; about anger and playfulness. People really are prepared to talk honestly about why they do what they do.
It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a wide collaboration (we’ve had 50+ interviewers, 5 editors, and several people involved in the design and development of the site, plus numerous others organising the final event of the project). Here are some things I learned: Continue reading “Stories of purpose”→
Earlier this year I gathered a few VSO colleagues to join me on the Acumen+ Storytelling for Change course, which is all about bringing (personal) stories into your professional communication, helping you to connect with (and convince) your listeners as you present.
I’ve tried before, and failed, to complete online courses; free ones like these are even harder to see through. What worked this time? Mainly it was committing to meet weekly as a group for the duration of the modules (guilt about letting other people down is stronger than the guilt of letting yourself down, it seems). But also genuine enthusiasm within the group for the topic, and a sense that the lessons were fairly universally relevant.
My exchange partner Lorelei and I are finally finishing up our joint project, part of the Council of Europe’s work to encourage more diversity in the media. Our full piece is coming soon; in the meantime, here’s a little preview – thanks to Iqraa (Somali) in London and Kiki (from Nigeria) in Bucharest – of what we talked about.
Seeing a TV set when boarding a long-distance bus in Tanzania usually made my heart sink. The music videos or the homegrown melodramas – the ones that take 10 minutes to tell you that our main character is upset, or one minute to show someone pulling into a driveway – never seemed to make those twelve-hour journeys pass more quickly.
So I understood Nes’s point, when I sat in on one of his classes in the slums of Uganda (I’ve written about that, here): be more subtle. To illustrate, the Ugandan filmmaker showed two shorts: powerful films with almost no dialogue that told a whole story without spelling it out. Western-made films, of course.
‘Very happy, very sad, or super determined’ – the usual spectrum of emotions we assign to poor people, says sociologist Michael Woolcock.
His recent lecture at the Institute of Development Studies – watch it online, below – sets out to change that.
Woolcock begs for a more, well, human way of looking at what it’s like to be poor. How? Through the lens we’ve been using to look at other people’s lives since time began – storytelling, including in its more modern forms. Continue reading “A poor perspective”→
It’s not quite world-changing stuff, but you have to start somewhere, I guess.
I started with pugs. And learned a lot of unexpected, and probably not very useful, stuff along the way, like the fact that the crease on a pug’s forehead is supposed to be the Chinese character for “prince”, and that the pet cemetery at Hyde Park has three monkeys buried in it.
The LCC summer course in documentary photography, led by the endlessly energetic Anders Birger, gets you out shooting and putting together a photo story within two weeks. Sounds like plenty of time, but the hours just seem to evaporate. Before you know it you’re cramming in bits of text and agonising over which last image will make the cut. In a way, that’s the crucial bit. Which photos – and they might not be the most beautiful or the most technically perfect – tell the story you want to tell? And is it a story people can relate to? Will they care? Still mulling those things over – in the meantime, here’s my pug-inspired picture parade. Continue reading “And now, something a little different…”→
Which image of Africa would you rather see: skeletal, abandoned child, or healthy-looking working family?
Most people would say the latter; certainly most of those in the aid sector – some of whom were discussing this at the recent PICS festival – now consider the starving child images not only unethical, but also unhelpful. They’re “not effective”, is the general view.
But effective for what? Fundraising appeals today still deploy the same imagery, and the same language, as they did in the 1980s, when “poverty porn” made it to the mainstream with the Ethiopian famine hitting our headlines. That’s not only an indication that we’re seeing the same problems as we did three decades ago; it means we’re also stubbornly looking at them in the same way.