Foko Blog Club second Self-Evaluation

Reporting on the progress of the Blog Club project initiated by Foko-Madagascar a year ago has always been a great honor but this article wouldn't have been possible without the updates of Tahina, Lova, Randy and Patrick. From the times when we were only 4 to start this project, we didn't change much to the Malagasy blogosphere, which was already very active and doing amazing collective work, but we sure helped shaping its landscape. After training dizains of bloggers around the island with the help of the Rising Voices community, we managed to put the word “Foko”, “tribe, community”, to reality. Last August, we were facing many challenges but were proud of the successes we made in a very short time and, of course, with very few resources. Six months later, most of the logistical problems still remain but we discovered that we were not only few to solve them anymore on our own, that the entire Foko network was committed to make the project the greatest Citizen Media experience and in its special way : a sustainable one!

How did we solve the internet connexion problems?

In general, this problem is not solved yet. Since there is no place offering free internet connexion in the country, we dedicated our energy to find cheaper locations and motivate the bloggers by distributing connexion hours using what is left of the Rising Voices grant, the Mada English Journal payments and little donations by fans. Theo and Patrick from BUEC were advised to use the University of Tamatave's cybercafé which offers less expensive fees even if they have to face long queues and very low speed but it didn't keep them from becoming one of the most active group. Paradoxically, ESSVA school in Antsirabe offers free connexion to their students but with only one computer for hundreds in a tiny library there is very little time for inspiration and….discretion. In Antananarivo where some of the bloggers have internet at work, we noticed a strong sense of community and ingenuity when it comes to loading videos and pictures. As the project is expanding to new locations where internet is less available or costly, we always have to look for the easiest solution when approaching a new community : “do they have a cheap cyberafé nearby, like in Tamatave ? do they have internet, is it an organization or a school? does the community have a “handy” techie, to help out when it comes to editing or basics ICT knowledge?….”

The lack or the high costs of internet connexion won't keep Citizen Media from reaching the regions and becoming a powerful source of reliable news in Madagascar but the network we managed to build will keep on seeking/calling for more partnerships and sponsorships to facilitate our work.

How did we solve the organisational echues?

When you take the time to read the posts published on our Netvibes page, you can easily understand how diversified and active the community has become. Even though strategical and financial key decisions are still made by the co-founders, we respected the internal existing hierarchies to take directions on their own community (presidents of each associations distributing connexion hours, taking decisions on meetings, for distribution of digital cameras…). Randy, who is a teacher at ESSVA, is very confident in his team's potentials and has always been an inspiration to future journalists of the community. Patrick is giving one by one training to the student's at Barikadimy BUEC and when they don't have the time, with the help of Theo and Cunie, they are patiently filling their “window” with great reportages on cultural and social events in Tamatave. Their commitment to the Blog Club project doesn't only justify the necessity to take more collegial decisions when it comes to “team work” but more frequently now the coordinator has to rely completly on the community . Lova, for instance, in implementing the Ushahidi project for the 2009 political unrest has met difficulties with the coordination and the short time he had. Without Tahina's techical and moral support, the release of this powerful Citizen Media tool would have taken more time. But when it comes to networking and supporting, Lomelle's work and dedication has to be underlined. As one of the senior blogger at Foko, from the same school of Journalism as Diana in Majunga, she has initiated a very strong sense of community and helped dizains of bloggers to join multiple online social networks. Her friendly invitations to join Twitter or Facebook have been answered by “unreachable” bloggers to us, coordinators, but who are close friends to her (after their meetings at Barcamp and Ebit or just by texting and mailing).

The simple task of posting comments on Foko blogs was the duty of coordinators. When the likes of Tahina, Lomelle, Patrick, Ariniaina and Solofo engaged conversations and start debates in the comments section in place of the easy encouragement they are used to (“good post, keep up the good work”…), this is the moment when we knew a new generation is taking the lead at Foko.

How about our work in Citizen Media and ICT vulgarization in Madagascar?

Making headlines, fighting for a rightful cause, teaching ICT to youth, taking part in the coverage of a crisis or a cyclone, organizing tech events…Each bloggers at Foko have been personally commited to at least two or even three of these activities which made our network noticeable by media in Madagascar but also internationally. Giving opportunities to showcase skills and social activism was one of our goals with the Foko Blog Club project. For example when a teen like Pati manages to bring Malagasy youth voice to an International Youth Conference then shares about her Citizen Media experiences on television. Tamatave's club is planning to team up with Theo for his project helping disabled youth; more efforts are going to be made in the regions to develop ICT to youth; individually, bloggers have trained friends to Citizen Media and helped to open new blogs; Moma and Patrick want to do more to promote tourism in Madagascar when we only get to read diaspora or foreigners insights; Koloina has joined the Global Voices in Malagasy squad and helping to promote the website; as many members are training in journalism and communication, strong sense of emulation is created and the more readers and recognition they get the more professional their work become – professional websites have invited Foko citizen journalists to submit their pictures and videos.

In a country where the media are mostly to manipulate crowds and censorship used to shut voices, citizen journalism remains very risky. Most of the bloggers at Foko don't publish on the political events that are presently occuring in the country. Anonymity, safety and neutrality were our best advices to each other. But the assurance that someone is going to read the articles is the best way to support their activism and the only way for Foko to reach sustainability !

So please keep reading HKambora, Zouboon, MoonlightGirl, Micramia and soon Fianarantsoa's blogs to show them your appreciation and support.

Foko Blog Club first Self-Evaluation

After 10 months of planting blogs, Foko-Madagascar first project met successes in different ways, three languages and in a very short period of time. We launched this outreach with well defined goals, supposedly, we had all figured out from the first workshop (we even used to make GANTT charts) to the launch of our next project (we are dreaming about building a huge cybercafé painted in green) but of course we expected to meet deceptions, make millions mistakes and start fights over a key-decision to take….all this to spice things up. Most of the updates on the Rising Voices blog are emphasizing on the results but the more “good news” we published, the harder our team had to work backstage and improvise.

Foko, a pioneer for Citizen Media in Madagascar

With a School of Journalism as part of our Blog Club and more and more excellent stories on topics rarely published on newspapers, you would think that Foko has touched the heart of Malagasy readers (internet and newspapers). But journalism is still a very well-guarded citadel in Madagascar and many are still asking our coordinators and members about their “motivations” in giving away for (free) such important informations and hard work. Cyclone Yvan coverage and Baby Kamba project were two very interesting examples of journalists and webmasters relaying without aknowledging Avylavitra , Diana nor Foko's in general interventions. Videos of Ikopa river filmed with his own mini-camera and put on Youtube were found on a popular Malagasy website, the webmaster was raising funds for the victims but “forgot” to give credits to Avylavitra. After Baby Kamba's second operation, after the stressing hours, Diana was convocked at a press conference. This very talented young journalist and activist had the chance to be interviewed on her participation and how her blogging was decisive for Baby Kamba's future. But her blog's adress was never mentioned ….

  • Our first move was to integrate more journalists on our side and each time we don't hesitate to share our experiences and show them the values of Citizen Media and what it could bring to developing countries and Madagascar particularly. Randy Donné is well-known for his articles on Lexpress de Madagascar and today on Les Nouvelles and was one of Diana's supporters. He is now teaming with Foko to train his students at ICM Antsirabe where he is teaching journalism classes to Citizen media and open new blogs from the Vakinankaratra region. The new workshops will integrate tutorials on licencing (Creative Commons), commenting and social networking.

Foko, showing a new approach to ICT in Madagascar

3 out of 5 members have very basic knowledges of computing and internet but all of them have their personal cellphones and are experts at the Art of phone texting. Their first motivation to join the FBC was to learn more from the new technology and to develop skills with new media (videos and poscasts are total hits). FBC seems to be the link between the popular but limited use of internet for corresponding and chatting only and the dynamique but very selective community of developers. With a 3-step workshop format we tried to teach blogging, photography and video+podcast taking and encourage the bloggers to transfer their knowledge to their communities. But most of the time and not only because of the low connection and the costs, coordinators support are required. Video editing followed by the loading, more tutoring on WordPress and tips on online behavior are exchanged outside of the workshops hours. Hery and Stéphane noticed that the young bloggers needed more attention and “protection” from unwelcomed sollicitators on internet.

  • More “special” workshops are in preparation so our bloggers can answer to the community who is criticizing us on our “foolish” use of technology. We will produce breathtaking webdesign and professional video and audio contents like the ones Patricia and Nombana made to win international contests.

Foko, facing organisational and logistical challenges

It was after our expansion in Tamatave and soon after Lindsay's departure from Majunga that we realized we had to monitor than managing our network (we are very proud of this expression). Contacts were made with the bloggers twice a month with alternative ways to communicate (Skype, phone calls, chats). We had the opportunity to get guest bloggers and already trained members , Karenichia and her friends in Tananarive for example, to take over the workshop when the coordinators where travelling in the provinces. Coordinating and scheduling these meetings are still very difficult with most of the members still studying and having a part-time job during their free-time. The blog carnival participation for August 31st has a question mark on our calendar since we didn't hear from the members yet but we never know… In addition, we still have to solve our biggest problems of connectivity and finding cheaper and efficient ways to transfer pictures and videos online. Negociations are in progress with the cybercafés, sponsorship projects are in preparation and ideas of starting our own cybercafé.

But Foko team have came to the realizations that our decisions concern more the members than the organization itself and it has become an urgence to include them in the process and even giving them more responsabilities. All of them expressed their support to Foko in very touching ways and we have complete trust in them as they are the ones who are becoming the leaders of their communities : UN Club groups are the head students of their high-schools already used to activism and English Club in Tamatave students are involved in social activities.  And finally our choice to pursue our expansion to other regions  has been collectivelly discussed and will integrate the lessons we've learned from the previous workshops : passion, autonomy and knowledge transfer.