[Newsletter] Grants for Women and Programmers

Hi All,

Sunday greetings. I know that many of the funding opportunities I have been sending out lately have been related to developing applications for mobile phones rather than for citizen media projects. For some reason grant competitions seem to come in waves, with citizen media around October and November and computer programming around March and April. Still, I have included links to the software competitions because our movement to bring more voices to the conversational web often depends on having the right tools and knowing how to use them.

For example, last week I was involved in a few workshops to teach some Liberian journalists how to blog. We were using the WordPress.com blogging platform, which I tend to prefer because of its strong multilingual support. Unfortunately, however, the admin panel of WordPress.com takes a long time to load on slow connections. Continually waiting for the page to load can easily take up half of the workshop – a point which Tshwarelo mentioned in an email last week.

This is why Elia Varela Serra and Miquel Hudin are currently developing Maneno.org, a new blogging platform that is specifically meant for people living in Sub-Saharan Africa where the internet connection tends to be slower than other regions. Maneno is now available in English, Spanish, French, Swahili, and Portuguese. They are also working on Lingala and Luganda translations. I have uploaded a three-megabyte file of Elia Varela Serra discussing Maneno on the BBC here.

Google Summer of Code

If you are a student and you are interested in developing tools like Maneno, one of the best opportunities is right around the corner. Every year Google sponsors a “Summer of Code” which brings together students who want to practice computer programming and existing open-source applications. For example, one of the problems with Google Translate is that it is only available in a few major languages. Apertium is an open-source machine translation website that focuses on “lesser-resourced and marginalised languages.” If you are a speaker of a language that is not listed on translate.google.com and if you are interested in making machine translation available for your language, then I recommend that you submit a Summer of Code proposal to Apertium. Similarly, the Sunlight Foundation, which uses technology to promote greater government openness and transparency, is also accepting proposals from students around the world who want to develop new applications which promote government transparency and fight corruption in their countries. Google seems especially eager to receive proposals from students living in the developing world. On their official Google Code blog they feature information sessions about Summer of Code that have taken place in South America.

Web 2.0 for Women

Even if the day arrives when the right tool exists for everyone, regardless of the language they speak or the speed of their internet connection, there are still many obstacles that stand in the way of an equitable conversation. Cristina Quisbert, a member of the Voces Bolivianas project which trains Bolivians how to use new media, has written a very informative article in the online magazine World Pulse about how women around the world can take advantage of Web 2.0 tools. She writes: “If the voices of women with a good economical situation or status are not taken into account, many times it is worse for the ones that live in underdeveloped countries and from indigenous origen. Mass media sometimes covers only what men have to say. To navigate in the internet and to use these tools gives me a feeling of strength and motivation.”

Fortunately, the McCormick Foundation's “New Media Women Entrepreneurs” is currently accepting applications from women “who have original ideas to create new Web sites, mobile news services or other entrepreneurial initiatives that offer interactive opportunities to engage, inspire and improve news and information in a geographic community or a community of interest.”

Deadline: March 31

Finally, a couple links to start the week off. The Knight Citizen News Network has published another module for their citizen journalism learning guide. This one focuses on how to conduct an interview. And, as we have discussed in the past, the Guardian newspaper in England has a project based in Katine, Uganda which is meant to provide detailed coverage of what development is like in rural Africa. They have finally handed the cameras over to the citizens of Katine so that they can tell their own stories. A description and video of the workshop is here.

All the best,


Thanks to our reviewers!

Dear All,

As you can imagine, narrowing down 270 compelling project proposals to just five select grantees is no easy task. I am heavily indebted to our volunteer committee of reviewers who took the time to carefully read, analyze, and research all of the proposals. The fact that these busy individuals volunteered their precious free time to do this – and then to discuss and debate who should be selected and why – reveals the extent that they value citizen media as a tool to empower voices from under-represented communities. And so, a special thanks to:

Rezwan Islam – Rezwan has continuously gone beyond the call to draw attention to the latest developments from all of the Rising Voices grantees. He knows their projects and their bloggers more than just about anyone else. In addition to his role as Rising Voices’ feature editor, Rezwan is also the South Asia editor at Global Voices, the founder of Global Voices in Bangla, and frequently writes about online censorship issues at Global Voices Advocacy. He was one of Bangladesh's first bloggers with his always-interesting personal blog, The Third World View. You can learn more about Rezwan in a feature written by Solana Larsen.

Eduardo Ávila – Eduardo is the director of one of Rising Voices’ most successful grantee projects, Voces Bolivianas, or “Bolivian Voices“. He is also the Latin America Regional Editor on Global Voices. Eddie has been keeping his personal blog, Barrio Flores, since 2002. You can hear a podcast interview with Eduardo from last year on Rising Voices.

Romina Oliverio – Though not directly related to any of the Rising Voices grantee projects, Romina has been a vocal advocate and supporter of them all. In fact, if you read any post written by a Rising Voices blogger you'll likely also see an encouraging and inquiring comment from Romina. Born in Buenos Aires and raised in Canada, Romina is a contributing writer at We Magazine, the online community manager for Nabuur.com, and volunteer coordinator for Social Actions’ Change the Web competition. She also has a great personal blog.

Lova Rakotomalala – Lova is one of the four founders of Foko Madagascar, and he's recently been attracting the attention of the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and France24 for all the great citizen reporting they have been doing during the lead-up to Madagascar's recent coup. He maintains the excellent personal blog, The Malagasy Dwarf Hippo and writes frequently about Madagascar on Global Voices.

Joan Razafimaharo – Lova's colleague at Foko Madagascar is the fiercely dedicated Joan Razafimaharo. In fact, I have never met anyone as committed to a citizen media project as Joan. A trained architect, Joan spends her nights in Montreal on Skype teaching Malagasy friends, relatives, and strangers how to use citizen media tools to report on their lives and what is happening in Madagascar, all of which was key in bringing Madagascar's blogosphere to the mainstream this month. She frequently provides updates on the Foko project in French and English.

Ivan Sigal – Ivan joined Global Voices as Executive Director last July. He has deep knowledge and experience related to traditional media development, and also the role of citizen media in conflict zones around the world, which he explains in great detail at his personal blog, Burning Bridge.

These experts in citizen journalism from various regions and with diverse interests dedicated countless hours of their free time to find the most deserving projects. What we discovered is that “most deserving” is a subjective term. Though we each probably focused most on the projects related to the regions and topics we have experience in, we were also each more critical of those projects. Long email threads led to some general shared values that we looked for in applicants and proposed projects:

  • Local projects led by local leaders. All of the reviewers agreed on the importance of local community members leading the projects they propose. Not only have local leaders earned the trust of their community, but they will also likely stick around over the long-term. This isn't to say that we ruled out proposals from so-called “outsiders”, but we did consider it a disadvantage.
  • Proven experience in citizen media. Many of the proposals lacked any links to blogs, podcasts, or video created by the applicant. In order to teach these tools and techniques to others we felt it was key for applicants to demonstrate their own knowledge and experience.
  • Partner organizations. Because $3,000 – 5,000 is a limited amount of support, we gave special consideration to project proposals that aimed to link with established partner organizations that offered to provide workshop space, computer access, and networks of potential participants.
  • A place to call home. It was Eduardo Ávila who wrote: “Having to rent internet cafes for workshops is a pain, and may not be the best model for sustainability. The ideal would be to count on an established computer center within the target community. I always point to the model of Convergentes (HiperBarrio) in the community of La Loma, Medellín. Their library with internet access is located in the middle of the neighborhood and the participants have a ‘drop-in’ center at their disposal. That certainly does not guarantee continued participation, but it allows facilitators and coordinators to see the participants on a more frequent basis, even outside of the blogging context. In the case of El Alto, we chose a centrally located internet cafe, but rarely saw the new bloggers outside of the workshops and lost that personal contact because of that.”
  • Where other funders aren't funding. There are some major donors and philanthropic funders who invest large amounts of money in particular regions and communities while ignoring others. At times we took this into consideration when deciding between a project that might likely find funding elsewhere and one that probably would not.

Those were several topics that we considered when deciding which five proposals would receive funding. Stil, I will be the first to admit that it was far from a perfect process. I would like to involve more people from this community in the decision-making. Ideally, I would like all of us to decide (perhaps by vote) which proposals get funded. On the other hand, we want to focus on capacity building and amplifying local voices rather than getting bogged down in debates over which project is most deserving.

In the future we will continue to innovate and consider new strategies to make the selection process as fair and transparent as possible. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or complaints, please feel free to share them with the list.

Warm regards,


[Newsletter] Are Bloggers Born or Made?

Dear All,

I frequently hear from coordinators of citizen media outreach projects who are disappointed by the fact that so many of their participants stop blogging two or three months after their first post. This is a common problem, but in my opinion, it is a problem of expectations rather than results.

Most of us have spent at least a few hours of our lives learning how to play the piano, guitar, or some other instrument. But only a select few have continued playing that instrument throughout our adult lives. In fact, most of us probably stopped playing just a couple months after our first lesson. This doesn't mean, however, that piano teachers should feel demoralized by their supposed “low success rate”. After all, we are only able to find the best musicians by teaching the fundamentals to as many people as possible. Imagine how many Mozarts, Fela Kutis, and Gil Gilbertos have passed silently through history because they were never given the opportunity to express their musical talent.

Blogging is much the same way. Just as everyone can press the keys of a piano, so too can we all start and maintain a blog. But that doesn't mean that everyone will keep at it. In my experience, only about 10% of the participants of the blogging workshops I have facilitated continue blogging six months later.

Important Tools for Important Times

The other 90% of workshop participants will write only occasionally, or not at all. But, significantly, most do still remember how to publish to a blog even months or years later. This is significant because during times of emergency they have the means to share information.

For example, many of the participants of workshops organized by Foko Madagascar stopped blogging for weeks after they first opened their blogs. But when a political crisis hit their country, which led to last week's coup, many of those same new bloggers realized the importance of being able to share local information to an international audience in real time. In fact, those same individuals became the go-to sources of information for everyone wanting to stay informed about Madagascar's political crisis. Lova Rakotomalala, one of Foko's four founders, has explained in detail how Madagascar's bloggers and Twitter users were able to influence international coverage of the crisis.

What This Means for Project Facilitators

Above all else, it is important to set realistic expectations and to feel satisfied if only a few of the workshop participants become passionate bloggers. Heather Ford, a well known South African blogger, recently gave a workshop in Durban, South Africa, which left her feeling frustrated. Heather suggests charging a small fee for workshops to ensure that participants really have a strong desire to learn and apply the skills. Those who lack the money could write a letter requesting a scholarship.

Some psychologists have even suggested that there are certain personality traits common to most bloggers. As a project coordinator you could specifically seek out individuals who share those personality traits.

In my experience, however, it is impossible to accurately predict who will keep blogging and who will not. Blogging, like playing a musical instrument or learning how to draw, is a worthy skill to learn as a simple means of expression. Besides, you never know who will be the next Ravi Shankar, Michaelangelo, or the next great blogger until (s)he has a chance to learn the skills and tools.

New Rising Voices Projects – Stay Tuned

Over the next few weeks we'll be getting to know each of the newest six Rising Voices grantee projects. For those of you who just can't wait, please check out Maryna Reshetnyak's feature on Public Fund Mental Health based in Almaty, Kazakhstan and an introductory video about Project Ceasefire Liberia. Also, keep your eyes on the Rising Voices website for updates from all 20 projects, links to relevant resources and grants, and new pictures and videos.

All the best,


More Funding Opportunities

Dear All,

We're just a couple days away from announcing our five newest grantees. In the meantime, despite the current sorry state of our global economy, lots of other funding opportunities are currently accepting proposals for projects that use citizen media and mobile phones to achieve effective social change.

  • UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge

    The Human Rights Center is sponsoring a challenge to encourage innovations for applying mobile technologies for human rights investigations and advocacy. Through a NetSquared Community vote, 10 finalists will be chosen. All 10 finalists will be invited to present their ideas at an international conference, “The Soul of the New Machine: Human Rights, Technology, and New Media,” at UC Berkeley, May 4 and 5, 2009. A panel of judges, selected by the Human Rights Center, will choose three winners, to be announced at the conference. Winners will receive cash awards of $15,000 (first place), $10,000 (second place), and $5,000 (third place) to implement their ideas.

  • New Media Women Entrepreneurs Grants

    The McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs program will give one-time funding of $10,000 to women who have the vision, skills and experience to launch a new venture. These can be solo ideas or team projects spearheaded by women. Deadline: March 31, 2009.

  • N2Y4 Mobile Challenge

    The N2Y4 Mobile Challenge is a call for Project submissions that engage the use of mobile technology for progressive social change. The Top Three Finalists will be selected by conference attendee vote, and announced May 27. A total of $50,000 in funding will be distributed among three Projects. First place $25,000, Second Place $15,000 and Third Place $10,000. All 14 Projects will receive a travel stipend to cover travel costs and accommodation. Deadline: April 3.

  • Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellows Program

    Each year, Pop!Tech selects 10-20 high potential change agents from around the world who are working on highly disruptive innovations in areas like healthcare, energy, development, climate, education, and civic engagement, among many others. Fellows work in both the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, have a minimum of 3-5 years experience, and are working in organizations that are well positioned for sustainable growth. Apply here.

  • The Art of Digital Community

    The Austria-based digital arts museum, Ars Electronica, is now accepting submissions for its annual “Prix Ars Electronica”. Among the various categories, the “Digital Communities” category will honor important achievements by digital communities well as innovative artistic approaches towards web-based communities. This category focuses attention on the wide-ranging social and artistic impact of the Internet. Last year Global Voices was a runner-up and our friends at “1 KG More“, an online project that asks young Chinese travelers to bring a kilogram of school supplies to rural villages, won the 10,000 EUR award.

Friday Followup Chat on Blogging Positively

Rising Voices and Global Voices are holding a live online chat for bloggers and activists on Friday March 6, 2009 (5 pm Nairobi time) on how to use blogging to improve awareness and information about HIV/AIDS.

Local Times: New York 09:00 | Buenos Aires 12:00 | London 14:00 | Johannesburg, Beirut 16:00 | Nairobi, Moscow 17:00 | New Delhi 19:30 | Hong Kong 22:00 | Tokyo 23:00

Chatroom: http://www.worknets.org/chat

I hope to see you all at the chat on Friday.