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.