In 2007 Rising Voices, an outreach initiative of Global Voices aimed at bringing under-represented voices from the developing world to the social web, got its feet on the ground thanks to the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It was a year of building community, forging partnerships, and defining the needs of groups teaching citizen media tools and techniques in the developing world.

2008: Successes and Challenges

By the beginning of 2008 we already had 10 grantee projects based in communities that previously had little or no representation on the social web. In Dhaka, Bangladesh a group of ambitious young women integrated blogging into their courses at the Nari Jibon skills learning center. Library users in the Colombian village of San Javier La Loma rewrote and remixed their community’s violent history by creating new media that focused on local culture and local personalities. Their project also helped heal the community; not to mention, build a home for one of their neediest neighbors. The Voces Bolivianas project immediately captured the interest of several mainstream media outlets and successfully launched the world’s first Aymara-language blog. Similar projects took off in India, Madagascar, and Iran.

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Participants of HiperBarrio in San Javier La Loma, Colombia presenting their YouTube videos to members of their community at the local church.

It is also important to recognize, however, that not every project Rising Voices funded reached such a high metric of success. The Think Build Change Sierra Leone project never really got off the ground due to the obstacles explained in detail by project leader Vickie Remoe-Doherty. Similarly, the development of Prison Diaries, which aims to teach new media production skills to prisoners living in Kingston, Jamaica, has been hampered by the frequently changing regulations of prison authorities there. But even just the attempts to carry out these projects have provided valuable lessons and frameworks for others wanting to implement similar projects elsewhere.

Scaling Up

2008 was a year of scaling up and thinking strategically about how Rising Voices can best facilitate a culture of global civic participation by bringing together NGO’s, citizen media experts, governmental and educational institutions, and philanthropic foundations. At the beginning of the year we released “An Introductory Guide to Global Citizen Media“, which explains how citizen media tools are being adopted in the developing world and provides case studies of groups using new media to meet the information needs of their local communities. The guide has been translated into Spanish, Bengali, and French, and implemented by institutions from Nepal to Brazil.

As the number of Rising Voices citizen media outreach projects grew from ten to 16 (and soon to 22), a much larger international community of participatory media enthusiasts also expanded on our mailing list. The Rising Voices mailing list now has over 650 subscribers representing NGO’s, citizen media groups, and media activists. It has become the leading international forum to discuss issues related to citizen media training and outreach in the developing world.

In June Open Society Institute’s Health Media Initiative sponsored a special round of Rising Voices microgrants specifically targeting public health NGO’s in Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union. Grantee projects include Orizonturi Foundation’sBlogging the Dream“ initiative, which has fostered a blogging community for mental health service users in Campulung Moldovenesc, Romania; AIDS Rights Congo, a project of the AZUR Development organization in Brazzaville, Congo; and the Ukraine-based Drop-In Center, which is using citizen media to help readers understand the daily realities of harm reduction and how the center supports Kiev’s injection drug using community.

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Members of Orizonturi Foundation’s Blogging the Dream club in Romania.

The partnership with Open Society Institute exemplifies how Rising Voices hopes to serve as a resource network for funders, NGO’s, journalists and bloggers interested in using new media technologies to empower communities that have long been ignored by traditional media. Their support also enabled us to expand our staff. Rezwan, our features editor, was joined this year by Juhie Bhatia, our English-language Health Editor and Maryna Reshetnyak, our Russian-Language Health Editor. Their posts and translations not only keep us up to date on the latest developments from our health-focused grantee projects, but also serve as instructive guides for other health-related NGO’s who wish to employ citizen media to empower the voices of the communities they serve.

The constant support of the Global Voices community of editors, authors, and translators has ensured that the content produced by bloggers from Rising Voices projects is made visible to internet users and journalists around the world, and in multiple languages.

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Collins Oduoduor from REPACTED, Cristina Quisbert from Voces Bolivianas, Catalina Restrepo from Hiperbarrio, and Lova Rakotomalala from Foko Madagascar speaking at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Budapest, Hungary.

The hard work of everyone involved in making Rising Voices all it has become was recognized in November when Rising Voices was selected among 8,500 nominations as one of the world’s best blogs in Deutche Welle’s annual “Best of the Blogs“ (B.O.B.) contest (long regarded as the most-respected international blog award competition).

What Lies Ahead

2009 is a year of uncertainty for everyone involved in the non-profit sector. Still, Rising Voices plans on forging ahead with the infrastructure, momentum, and lessons learned from 2008. We are currently accepting proposals for innovative citizen media outreach projects based in the developing world and will announce the five newest grantee projects sometime in February. We are also in the process of hiring a temporary Outreach Curriculum Editor who will survey, curate, and evaluate the best tutorials and training manuals related to producing citizen media so that any individual or organization with a desire to train participants how to use citizen media can effectively do so.

Over the past 18 months Rising Voices has received over 300 proposals from groups around the world wanting to use citizen media to amplify the voices of communities that have long been ignored by traditional media. We are also aware that Rising Voices grantee projects are not the only initiatives doing such work. In fact, we have identified dozens of citizen media training initiatives throughout the developing world; many of them driven by local resources and initiatives, but without access to training materials, technical support, or the means to expand their readership to global audiences through networks like Global Voices. This year Rising Voices aims to facilitate this process by becoming a resource and knowledge network to more effectively encourage regional and international partnerships between NGO’s, new media experts, educational institutions, traditional media, tools developers, and tutorial producers. We are carefully studying communities like IdeaBlob, WordPress’ support forum, and Knight Pulse as models of project-based online networks that accelerate meaningful and sustained project development.

Rising Voices began as an initial global community of interest around citizen media, and transformed into an expansive and expanding network in 2008. Citizen media including blogs, podcasts, and online video have proven that they are here to stay and organizations and institutions around the world are scrambling for the skills and experience to become an active part of this new media ecology. In 2009 we aim to help facilitate and accelerate the process to ensure that the democratic and interactive design of the internet benefits those who have long been ignored and have the most to gain.