December 13, 2007

On changing the world

At LeWeb3, basically everybody in the room thinks they can change the world (and most want to get filthy rich on the way). There’s a lot of emphasis on change and inspiration and dreams. But what impact are they really having?

After Hans Rosling’s talk, I felt moved. I wanted to continue to act, to make a difference in one of the “220 varieties” of countries he was referring to. But then, something started to bother me: as much as Gapminder brings alive otherwise very dry facts and statistics, the access to these graphs requires certain basic level of background/education to understand (as well as the means to see them).

I tracked Hans Rosling at the coffee break to ask him about the “lowest common denominator” of the people who use these graphs. His answer, tongue in cheek, was, “kids under 12 and Heads of State.” And added “This is because neither group wants to be told what to do. They want to explore themselves.”

Hans is a good conversationalist. People burst out laughing. Then somebody jumped in with a stat on the low ratio of CEOs with MBAs, and the high correlation of CEOs with MBAs that end up in jail. More laughs.

But Jonathan Mark, who was standing nearby, understood what I had in mind. Yes, the issues in so-called “third world” countries are important to raise. But by doing this on our own, with our own language and without giving others the chance to join the conversation (or create and preserve their own), we’re just imposing our own views on the subject. We’re not attempting to share (or listen to) the voices from those we’re trying to “help” in the first place.

Jonathan is trying to change this. He’s involved in projects in Africa that teach villagers, and especially women in these villages, to continue sharing their stories, their memories, their problems. The technology is simple, and most importantly, using a medium they’re familiar and feel comfortable with: voice. Radio is the solution.

Grass-roots radio stations are popping up everywhere. Women are communicating their issues, their hopes, their solutions, their dreams. And thanks to these projects, they’re preserving their stories, their memories.

Now that’s impressive.


gabemac said...

Johnathon is a great guy. An old media man who went grassroots through and through! Always a pleasure talking with him.

Goldie Katsu said...

And Jonathan Mark's approach is a great way to change the world. It is easy to impose our own culture and view in the name of improvement, the challenge is to provide improvement without forcing homogeneity.

Vivi said...

Thank you Gabe and Goldie for commenting back! A clarification - I believe that Hans Rosling's approach advocates everything but homogeneity. My main concern with it is that we're just having these conversation amongst ourselves, however innovative the visualization techniques.