Support Afrigadget’s grassroots reporting project

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It’s always so great when you can see how the little you can give can make a huge difference. This from the fabulous folks at AfriGadget, a new project called ‘The Grassroots Reporting Project‘ that aims to find, equip and train more AfriGadget reporters in the field throughout Africa.

As this is our pilot project, we want to start small and learn lessons before we expand to other parts of the continent. Our first group is made up of some youth from the Khayelitsha township outside of Cape Town. Local blogger Frerieke van Bree is acting as their blogging and multimedia mentor as they are taught how to find and tell stories about local inventors, innovators and local people doing ingenious things around Cape Town. Two of the individuals that will be taking part in the program are Lukhona Lufuta and Zintle Sithole. Both live in Khayelitsha Township near Cape Town.

We’re not trying hard enough… in fact, we’re not trying at all

So glad that David Sasaki had stirred the pot a bit with his recent post about the South African blogging community not being nearly diverse enough.

I know that it’s frustrating when you feel that you’re only trying to help, but I’ll put this out there: how much are we as a blogging community really trying to do to heal the divides and build a bit of diversity into the South African blogging community? Diversity, as we’ve learned all too well in South Africa, is not just the right thing to do to build a stronger nation, it’s the right thing to do because it improves the quality and uniqueness of the industry. And in a world where quality and uniqueness are so important to stand out from the global crowd, this is the *most* important thing that we as a blogger community can do to uplift a frankly tired and staid local industry into something that we can be proud of.

Again the question: what have we done?

Have we actively sought to invite a diverse range of people to blogging events like the 27 dinner?

Have we done anything to bring new bloggers into the field with any training or mentorship?

Have we sought out the opinions of bloggers from people outside our own circle?

Have we commented on and supported the posts of new bloggers?

I say this because I accept some of the blame myself. This is a community. A community where we take collective responsibility for moving the industry forward because it’s important for all of us. Bloggers tend to be huge individualists, and I think that’s why we’ve focused on being better bloggers, getting better contacts, extending our own individual networks. But I think the time is ripe now to give some time and energy to the collective.

Let’s try to be less defensive and more reflective. You might think that David was being overly harsh. But the really average thing to do here would be to keep things as they (averagely) are.

Let’s make some communal new year’s resolutions to try. Because, frankly, I don’t think we’re trying hard enough… in fact, we’re not trying at all.

What is the ‘open web’?

‘We are helping make the Internet a place…
where you and your neighbors build the world you want.
that generates not only economic value, but also civic and social value.
that is optimized for multiple languages and locales.
that is trustworthy and has minimal risk for users.’
(Mozilla Foundation site)

Two weeks ago, Mark Surman from the Mozilla Foundation wrote to friends asking how they would explain the ‘open web’ if they had ‘a few inches on CNN or BBC’. Two days ago, he summarised the responses, saying that mostly he ‘got blank stares, which may mean I asked the question the wrong way. Or that it’s too abstract. Or just that people are busy.’

I felt the same way when I asked participants of the last iSummit to build ‘checklists on openness’ that would explain for people outside the movement exactly what constituted an ‘open web’ in their field/community and what practical steps they could take to practice openness in their own work.

Initially, people thought it was a great idea. But when we got down to business, I, too, got a lot of blank stares – thinking, too, that I’d framed the task in the wrong way, or that it was just a bad idea.

But reading Mark’s question, I can’t help but thinking that this is *not* ‘too abstract’ and that the blank stares have a lot to do with the fact that we do too much talking about licenses and products but not enough explaining and talking about what the philosophy means to ordinary people. We have some great organisations like Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation and Wikipedia that individually represent a lot about what the open web is about, but the branding of these orgs has meant that we often equate them as the epitome of openness, when, in fact, openness is much more complex, and reliant on an entire ecosystem of organisations, communities and individuals.

I think that the fact that we aren’t coming closer to working out what the ‘open web’ means is a result of this complexity and this complexity is based more on the need for many communities to work together to build these understandings rather than the fact that it is too difficult to quantify.

Right now, the open web is about the ‘cool factor’ which, although an important part of any movement building, leads us to focus on very small parts of the open web (i.e. licenses, copyright) rather than making us focus on the whole (i.e. transparency, community, collaboration).

I love the phrase in the Mozilla Foundation’s opening lines: ‘where you and your neighbors build the world you want.’ because I think that the most critical thing about the open web is that the concept/definition/explanation should be localised according to different contexts. In the same way that Wikipedia has different communities (language communities in this case) deciding (and changing their decisions about) what World War II is about, an explanation of the open web should accommodate different local, dynamic understandings of the concept.

This doesn’t mean that we will never get to a point where we can give an explanation about the open web on CNN or the BBC. It only means that we need to move to this question in a way that says upfront that, although we can have a global brand for the open web, that these explanations will always be local and dynamic, and should always invite people to question the current conceptualisation of the open web, rather than to just accept it.

Having said all that, if I had an inch on CNN or BBC to talk about the ‘open web’, this is what I would say (based on the mapping that I’ve started here):

‘Think of a place where you and your neighbors decide what the rules are and that the only rule is that there has to be a really good reason to keep people out;
Where you’re greeted with a big welcome mat that says ‘Please come in and play’ rather than ‘Keep out until you’re invited';
Where you can prove yourself by doing and making things and showing them to the world, rather than waiting in a line to be chosen;
Where you can talk and build with people around the world who see your difference as an asset rather than a liability;
Where the default is to share, rather than to keep hold to yourself;
And where what you read, hear and see is always an invitation to participate and create, rather than a one-way broadcast.

Around the world, people are building a new place on the web that engenders the principles of transparency, openness, sharing, collaboration and participation. The open web is a conversation about how the world can be better, and how ordinary citizens can help build it as an example for others to follow.’

Help please

I know that there are probably a lot of requests for help going around, but I received a message from IkamvaYouth based in Khayelitsha that , as a result of the xenophobic violence, they have between 400 and 900 people in their hall and they don’t have enough food to feed them. Says Susan Godlonton, ‘There are 20 infants, 3 pregnant women (one in severe pain), and people are beginning to get sick. They are all sleeping on the concrete floor, and we are struggling to ensure that everyone gets fed. Although TAC and other organisations are doing an INCREDIBLE job at coordinating civil society’s response to the crisis, and ensuring that donations reach those in need across the country, more help is needed.’

You can email me if you’d like to help or ‘To find out what’s most needed at the time of your donation, please contact Bongani on 0726483278, or IkamvaYouth on 021-3626799. Their bank details are:

Bank: Standard Bank
Branch: Cape Town
Name of the account: Ikamva Lisezandleni Zethu
Account Number: 070188009
Swift Code: SBZAZAJJ’

Pic: Volunteers from the TAC’s helpnow website