Sunday, April 3, 2011

Let's Talk

On a recent Thursday morning, I opened my inbox to find that a fellow Spark team member had sent this video of novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk about the danger of the single story.

Wow, right? She shares so many powerful messages and personal stories, but two points she made really stuck out--the first when she said that “poverty was the single story” she knew about the family of the boy that worked in her childhood home and later when she said that if we “show a people as one thing, and only one thing, over and over, [that] is what they become”. Along with thinking back to the (embarrasing) instances when I was guilty of the single story mindset, I couldn’t help thinking about the MicroGrant communities.

All too often, the single picture we see of impoverished communities is grim, with little hope for a solution that does not come in the form of external aid, expertise and billions of dollars. In turn, we lack the understanding of their capability and potential to thrive when given some organizational support. Spark works with economically disadvantaged people who are still perceived to be incapable, which is simply not true. The MicroGrant communities are actively proving this mindset wrong by designing, proposing and implementing their own development projects. Yet, how do they now share their success stories in order to be a part of the development dialog? How do they show that poverty is not their single story?

Enter Spark Voice, a global citizen media platform for the communities to discuss their projects and how they are taking control of their own development. Unlike more traditional forms of media, citizen media is available to anyone, including the all-too-often unheard poor. Communities can then speak on an equal platform and at the same volume as the ‘experts’. We are still in the planning and implementing stages, but within the next few months we will begin working with the local facilitators to provide citizen media training, editorial review, and an online reporting platform for the communities to tell their project stories via written accounts, digital photos and videos.

The goal is to empower communities to persevere and become key active participants in the community development conversation and, as a result, increase the global community’s awareness of the capacity of people who experience poverty first-hand. Little by little, we hope that this will help shift the approach to development from an expert-driven to a community-driven focus.

Many incredible stories are coming from the MicroGrant communities that challenge the single story and offer a different and more realistic perspective--stories of the collaboration, empowerment and development of the poor, from the poor.

Stay tuned for more Spark Voice updates over the next few months. If you would like to help support this project, we have a FirstGiving page.

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