Every three seconds

Every three seconds, someone in the world dies from hunger or extreme poverty.

In a society where materialism reigns, what is the real secret to happiness? Award-winning filmmaker Daniel Karslake (For the Bible Tells Me So) tells the unforgettable stories of five regular folks – a boy, a college student, a thirty-something and two seniors – whose lives went from ordinary to extraordinary based on one simple decision: to engage. Each chose action over apathy, and in the process, each one has had a significant and lasting impact on two of the most challenging, yet solvable, issues of our time: hunger and extreme poverty.

About two years ago, Daniel reached out and invited me to take part in the making of his film. We sat for a morning in a London office and talked technology, social innovation and people who were making a difference in the world. One of those people, Josh Nesbit, is featured heavily in the film. Josh and I met back in 2008 during my time at Stanford University, and he’s gone on to help build Medic Mobile. It was an honour to sit with Daniel and share my thoughts on an ever-expanding field.

In addition to Josh, the film also features the work of Charlie Simpson, a seven-year old supporting UNICEF UK’s work in Haiti; Lisa Shannon, who’s advocating for women’s rights in Congo; Ingrid Munro whose work is providing a ladder out of poverty in Kenya; and Gloria Henderson who is focused on ending hunger in America. You can read more about their work, and how to engage, on the film website here.

You can see a short trailer of the film above, or visit the film website for further details and how to watch or order. There’s a further promotional video here:

Every Three Seconds is a film about doing well by doing good – about changing the world and changing your own life in the process.

Watch it.

Information into action: Africa and beyond

Two organisations I’ve had the pleasure of working with – Tactical Tech and Fahamu – have independently announced the release of a film and a book which cover different aspects of non-profit digital activism. Both are well worth a look.

Info-activism.org – a Tactical Tech initiative – explores how rights advocates “use information and digital technology to create positive change”. Actions are broken down into 10 tactics which, through the site, provide original and artful ways for rights advocates to capture attention and communicate a cause (see video, above). The website includes a 50-minute film documenting inspiring info-activism stories from around the world and a set of cards, with tools tips and advice to help people plan their own info-activism campaigns. Further details of the launch are available on the BBC News website.

Turning to more traditional media, Fahamu/Pambazuka have published a new book – SMS Uprising: Mobile Phone Activism in Africa – which provides “a unique insight into how activists and social change advocates are addressing Africa’s many challenges from within, and how they are using mobile telephone technologies to facilitate these changes”.

The book is essentially a collection of essays by people engaged in using mobile phone technologies for social change, and it provides an analysis of the socio-economic, political and media contexts faced by activists in Africa today. The essays address a broad range of issues including inequalities in access to technology based on gender, rural and urban usage, as well as offering practical examples of how activists are using mobile technology to organise and document their experiences. Contributors include friends Sokari Ekine (Blacklooks) – also the editor – Amanda Atwood (Kubatana.net), Juliana Rotich (Ushahidi), Christian Kreutz (Crisscrossed.net) and others.

Congratulations to everyone at Tactical Tech and Fahamu on their initiatives, both of which provide valuable contributions to a growing body of literature on digital activism. Thanks also for the invitations to contribute – an honour and a pleasure!

Poverty, pain and the politics game

As a keen cyclist for most of my life, I’ve always been shocked at how little many car drivers care or care to understand the challenges of two wheels in heavy or fast moving traffic. This lack of respect is not only frustrating – it can also be dangerous. In my younger days I thought I had the answer. Force all learner drivers to spend a month on a push bike before issuing them their licence. There’s no better way than learning by experiencing, after all.

As I’ve got older I realise that my bike riding solution may not have been the most practical, but the “learning by experiencing” point is as strong and relevant as ever, particularly in the world of international development. You can’t beat experience. Pretty-much everyone I respect and turn to for guidance – both spiritual and practical – has got their hands dirty in the field at some stage. I feel at times that a stint in the field should be compulsory. How else can you truly understand the problem?

War DanceOne of the down-sides to a discipline which doesn’t insist on “compulsory” fieldwork is the rise of a culture of politics. Losing sight of the bigger picture and becoming embroiled in competitive, overly critical behaviour can be a huge distraction and hugely destructive. Development suddenly becomes a battle of “a versus b” or “x versus y” and not about the alleviation of poverty and suffering that it should be. I steer well clear at every available opportunity, and draw on much of what I’ve seen and experienced over the past sixteen years to do so.

I also have my “War Dance” DVD. One of the toughest films I’ve ever seen, “War Dance” – based in the camps of Northern Uganda – puts everything into perspective. For those of us who have seen this kind of suffering it’s a stark reminder – and a cry – to remain focused. Get a copy and watch it each time you need reminding why you’re doing what you doing. Politics has no place in a world like this.

It doesn’t have a place here, either. Whether you agree or disagree with the approach, this recent Medecins Sans Frontiers video drives home a message not a million miles away. It may be messy, it may be challenging, and it may be confrontational – but if this is the reality for everyone on the ground then we need to be having these conversations.

Be warned: It’s difficult to watch (well, listen to), as is “War Dance”. But it’s powerful, and it’s a reminder to all of us that we need to focus on what matters, where it matters. Poverty is not about politics, and should not be driven by it. It’s about people. Every single one of them.

Human rights, SMS and the power of film

Tonight sees the screening of The Reckoning” – a film about the battle for the International Criminal Court – at The Soul of The New Machine human rights conference in Berkeley, California. In this – the sixth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts – Paco de Onis, the films’ Director, talks about how they plan to use FrontlineSMS as a way of engaging their audience as the film is shown around the world

"The Reckoning"The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague represents the most ambitious attempt ever to apply the rule of law on a global scale to protect the most basic human rights. It emerged from and reflects a world where sovereign nations are increasingly interdependent and at risk. In order to increase awareness of the ICC and highlight the essential role that justice can play in moving societies from violent conflict to peace and stability, Skylight Pictures produced the feature-length documentary film The Reckoning.

To accompany the release of The Reckoning, Skylight Pictures and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) are co-producing IJCentral, designed to be the core of a global grassroots social network and resource for the international movement to bring perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide to justice. IJCentral will implement a multi-platform strategy with online mapping technology to visualize the movement, aggregating blogs, news feeds, short films and media modules created for education and advocacy.

One of the most exciting features of IJCentral will be FrontlineSMS two-way “listening posts” that will allow us to hear from concerned citizens around the world using their mobile phones to join the global conversation about justice, and respond to calls to action coming from the IJCentral social network. These “listening posts” will be deployed through the global network of our strategic partner the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), an umbrella organization of 2,500 NGOs and civil society groups that has been at the forefront of the international justice movement since 1995.

IJ Central

A high school class in Indianapolis will be able to have a real-time SMS exchange with an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Uganda, for example, or in a presentation to Congress the IJCentral map could light up with geolocated SMS messages calling for an effective international justice system. As it accumulates content from users engaged with international justice, IJCentral will become an invaluable database for defending human rights around the world, and a powerful action tool.

For more than 25 years Skylight Pictures has been committed to producing artistic, challenging and socially relevant independent documentary films on issues of human rights and the quest for justice. Through the use of film and digital technologies, we seek to engage, educate and increase understanding of human rights amongst the public at large and policy makers, contributing to informed decisions on issues of social change and the public good. We see FrontlineSMS as a hugely valuable tool in enabling us to open the debate further, and to include individuals and communities who may have otherwise been excluded.

The International Center for Transitional Justice assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse. The Center works in societies emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in established democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain unresolved.

Thank you. You can also follow our work on Twitter via @pacony and @IJCentral

Paco de Onis
Director, “The Reckoning”