Sapna Shahani and Angana Jhaveri are literally ‘women with a dream’ as their names indicate. They have won the prestigious MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition of 2009 worth $107,000 to pursue their dream of offering an online presence for low-income women from across India on their unique digital platform WAVE.
The DML competition is an annual effort designed to find and to inspire the most novel uses of new media in support of learning. The Competition awarded $2 million to individuals, for-profit companies, universities, and community organizations for projects that employ games, mobile phone applications, virtual worlds, social networks, wikis, and video blogs to explore how digital technologies are changing the way that people learn and participate in daily life.
So when Sapna’s ambition of introducing technology to someone who hasn't held a camera and lacks opportunities for growth and empowerment, met with Angana’s passion for sharing the joy of creation; it went on to fly the Indian flag high at the Mac Arthur competition. They have turned out to be techies of a different kind, using the new media for the benefit of an underprivileged group of people.
Their joint venture, WAVE, or 'Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment' is now endeavoring in a first-of-its-kind project in providing a voice for women. This involves training 30 college age women from marginalized backgrounds - one from each state in India - to video blog about their perspectives on community issues. So once their site www.womanaloud.com is put up in January 2010, we can look forward to a new video up everyday from a different part of India highlighting a different story on that month's theme. They have been funded the entire amount that they requested - $107,000 - for the first year of this project, by the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC, to buy equipment, pay stipends to women participants and pay staff.
Angana is in Mumbai and Sapna in Goa at present but that didn’t prevent them talking to Techgoss on their life, work and dreams after Mac Arthur. Here is the conversation.
Techgoss (TG): Tell us about your background
Sapna Shahani (SS): I was raised in Bombay, India and moved to the US for media studies. I started out my career working at Berkeley Community Media as manager. After a couple years spent working in Bombay corporate production houses, creating non-fiction TV shows, managing VFX staff and editing, I was happy to return to my chosen field of community media in India, working with a pioneering organization called Video Volunteers. Presently, I am thrilled to be director of a project I conceptualized called 'Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment' which is supported by HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation. WAVE India is looking forward to an exciting year ahead as they launch India's first all-women network of videobloggers from every state in the country, expressing views on development, at a critical stage in India's modern history.
Angana Jhaveri (AJ): I moved from classical dance to theater studies with a PhD and then to film.
TG: how did you get into film making?
SS: Having grown up in Bombay in the early 90s, I noticed the impact that the onset of cable TV had on everyone's lives. Simultaneously, I was growing into a young adult who noticed how dispassionate middle class urbanites had become about the poor around them and decided I would try and go against that tide.
AJ: I found that I enjoyed directing in my theater course in the US and so the very first thing I did after completing my PhD was to take a video course. I loved it as it called all my interests, research, writing, design and rhythm.
TG: Are you technically trained to handle videography equipment? Tell us more about that please
SS: Yes, I was lucky to be trained on the job at the public access TV station that I worked at in Berkeley, California. We operated a camera lending library for the public to use, and taught workshops, so I had to use professional DVCAM cameras and frequently answer questions about their use, as well as about video editing software like Final Cut Pro.
AJ: Yes, I have done camera for some of my films on mini DV cameras and have worked as an editor both linear and non linear for 6 years in the US.
TG: Where did you hear about the Mc Arthur foundation, tell us about your interaction with them, so that we can have other people following in your footsteps next year
SS: A well known videoblogger in the US, Jay Dedman, who I knew because he had taught a workshop at Berkeley Community Media, where I worked, informed me about the Digital Media and Learning competition. At the same time, Angana and I wanted to work on a project together and had similar interests in using media to better people's lives. So we collaborated with an NGO that later withdrew from the project, and applied. I have had a great experience with both the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC staff when I was invited to Chicago this April to a winner's reception event hosted by them.
AJ: Sapna brought that to me for my help in writing the grant as we had been looking to do something together which involves community development.
TG: Have you worked abroad, if so in which field? Why did you come back to India?
SS: Yes, as mentioned above, I went to college in the US and then started out working at India-West newspaper for a year and then Berkeley Community Media for 6 years. I thoroughly enjoyed my work there but decided to move back to India because I instinctively felt that as one of the few Indians who has had the opportunity to work in community media in the US and since I believed very strongly in the public having access to voicing their issues through media, I might make a greater impact in India. Besides this, my parents lived in India and had no intention of moving abroad, so I wanted to be closer to them.
AJ: I have worked as a producer/director and editor for an international community for spiritual education in New York. Also, one of my recent editing jobs was with Deep Dish TV an activist community video organization. I have also worked for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker NGO, The Asia Society representing Asian culture in New York, and done films for various NGO in the US. Coming back to India happened due to personal family reasons, but I stayed to pursue subjects close to my heart in Indian Art and Traditions and social welfare.
TG: Now that you have won the awards, what are your plans? Will you be training the girls or do you have trainers in place?
SS: We will have a centralized two-week training workshop in Goa where we will complement other trainers to provide comprehensive training in video production, blogging and community development issues and advocacy, leadership skills, etc.
AJ: Sapna and I will have are hands full with the organising so we will rely on the expertise of well known women documentary filmmakers, but of course we will guide and support the girls as well with our experience through the training and through the program. Now I plan to focus part time as consultant and mentor to the WAVE project and continue to develop film projects part time on cultural traditions of India and Asia. I have two edits on at the moment, on the Mohini Attam Dance form and on the Holi festival of Manipur.
TG: Would these video blogs have detailed text as well for many Indians who cannot afford broadband?
SS: We will encourage the women in the program to write or blog online as much as possible but for the moment; we don't have an offline distribution method unless local press regularly covers the issues raised.
AJ: I think I will let you follow Sapna's answers from here. But do visit my website illuminefilms.com
TG: Which tech company are you tying up with for the Video recorders? Have they given any kind of special deal to such social causes?
SS: Very good question. I wanted to buy Indian video cameras but was not able to find any Indian manufacturers! After comparing prices of cheaper video camera models that have mic inputs (necessary for capturing decent audio), we have pretty much decided to get Canon's FS10 which costs around 20,000 Rs at Chroma.
TG: Do you have any volunteers from the IT, BPO and KPO industries? –
SS: Not at the moment but we are certainly looking for volunteers and hope your readers will email us!
TG: Anything else you would like to say that we have missed?
SS: Just that people should check out our website at www.womenaloud.org in January 2010, watch videos and provide feedback or get involved. Thanks!
Techgoss hopes the new media enthusiasts from among the techies have noticed the call for volunteers and this novel project will get all it due from volunteers with expertise. Sapna’s blog can be accessed at this link
(Photo is of Sapna Shahani standing behind Amy Goodman a renowned champion of community media in the USA. The photo was taken at a benefit speech organized for Berkeley Community Media)