Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Multimedia Look Into Darfur

Returning to my journalistic roots, I'm impressed by some of the multimedia I've recently stumbled across that examine the atrocities in Darfur. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has an in-depth display of interactive journalism that really educates people in a more stimulating manner than just reading a news article or watching a two-minute news segment on television (not that these basic journalism methods aren't important).

Released in August 2008, Failing Darfur burrows deep into the five-year conflict with eye-capturing timelines, videos, photo essays and maps along with informative Q&A's and HRW Reports that have chronicled Darfur throughout the years. One of its more compelling displays is "Smallest Witnesses" which looks at the damage caused through the eyes of children in Darfur. In 2005 HRW investigators gave children paper and crayons to keep them entertained only to find that the drawings they created reflected the unwavering violence and destruction they had experienced.
The first child Human Rights Watch encountered, an eight-year-old named Mohammed, had never held a crayon or pencil before. So Mohammed gave the paper to his brothers. They drew—without any instruction—pictures of Janjaweed on horseback and camel shooting civilians, Antonovs dropping bombs on civilians and houses, an army tank firing on fleeing villagers.
In addition to Darfur, HRW has some other compelling displays that look at the dire situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Georgia.

The value behind this type of multimedia is that it is a powerful education tool as it is a one-stop shop of visual and engaging information. I wonder if classrooms, whether at the high school or collegiate level, use sources like this when examining foreign affairs, conflicts and genocides. Are these valuable tools able to reach a broad audience or are they staying within a more niche audience of human rights activists?

Another interesting attempt to educate people about Darfur is a viral video game that launched in 2006 and is aimed towards a younger audience. Darfur is Dying was the winning submission from a group of students from the University of Southern California who entered the Darfur Digital Activism Contest sponsored by mtvU, the Reebok Human Rights Foundation and the International Crisis Group.

I actually ran across this game in the spring of 2008 when I began research for my story on Google Earth's Crisis in Darfur map and unfortunately, I'm just getting around to discussing it nearly a year later.

The game is meant to put you in the shoes of the 2.5 million displaced Darfuris who must fend for their lives in refugee camps. In my attempts to play, my body tensed as I became a young Darfuri girl who must fetch water outside of the camp where the threat of being raped and/or murdered follows her day in and day out. While this is just a game, I found myself thinking that if I'm feeling the stress of this virtual life after 15 minutes of playing, I can't even begin to imagine the fear and anxiety those in Darfur have been living with for over five years now. This is the whole point of the game--to make people more socially conscious. It is a great way to really get people to pay attention and empathize and hopefully, take action. Again, the question is how much outreach was the game able to get?

With all of these great ways to spread information and bring awareness, the more pressing issue is how do we make people aware of these tools?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Some Optimism For Today's Economy

The endless stream of depressing news stories about the down economy is unnerving for everyone but I'm hoping to maybe spread a little inkling of hope to the nonprofit world. According to Fortune, corporate responsibility is managing to survive the financial crisis--which might not be enough to ease the anger of Americans after hearing about the excessive perks Wall Street executives have received despite the $700 billion dollar bailout--but perhaps it's a very small start.

Fortune reports:

As recession-battered companies struggle to cut costs, money spent on microfinance projects in India or using more expensive environmentally-correct packaging might seem like obvious ways to save.

But a surprising number of companies see corporate responsibility as all the more important given the financial crunch, even as they reduce spending elsewhere in their businesses. Indeed, proponents of CSR like General Electric, Intel, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) are sustaining or expanding their commitments, at least for now.

"Corporate responsibility is a nearly recession-proof commitment because it's become so mainstream," says Bennett Freeman, senior vice president for social research and policy at the Calvert Group, a leader in socially responsible investments, with about $13 billion under management. "That said, the resources to back the commitment are not recession-proof, and even the most committed are no doubt going to look for ways to cut costs."

To be sure, some companies are revaluating their efforts. Many will likely reduce their commitments to matching-grant programs for employee charitable giving, disaster relief funds, or business units focused on sustainable investments.

The encouraging news is that companies are starting to view corporate responsibility as a key component to their business, especially as consumers are losing faith in corporate leaders.

With that said, I thought I'd highlight a local effort at raising money. Virgin America Airlines is showing its support for Boston nonprofits through its What's Your Revolution? contest, which coincides with its new Boston service. Local Boston nonprofits are fighting for votes from everyday people for the chance to win $25,000 while Virgin America is also gifting $25,000 to Virgin Unite to support the participating organizations. The organizations are focused on youth education and the environment and the winner will be recognized at Virgin America's launch party in Boston on February 11, 2009.

Some of the nonprofits included are Jumpstart, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston and Cultural Survival. For a full listing click here. Voting ended on February 6, so I'm a little late (sorry!) but I figured it was still worth noting.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Picking Up Where I Left Off: SocialVibe Uses Google Earth

Shortly after my previous post about how online mapping can be a resourceful metric tool for nonprofits, I ran across this blog post from SocialVibe.

You might remember (I'm assuming for my own entertainment that I have an audience out there, however small that may be) I blogged about SocialVibe and its innovative approach to fundraising which links social networking, consumer brands and nonprofits together, waaay back in August.

charity: water, one of the nonprofits featured on the site was able to raise enough money through the thousands of SocialVibe members to build a well in Africa. The news isn't being shared just through the site's blog, but also through Google Earth.

The people over at SocialVibe have the right attitude as they note:
We're thrilled that we can not only make such a big difference in the lives of people half a world away, but that we can share it with you as well. Without you, this absolutely would not have been possible. THANK YOU for your support!
So, I just thought this was a relevant piece of news to pass along.