Anita Roddick, Angkor Wat and ‘development pill’

Dame Anita Roddick would have been proud of her mastery of Khmer.

There she was on a large screen, speaking in fluent Khmer, watched by over a thousand Cambodians women, children and men.

Time: One evening in December 2005
Place: A village temple close to the historic city of Siem Reap, Cambodia

There we were, practically in the shadow of the massive Angkor Wat temple complex, and trying to reach out to rural Cambodians on practical ways to live more sustainable lives.

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The event was an evening of variety entertainment laced with some information and education. Colleagues at Action IEC, our Cambodian partner, knew exactly how to get this mix right. Amidst songs, drama, comedy and live competitions, they screened Hands On video films versioned into Khmer.

As the loudspeakers boomed and (Hands On host) Anita Roddick appeared on screen speaking in a strange tongue, I watched the audience closely. They were spell-bound: especially the children belied a sense of wonder.

But sustaining their attention is a big challenge. That evening’s 4-hr programme was the result of over a dozen Cambodian colleagues planning and working for days. It was part of the public outreach activity for Hands On films that we versioned into Khmer under a 4-country, Asian project called Localising Hands On in Asia.

The young and not-so-young in our audience that evening were there mainly for the fun and games. Rolling out Anita and Hands On was a clever ploy by Kosal, Cedric and other Cambodian colleagues. Call it ‘sugar-coating’ the development pill.

Oh yes, we also had the Khmer versioned programmes broadcast on Cambodia’s most popular TV channel (CTN). That engaged a different kind of audience. A passive broadcast can never really produce the kind of audience engagement we saw that evening.

In our efforts to engage Asia’s eyeballs and minds, we’ve made modest progress by proceeding parallely on broadcast and narrowcast fronts — but there is a great deal of unfinished business.

For details, visit Localising Hands On in Asia website

Added on 11 Sep 2007: Anita Roddick:We shall always remember you

Digits4Change: Do ICTs make a difference?

When it comes to bridging the Digital Divide, there’s so much hype, rhetoric and confusion. For many in the UN system, it’s just another development issue to be bandied about at endless meetings and conferences, and to be reflected upon from 30,000 feet above the ground where they find themselves most of the time.

Yet, at the ground level, individuals and communities are adapting various ICTs to meet their practical needs and solve real world problems. I sometimes feel that whatever bridging of the Digital Divide will happen in spite of, and not because of, the UN agencies and other development players debating issues to exhaustion.

In 2005-2006, we at TVE Asia Pacific documented some of these efforts in different parts of Asia. We looked at a variety of technologies solving a range of problems. This became Digits4Change.

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Here’s our series intrdocution:

There are more poor people in the Asia Pacific than in all other regions combined. At the same time, some Asian countries have achieved the most advanced economies in the world. Their prosperity is partly due to how they have developed or adopted information and communication technologies — or ICTs.

How can the developing countries of Asia use these digital tools to help generate wealth, create more jobs and improve living conditions of people? Governments, private sector, civil society and researchers have been trying out various approaches for years. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 – 2005 took stock of what has been accomplished, and what remains to be done.

TVE Asia Pacific – a regional leader in using audio-visual media to cover development issues – embarked on documenting examples where ICTs have made a change in people’s lives in the world’s largest region. We investigated stories on distance learning, business process outsourcing, tele-health and rural connectivity.

The result is a new video series: Digits4Change.

Watch Digits4Change stories on TVEAP’s channel on YouTube

Read my views on the newly launched UN Global Alliance on ICTs for Development , published on SciDev.Net