How can you give a voice to those who are forced to stay silent? In an era when more people have access to smartphones than to clean sanitation, the answer could not be clearer: use video material from eyewitnesses which can be uploaded anonymously and securely. After all, the media in repressive regimes in particular often tend to distort the reality, while eyewitnesses risk being persecuted if they report on events locally.
This is where the Irrepressible Voices (IV) video platform comes in. “Empower people, raise awareness, create change!” is the basic proposition behind the portal. It aims to support citizen journalists and local people. IV was set up by Linda Walter and Isabel Gahren. Both have been involved with the issue of human rights for many years: Isabel was a documentary filmmaker with TV broadcaster arte for many years; Linda gained her doctorate in Internet and Human Rights, and has been actively involved with the human rights organization Amnesty International for many years.
IV works together closely with security experts to ensure its sources remain anonymous. The authenticity of the videos is checked by means of contextualization: each video can be confirmed, forwarded or even marked as inappropriate by other witnesses. The number of witnesses provides a sort of trend indicator for media. The stream frequency can be used to verify the place and time of the recording. Organizations such as Reporter ohne Grenzen (Reporters without Borders) are now supporting the project.
SAP’s Social Impact Start program is supporting Irrepressible Voices and other social startups. Over a period of up to eight months the entrepreneurs receive grants, access to regional offices, and mentoring through SAP employees. In 2013 alone, SAP incorporated 56 new grant recipients in the program and set up two new locations in Vienna and Zurich. For Stefanie, the mentor of the IV founders Linda and Isabel, collaboration with the two was a wholly positive experience: “While IV had already made a great deal of progress with developing the portal, they were looking for someone from outside to look at the project and discuss a few issues. The concept for the homepage and facilitating contacts were two major issues where I could help. Generally I’d simply describe myself as a contact for everything, though – irrespective of whether it was with the business plan or providing content to the media.”
The mentor benefited from the experience too, as she herself admits: “For IV, data privacy is an enormous issue. Before, I had no idea of the lengths you had to go in order to stay on the safe side. Generally, it was fantastic to watch how a startup developed and be able to actively support them. We are also going to keep in touch.”
We talked to Linda and Isabel, the founders of Irrepressible Voices:
How did you come up with the idea of setting up Irrepressible Voices?
Linda and Isabel: We got to know each other as part of the Internet & Society Collaboratory initiative on “Human Rights and Internet” in Berlin. There, we asked bloggers from around the world how the Internet can help enforce human rights. The feedback from the video answers was so overwhelming that we noticed there was a huge demand for publishing stories. Individual videos tend to get lost on platforms like YouTube though; as viewers we have very little influence on what the media does and doesn’t report. We wanted to create a platform on which you can specifically find this information. And give people locally the opportunity to be heard without putting themselves in danger. This security aspect is paramount for us. Of course, our personal motivation also plays a major role. We’ve both been looking at this issue for many years and want to give people a voice.
How did the collaboration with SAP come about and how did the Social Impact Start program manage to help you specifically?
Linda and Isabel: We found out about the program via a social startup (dotHIV) run by some friends. We then applied for the Social Impact Lab in Berlin and were selected. The opportunity to discuss problems with other startups is definitely an advantage. The networking within SAP has also helped us. In particular we had help with the web design and managed to make valuable contacts as well as scaling up the infrastructure. We of course gain credibility by having a company like SAP backing us. This reputation helps bolster our project.
Where are you now and what are your plans for the future?
Linda and Isabel: The first beta version of the site is online. The final version has been thought-out and planned, but has not been implemented or programmed. And there are numerous other aspects we are working on. Financing and the issue of the legal form are just two issues. Then we must of course secure financing so we can carry on devoting ourselves full-time to the project long term. And ultimately we aim to enlarge our community and get content onto the site: the more videos, the better. The next major milestone is getting as many media partners onboard as possible; by publishing the videos, they ultimately focus international attention on the issues faced by the local people.
Top Image: Irrepressible Voices