Jenara Nerenberg

A CNN for the Base of the Pyramid?

CNNI have always been fascinated by citizen journalism and the power of media when put in the hands of the people. On this topic, I came across Channel 19 recently, a venue for the base of the pyramid in India to film and screen their own news stories, or in Jessica Mayberry’s words, to create a “CNN for the base of the pyramid.”

A huge applause is due to Jessica, the founder of Channel 19 and an Echoing Green Fellow, for taking initiative and starting the organization. Channel 19 consists of Community Video Units (CVUs) across India where individuals are trained in how to produce short news stories that reflect the issues that matter to them; the spots are then screened in their local communities. I am looking forward to seeing where Jessica takes this.?Additional initiatives such as the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s Global Voices and Rising Voices aim to expand and fortify an international online presence of marginalized voices through video, blogging, and other participatory media. NextBillion allies Ethan Zuckerman and David Sasaki help run the Voices projects and are strong advocates for citizen-empowered participatory media.

While having a “voice” is inherently valuable, how can we enable such media programs to lead to development and income-generating opportunities for the BOP and attract corporations to invest in BOP markets at the same time?

In my own research on new media applications for the base of the pyramid, especially regarding the use of new media to market to the base of the pyramid, I found Asia to be an especially ripe and receptive market. According to the Next 4 Billion, the largest market for ICT at the base of the pyramid is in Asia, at $14.3 billion. According to a 2008 article from Thailand, spending on traditional advertising there has dropped by 8-10%, but spending on mobile marketing is expected to increase by 50% in the next year. According to a 2007 CNET article, 63% of new cell phone users in China come from rural areas.? Also in China, 200,000 people open up cell phone accounts every day and there are over 500 million cell phone users in the country. That number is expected to grow to 784 million users by 2011 and 239 million people are expected to access the internet by cell phone by 2011.

More than just advertising, though, the rise of mobile phones and the ability to transmit video on phones is an opportunity for a two-way conversation to happen. Though not yet on phones, Channel 19 is moving in the right direction by enlisting BOP individuals to produce their own videos and I would suggest that the ideas driving Mayberry’s project also be taken mobile and be taken to corporations, so as to open up more doors and opportunities for engagement outside of local communities. In India, where Channel 19 started, the Community Producers choose issues relevant to their communities and share stories in their own voices. While these videos may not yet be in use by corporate marketers, there is limitless potential to turn this footage into consumer ethnographic research. If corporate marketers took the time to truly engage BOP consumers, they could also text back and forth with the Community Producers and get to know their daily lifestyles and habits through more interactive questions and answers, on video.

So is all this talk of turning BOP-produced footage into marketing research material only in the interest of large corporations, you ask? The answer is a definitive no. What better way to serve the base of the pyramid than to get to know and understand their lifestyles and therefore create products and services that better meet their needs? By putting the control of information in the hands of BOP producers and allowing for deeper engagement between the corporation and the individual, and offering employment opportunities to the BOP all along the way, an information and socio-economic gap is breached. And the provision of products and services does not have to be at the consumer level only; a small business owner in the mountains of Nepal or Peru could benefit from a BOP-tailored, affordable product which will help her run her business better and more efficiently, therefore encouraging innovation, success, and triumph for micro-enterprises, the very bedrock of development. My own company, BOP Source, seeks to bridge the socio-economic and information gap through an online social network that connects the BOP with the companies that want to hire them and design products and services for them. By partnering with telecenters, BOP Source will begin enrolling the BOP from rural and hard-to-reach areas in the coming months. Take a minute to join and spread the word to your colleagues and don’t forget to leave a comment to let me know what you think.

A version of this post also appeared on the author’s blog, BOP Source.