The Power of Stories

Our Better World makes use of digital storytelling to generate greater awareness and inspire action for causes that make a positive difference to the lives of communities in Asia.

BY SOL E SOLOMON
 

E

mpowering women in rural Indonesia, freeing sex slaves in Kolkata, and even saving sharks in Lombok. All these causes were able to reach a wider audience through the digital media magic from Our Better World (OBW), Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) digital storytelling initiative.

OBW tells stories of people doing good in Asia and is an extension of SIF’s work in connecting world communities to enrich lives and effect positive change. OBW connects those who need help, such as non-profit organisations and social enterprises, with online audiences who can help through the power of stories and digital media. Its hope is to inspire the global community to take action for good causes.

OBW’s work, which focuses on Asia, is a marked change from the stories that were previously available, says Rebecca Lim who heads the team. In 2012, when OBW was being set up, it conducted extensive research and found a lack of original stories from Asia told in an authentic and uplifting manner. It quickly got to work building up such content on its platform.

“It is really exciting to be in the epicentre, matching different opportunities with different needs. The real magic happens when lives are improved. The ripple effect is far-reaching.”


Rebecca Lim, Head, Our Better World, Singapore International Foundation

Each of the stories featured are assessed on three criteria: it has to be a compelling human-interest story; the cause featured needs and is ready to receive help; there is an existing way for an online audience to contribute to the featured initiative.

The results have been encouraging. Says Lim: “The stories we have told have generated more awareness, volunteers and funding as well as built new connections and partnerships for their subjects. In a recent survey of our community, 65 per cent shared that after reading or watching OBW stories, they took action in support of the various causes.”

POSITIVE IMPACT

In Indonesia, OBW has given greater voice to the work of The Dorsal Effect, a social enterprise which runs an eco-tourism business to help Lombok’s fishermen find an alternative source of livelihood to hunting endangered or vulnerable marine species, like sharks and manta rays.

Its founder, Singaporean Kathy Xu, has credited the OBW video, which garnered more than 1 million views, for drawing attention to the issue of shark hunting and the importance of marine conservation in Lombok. She says: “The laws against the landing (amount of fish brought to shore by fishermen) of manta rays are very strict now and the prices of sharks have definitely gone down. The Indonesian government has also stopped allowing the external buying of manta rays from Indonesia.”

Visit www.ourbetterworld.org/story/sharks-sake-take-vacation to find out more about the dorsal effect and how you can support its work.

The awareness generated through the video also led to more sales of eco-holiday packages, providing local fishermen with an alternative livelihood, says Xu, noting that there have been even more enquiries to either volunteer or work for the organisation.

Another social enterprise that has leveraged the OBW platform to further its cause is the Nusantara Development Initiatives (NDI). Co-founded by Singaporean Fairoz Ahmad, NDI empowers rural Indonesian women to become entrepreneurs, allowing them to earn additional income for their families, gain respect from the community and develop greater confidence.

In 2013, OBW produced a video story on NDI’s work and impact. It has been extremely helpful in explaining what NDI does to potential stakeholders and in adding credibility to the organisation, which at that time had just established offices in Indonesia, says Fairoz.

Then, NDI had only 21 Indonesian women selling its lamps in three rural communities in Indonesia. Now, it has a network of 110 women who have cumulatively distributed nearly 7,000 solar lamps in 40 communities.

Visit www.ourbetterworld.org/story/mothers-light-indonesia to find out how you can support the Nusantara Development Initiatives.

For Fairoz, what was even more priceless was the reactions of the women who had benefitted from NDI’s programmes when they were shown the video.

He says: “Seeing the expressions on their faces was one of those moments that will stick with me for a long time. The idea that they would one day see themselves in a ‘movie’ was just too outrageous for them to conceive of. They were really proud, and I think this motivated them to continue doing a good job.”

Touch Nature Kolkata, a social enterprise which offers refuge, work and dignity to women tricked or forced into sex slavery in Nepal and India, is another initiative that has benefitted from the OBW spotlight. OBW produced a video in 2015 about a woman tricked into the sex trade, and how the social enterprise changed her life and those of others by teaching them how to make handmade soaps, candles and other body care products, which are then sold online.

The video, which has since garnered close to 250,000 views online, has helped Touch Nature Kolkata reach a global audience.

Touch Nature’s video had won third place for OBW’s good story of the year 2015.

One Taiwanese online magazine even translated the video to Mandarin, which led to sale orders from China and Taiwan. It has also seen orders from as far as the United States and the United Kingdom. The size of its staff, made up entirely of women who were formerly victims of trafficking, has also grown from five a year ago to 13 today.

Touch Nature Kolkata’s founder Josephine Tan, who is Singaporean, says she has received offers of donations, and been contacted by people asking to buy their products and short-term visitors wanting to find out more about Touch Nature’s work after watching the video.

In 2015, Touch Nature Kolkata won S$5,000 when it came in third in an online voting campaign in which the online community was asked to vote for their favourite OBW video story that year. The people or organisations featured in the top three winning videos were awarded prize money, which they could use to further their respective causes. Tan put the money to work, using it to expand the organisation’s facilities in Kolkata so as to take in more women.

BUILDING ON SUCCESSES

The success of OBW’s outreach, says Lim, would not have been possible without the contributions of its network of content producers and a very responsive audience.

She adds: “It is really exciting to be in the epicentre, matching different opportunities with different needs. The real magic happens when lives are improved. The ripple effect is far-reaching. This is what motivates me and my team to scale and grow the impact of Our Better World.”

Her vision is for OBW, which currently has over 275,000 followers in its online community, to grow into a global community of 1 million, sharing, producing, distributing and acting upon story ideas, resulting in collective actions that impact lives in a tangible manner.

While encouraged by the responses to their first videos, the three organisations hope the momentum will be sustained. Xu hopes OBW will share followup stories to show the progress of the organisations featured. That way, interest can be stoked regularly and the organisations will enjoy more visibility and greater credibility.

“Follow-up videos will be even more powerful because they can leverage on the strong following the original videos already have. People will also be assured that the organisations and their work are more than just one-off ideas,’’ she adds.


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