“You are entrepreneurial, educated and know so many people. Why don’t you get a well paid job to make you and your family live a good life?”
Tomek Kozakiewicz once asked Khom, a blind activist, with whom he founded Nepal’s first Internet cafe for the blind and the sighted (Pokhara).
A yearly stay in Nepal was the beginning of Tomek’s Indo-African journey to live among social changemakers who solve the problems of marginalized communities (graduating from kanthari institute in India – about which I wrote here more than once).
Social media for social change
This world I discovered a few months ago. So different from the one I knew before. I got hooked, intrigued. Curiocity woke up the need for action. That’s how “social media for social change” concept came into being – to use social media tools to help others? I believe that together with bloggers we do some social good very soon.
Tomek joined me on the “Travel around the blogs” trip to London and took me to a unique conference in Oxford, an event for “social changemakers”.
Now let me give the floor to Tomek
to tell you what a jar of marmalade has to do with changing the world and with Oxford.
But let us return for a moment to the Nepalese internet cafe and Khom.
Khom, the social change maker from Nepal
“You have no idea the difficulties faced by blind people in my country. I can not let them go through the same hardships that me and my friends had to go through.” – was Khom’s reply to the question of taking a well paid job.
Despite the fact that he is blind, Khom opened the first audiolibrary in Nepal and is one of the leaders in bringing opportunities offered by latest IT technology to the blind and visually impaired.
He devotes most of his talents and energies to solving social problems, especially: discrimination against people who are blind. He is a social entrepreneur with a real fire in the belly which he transforms into action to help others. He is a person I look up to, a person I am learning from and a person which I want to build something with.
Social change makers in Oxford
Last week, the Said Business School in Oxford, for the twelfth time hosted the largest conference on social entrepreneurship in the world – the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship.
More than 1,000 people who changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people exchanged ideas and experiences of introducing social change in their communities.
For many years, I watched videos of the above events and dreamed that someday I will be able to participate.
What is Marmalade?
Imagine my surprise when I got a FB message from a friend (thanks Felix!!!!) with an invitation to share my experiences and film material from several years of work with social start-ups from India, Nepal, Kenya and Uganda.
Felix Litzkov invited me to Marmolade for Social Change! A fringe event which accompanies the Skoll World Forum that he was organizing.
It’an alternative space where creators of social start-ups and representatives of emerging social change support networks get together in an easy-going atmosphere to share not only the successes, but especially the challenges they face.
Out of more than 60 events to choose from I was able to show my film materials which I gathered in Africa from the extraordinary social activists and graduates from the kanthari institute like Khom (documentary premiere scheduled for autumn).
I was most moved by the session on social innovation led by Jessica Cordingly from Lankelly Chase, which supports groundbreaking ways of mobilizing people affected by addictions and homelessness. During the session, Jess tore down our thinking about what “social” innovation is and is not; why is it so easy to confuse them with techy news, and why so rarely they are actually developed from the perspective of people whom they are to serve.
During the talks with representatives of emerging networks of support for change makers (Ashoka, Unltd, Make Sense) I realized how much the challenges that we face in different countries are actually very similar! Also how important it is to integrate social activists from different countries so that they can exchange experiences and support each other!
The energy of a Liberian change maker
The cherry on the cake was the arrival of a blind activist from Liberia, Sahr Yillia (YPPD Liberia), who, has finished the kanthari course in India already five years ago!
His energy and bold plans of a 20 acre organic farm which integrates youth with and without disability, evoked a positive aura.
Speaking to Sahr it was astonishingly shameful not to know anything about Liberia except for the news of the recent Ebola epidemic. Sahr showed an image of West Africa which we do not see. A region of passionate, enterprising young people, who care about the fate of their homelands.
My take-away from the Marmalade
My participation in Marmalade confirmed within me the belief that aid for developing countries must not bypass local social activists who come from the target group.
People who not only very well know what their communities need but often can more effectively break barriers of resistance and inspire others to work together!
This is also the message of our film about social activists from Africa, which will be released in Autumn (trailer, website FB.com/solidarityfilmdoc).
The blind dancer from Nepal
At the end let me go back to the tragic earthquake that struck a week ago Nepal, where I lived for one year.
Very rarely do we get to hear of local Nepalese initiatives which address the aftermath of that terrible disaster (same story was with Haiti for that matter).
However the people of Nepal are very keen to rebuild their country!
One of them is Sristi KC from Bhaktapur, a social change maker and blind dancer who established the Blind Rocks Foundation, which provides advanced life skills training to blind people to function independently in society and proves that the blinds are rocking (adventure sports, fashion, dance)!
Sristi with the Blind Rocks team and partner organization Sanjeevani Woman Development Academy in the district of Sindhupalchowk provides assistance to those most in need (many people with disabilities): food, blankets, hygiene products and water treatment.
Some words from Ilona
I met Sristi when I was in kanthari institite in India. The girl with incredible power to act. Her blindness it’s not a bareer to dance, use a computer, travel and change the world. This is why it’s important to support and help such a people.
And here we want to really thank LOT Polish Airlines for their support in flying in to the footsteps of Oxford, where for the few days it is “occupied” by social change makers worldwide mafia :)