Recording radio programme Lin Lat Kyair Sin (Bright Young Stars) in a Rangoon park, Burma.
A professor of mine used to say that storytelling is like
getting a child to eat something they don’t like, such as spinach. In order to
get an audience to learn something, you must cook the most delicious dishes. This
is how good journalists make us care about places we’ve never been to and
people we’ve never met. The analogy is never truer than with BBC Media Action’s
work where the ‘spinach’ we serve up is measured to see if we’re reaching our
donor’s often ambitious and difficult goals.
Our recent creativity and innovation workshop Ignite Asia
was all about sharing the tastiest recipes from BBC Media Action teams in India,
Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Deep Gauchan from our Phnom Penh office in Cambodia told us
one of his simplest recipes. “It is to put an ordinary person into
extraordinary circumstances.” He said. “Or, to take someone extraordinary and
put them somewhere ordinary.” Along the way, he argued, your audience is taken
out of their own experience and problems to learn something new.
We also had a fantastic line-up of guest speakers to inspire
us. The Times of India blew us away with their campaign films: A Day in the Life of India,
India vs. India to ILead India. When asked how
they nurture such creativity in an organisation with 175 years of heritage and
tradition, their answer was “You must be willing to fail. You must reward
people for trying and only punish people if they don’t try.”
Abhijit Chauhuri and Arindam Mitra from QED Films are certainly trying. By
subverting convention and searching for a unique tone of voice, they told us,
you can find drama, suspense, a beginning, middle and end and along the way
surprises, twists, the delight of new settings, new journeys and universal
Bollywood song-writer, journalist and radio host Neelesh Misra also came to share
his tips. He described the difference between sharing experiences and sharing
information. “Be as visual as possible,” he explained. “Take me on a journey.”
In other words, people learn not from being told
something, but by being shown it, by
emotionally connecting to an experience, a character or a moment.
From idea to reality?
It was then the turn of my colleague Yan Htaik Seng and I to flex our
collective creative muscles and build on what we’d learned. Our challenge was
to come up with a way to promote economic development in Burma. (I told you our
goals were ambitious.)
And after a lot of brainstorming, what took shape was a
reality TV show called Myanma Bandai (Myanmar’s Goal), .
Our idea was that it could be a nationwide competition to find
three young wannabe teams of entrepreneurs from Burma’s countryside and help
them bring their product to market. Each episode would begin with a team challenge
that would teach audiences about new business regulations, how to write
business plans and most importantly inspire confidence.
Tasty new recipe
Just as I was getting excited about how rural audiences would
vote for their favourite team, Yan interrupted. He said couldn’t visualise it.
He said he’d only ever seen reality shows in the form of singing competitions. “Big
Brother? The Apprentice?
The Amazing Race?” I
asked. He shook his head.
It reminded me of something Yvonne McPherson, who heads up
BBC Media Action’s New York office, said in her discussion about how innovation
“If you had asked people what they wanted,” said Henry
Ford on the invention of the car, “they would have said faster horses." Our
audiences are at the heart of everything we do, so research to understand them and
to test our product works is vital and is always part of our work. But, this
has to work alongside truly innovative thinking.
After an initiation into the ‘reality TV’ format, Yan agreed
that this show might work in Burma.
We are currently pitching it to donors and after much
sharing of experiences, ideas and lessons from each of our respective
countries, my colleagues and I have returned with some tasty new recipes.