Recently, this call for action by Infodev was shared with me and I was pleased to notice that they’ve referenced one of my former projects - the Finnish BoP project funded by TEKES and conducted by Aalto University. Now that was a challenging one to wrestle down into some kind of viable action plan but that’s a topic for another post. Here, I was reminded of the lens through which we finally decided to observe and understand the BoP consumer’s mindset for the Mass Communication section of the four continent study.
I remember struggling through this vast topic in a series of brainstorming sessions with our Project Manager, Arno Kourula (who was to travel with me to our first location in Kanpur, India). Which aspect of mass communications would be the most valuable to look at more closely? Since our first location was India, we finally decided that (in 2009) the greatest value would be to look at the impact or influence of the advent of global mass comm that had flooded the Indian market in the previous 20 years rather than simply looking at what was, out of context of history.
How had perceptions and mindsets changed due to the proliferation of information and easy access, particularly among the lower income demographic?
One voice I still recall very clearly, though its been two years since we traveled and talked. Chotu is a paanwallah – he runs an open air kiosk at the corner of a busy neighbourhood market in urban Delhi and is family man with three sons in a private English language school. He himself has not completed his 10th standard nor did he ever study in English. I’d asked him what was the biggest change, in his opinion, for the aam admi (a euphemism in India that usually covers the majority of the BoP and politer to use in context than gharib or ‘the poor’) and his answer has stayed with me.
It was an empowering sense of having a voice that could now be heard.
Recall if you will that in India, as in much of the unevenly developed world, there is a vast disparity in income and lifestyle exacerbated by historic hierarchies. The common man tended not to get heard, if seen at all and certainly not when some injustice like a roadside hit and run took place and the perpetrator could drop names or spread wealth in order to escape.
Chotu said that now all this had changed. There were numerous TV channels blaring news 24 hours a day and they were ready to show up and shine the spotlight if a call was placed (with a mobile phone). They were there when major accidents took place and counting the dead – gone were the days that the Government could get away with miscounts (due to the cash renumerations paid out to victims or the families) and everything could be brought out in the open rather than being hushed up.
Cable TV and the mobile phone had offered a way to empowerment. Had in fact given a voice to the voiceless. This was the biggest impact, in his opinion, of the changes that had taken place regarding the flow of information in the past couple of decades.