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Written by Maeve Spence
Nneka Edwards, a Canadian-born and Caribbean-bred poet and author, speaks to me over a Google Hangout from her home late one evening. The ‘dot’ she refers to is her island home of Trinidad and Tobago. Nneka (pronounced ‘Nuh-neeka’) tells me about her experience having now published 20 books through the BrightPath Foundation. “BrightPath has allowed me an independence of creativity which has not only empowered me, but also really brought out the best of the talent which resides within me.”
The BrightPath Foundation is a non-profit that designs and implements programs that empower individuals through the use of technology. The foundation spearheads a number of initiatives that include bringing technology-based education into the classroom, conducting mobile app development workshops, and publishing valuable digital content. The foundation serves to provide individuals who may otherwise be perceived as disadvantaged with skills to contribute both to their communities and to the national development of their countries. BrightPath’s work is built on the notion that individuals should be able to both create and access content that is relevant to their local needs, cultures, and contexts.
Nneka Edwards’ latest eBook ‘T&T in Poetry’ was published by the BrightPath Foundation
BrightPath published Volumes 1 and 4 of Nneka’s most recently released book T&T in Poetry, an interactive eBook that highlights the sights, sounds, and smells of her home—the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago—for a global audience. The book features the beauty of the islands through stunning photography, examples of the country’s unique local cuisine, nostalgic poems reflecting the country’s past, and profiles on the different ethnic groups represented on the two islands. The prolific storyteller and poet wrote the book to highlight the value and significance of stories from Trinidad and Tobago (a nation virtually undetectable on most maps) while also shedding light on subtle and little-known issues of ethnic division in the country.
A small group of volunteers helps local authors from around the world navigate the process of concept development to getting their original works published on international eBook platforms like Amazon and the iBookstore. I have the privilege of volunteering with the BrightPath Foundation in their digital publishing division to help authors like Nneka through the process of publication. BrightPath’s Executive Director, Bevil Wooding, is a strong proponent of the amplification of ‘local content’. Though local content as a term of art has come to have a number of meanings, for Wooding, its primary meaning refers to the capture of local ideas and stories from around the world. “Digital Publishing is one of the ways we can empower individuals to create and distribute content and BrightPath intends to continue giving authors and artists like Nneka an avenue through which their voices can be heard,” he says. By amplifying voices like Nneka’s, individuals the world over are able to learn about ideas and cultures they may never otherwise have encountered.
The Power of Local Ideas
Locally generated ideas have the ability to do more than encourage human interest. When properly amplified and supported, they have the ability to transform communities, sometimes on a national scale.
The mobile app economy is a multi-billion dollar industry and is growing daily. The power of the industry is that it provides the ability for virtually anyone, anywhere, to develop their own mobile application with very little start-up capital. Last year, BrightPath facilitated a mobile app development workshop on the Caribbean island of Dominica. While there is an increasingly vibrant mobile app industry in the country, very few apps actually address the needs of the average Dominican. The workshop worked to encourage over sixty young Dominicans in attendance to create apps that were locally relevant in an effort to create ‘an ecosystem of local apps for Dominica and the wider Caribbean’. Participants left the workshop having collectively developed three Dominican-relevant mobile apps, which went from initial concept development to launch on the Android market in just one week.
By harnessing the ability of Dominicans with first-hand knowledge of their societies, BrightPath helps to create a platform for local ideas to be amplified and to contribute to the digital growth of the nation. At the opening ceremonies of the workshop, Mr. Craig Nesty, the Executive Director of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission in Dominica, stated, “It is time for Dominica to become an active participant in the global mobile application economy.” The work of BrightPath is helping the country do just that.
BrightPath Founder Bevil Wooding (right) looks on as participants collaborate on a mobile app design during BrightPath’s Mobile App Workshop in Dominica.
Across the seas in Southeast Asia, technology is also being used to enable national transformation. The National Geographic Geotourism program, launched in a partnership between the USAID-funded VEGA/BIZ+ program and National Geographic’s Maps Division, is working to provide a platform for residents of Sri Lanka’s Eastern province to identify what makes their region unique and make that information available to the world. The rich natural beauty of the East is well known by its residents but remains relatively undiscovered by foreigners. The program seeks to amplify the tourism assets of the Eastern region through the use of online map guides, with content generated by local residents. If the region can attract more tourists throughout the year, the country’s tourism industry as a whole will grow, benefiting all of Sri Lankan society.
A Champion for Indigenous Voices in the Age of Mass Media
In July 2009, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presented a TED Talk on The Danger of a Single Story.In describing her reality when she first started reading as a young child she says, “because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.” Though Chimamanda is describing a reality encountered some twenty-plus years ago during her early childhood, this reality still exists today, particularly online.
In what can be described as a mass media age, thanks to the power of the internet, information of all kinds can circulate around the world in a second. Though many sit on the receiving end of media consumption, new platforms like blogging tools, social media, and mobile technologies have provided increasing opportunities for everyone to tell their own story, amplifying their ideas— however insignificant or unsophisticated they might seem— to individuals around the world.
Yet, in an excerpt of a paper on Developing Indigenous Content, Bevil Wooding writes, “even though any individual can now potentially reach a global audience, the internet landscape remains unevenly dominated by the cultural and economic powerhouses of the world.” He notes that as the internet grows, countries with mature systems of content development, innovation, and entrepreneurism are in a better position to harness the power of the Internet to amplify and extend their cultural reach; and that this in turn can drown out indigenous content.
As in Chimamanda’s childhood stories, or in the vastness of the World Wide Web, allowing local voices to be heard in the midst of the proliferation all the other more dominant voices around the world ensures content is not imbalanced. It also validates local realities and experiences. As Chimamanda says, “Things changed when I discovered African books….I realized that people like me could also exist in literature.” For David Risher, the founder of Worldreader, a non-profit that loads whole libraries onto Kindles and gives them to kids in some of the world’s poorest places, it is clear: “[Kids] want to read local books; they want to read books about their lives or about their friends.”
Specifically amplifying local content ensures that local voices remain buoyant in the face of the rising tides of global mass communication. This is transformative for everyone—for the 12 year old Ghanaian girl who can see someone like her depicted on the pages of a book, for the young East African who creates his own app related to the local music scene rather than only purchasing apps created by others, for the Caribbean author who writes an eBook that allows her friends to see themselves through another lens and start a dialogue about the issues in their community, or for the average internet surfer that stumbles upon a previously undiscovered blog about Fijian life.
Becoming a producer, rather than solely a consumer, of content and bringing local stories and ideas to life, brings a sense of empowerment to the local narrative producer in a way that also validates local experiences.
For Nneka, she hopes her book T&T in Poetry allows citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to see themselves within its pages, to recognize their own stories within the poems and images in the book. “There is color, and drama, and humor, and good life lessons in our stories,” she says. The book acts both as a means for the world to discover the beauty and history of Trinidad and Tobago and for Trin-bagonians to‘re-discover’ the wonder of their own heritage.
A poem highlighting the cultural cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago in Volume 4 of Nneka’s eBook, T&T in Poetry.
“Any neighbor in our global village can proudly find themselves—directly or indirectly—within the panorama of its pages,” Nneka says about her book. With every piece BrightPath publishes, they enable the creative spirit that drives innovation, even in the farthest corners of the world, helping each person understand her power to be the author of her own story, her own life, and her own achievements.