Cristi Hegranes, 31, an award-winning journalist, founded Global Press Institute (GPI) in 2006 at the age of 25. While reporting from Nepal, Hegranes realized that local community members, if trained in responsible journalism, would be able to more effectively tell their own stories than a foreign reporter could. In addition to improving global journalism, Hegranes saw that journalism training could empower women with possibilities of long-term employment and fulfilling careers. As a result of this realization, she created Global Press Institute, initially working in Nepal and Mexico.
Today, Cristi Hegranes teaches journalism and entrepreneurship courses at California State University and continues to lead GPI in its mission of spurring social change through journalism.
>>EMILY WESTERGAARD HAMILTON: Good evening. I feel sorry for Cristi because she doesn't have ice cream to pass out, so thank you for coming. Like Sarah said, I'm Emily Hamilton. I graduated from Grinnell in 2002 and I am so fortunate to be a member of the Grinnell Prize Selection Committee.
We have the incredible responsibility of reviewing hundreds of nominations and sifting through literally thousands of pages of information on these candidates that truly embody the spirit of young innovators in social justice. And we spend a lot of time grappling with, "what is social justice?" "What is innovator?" Fortunately, Melisa has defined "young" for us, so we have one criterion taken off the table already, but it's an incredibly daunting task. And all the while, while we are having these conversations, people like Cristi and all of our other winners are quietly, persistently, selflessly just working away, doing what they're doing, while we're sitting in a room debating all of this.
I'm very pleased to introduce Cristi Hegranes. She is recognized for her work to establish the Global Press Initiative [sic]. What stood out about Cristi and GPI to me when I was reading through these nominations, was the way that she was addressing two very significant issues: the dwindling quality of that international journalism, and at the same time, women's economic empowerment. Both are worthy endeavors, but together, the committee really felt like she truly earned this distinction.
Cristi has always had a passion for journalism. She started a paper at her elementary school. She took over the paper at her middle school. And in high school, she very confidently approached the school administrators to say that the high school paper was actually junk. She told them exactly what they could do to fix it, and they complied. This has always been a passion of hers, and she has always pushed those boundaries. At lunch today she told us that at Loyola College, she brought Larry Flint to campus. You can ask her how that went over at a Jesuit college. And she'll talk a lot today about how she ended up creating Global Press Initiative [sic], and the path that she took to get here.
GPI is an organization that not only empowers women by investing in them and in their training and education to help them earn those living-wage jobs, but they also work to create and to elevate international reporting at a time when foreign news is declining precipitously.
The foreign news that is shared is probably from men, so Cristi is working to change that as well. GPI is now operating independent news desks in twenty-six countries complete with training and educational staff. Cristi has created a unique training-to-employment model that is truly the embodiment of that social justice innovation that we look for.
I'm very pleased to introduce Cristi and look forward to her talk. We'll have a question and answer session afterwards. Thank you very much.
>>CRISTI HEGRANES: Thank you so much everyone. This has been just a fabulous week. I could not be more impressed with the staff that put everything together and the student body. So it is absolutely my pleasure to be here to talk with you guys tonight about my great love, Global Press Institute.
Tonight we're going to be talking about journalism, social enterprise, and the essential "f" word. People have been asking me all week what the "f" word is. Both my parents are here, so clearly it's not the one you think it is, okay?
And I was very heartened to see that it's a word that has come up many times in the course of conversation this week.
I want to start by telling you about these people. Two weeks ago I was in Ethiopia to launch Global Press Institute's twenty-sixth news desk. While I was there, I had what is my favorite part of this job, which is the opportunity to meet the women who show up. When we put out calls for applications and recruitment, they come. I was fortunate enough to meet the three young women in Addis Ababa, and the three young women in Debre Zeyit, a rural part of Ethiopia, who heard the call in their communities for change makers and storytellers, and volunteered themselves for service. Just as I had been twenty-five times before, I was absolutely blown away, so struck by the diversity, the tenacity, the passion of these women.
These are the trainees in Addis Ababa. A brilliant Muslim college student; a feisty five-foot-tall eighteen year old that asked endless questions, more questions than I ask, and that's a lot of questions. But then I noticed that the third was different. Quiet, serious. She's twenty years old. She goes to school in the evenings, where she's in the eighth grade. She's from the far western part of Ethiopia, and like many young girls in the far western part of Ethiopia, she was forced to quit school at the age of twelve to get married. After four years of marriage, she ran away from her husband. She fled the far west and came to Addis Ababa, the capitol.
Today, she still lives in a temporary plastic shelter in the streets. She's homeless. But when through our network of NGO partners, she heard about this opportunity, the opportunity to become a professional journalist, an opportunity where someone like her could have the opportunity to produce print and radio pieces that would be shared with the entire country, and in fact the entire world, she knew she had to do it.
In her recruitment interview, she confessed to loving poetry, even recited one of her own original poems. She told us that if she was given the chance, she would dedicate her career as a journalist to writing about social justice issues that affected girls in her community. Given the chance, she said, more than anything, she wanted to write about education. In hopes, she said, of motivating parents throughout Ethiopia to keep their girls in school. She is among the newest members of Global Press Institute, but she has absolutely found her family. Her passion for storytelling is palpably strong, and her determination to stand firmly on her own two feet is fierce. Hers is truly the spirit of GPI, a spirit that is contagious, and is in fact spreading across the entire world. So these are the newest members of Global Press Institute.
Among all things, Global Press Institute is a testament to the power of story. Over the last nearly seven years, we have demonstrated that sharing human stories can change minds, it can change countries, it can change the entire world. But before we talk about why and how GPI is creating all these world-changing stories, first, there's my story.
As was just said, I have long believed that I was born to be a journalist. I have been asking questions and writing and reporting since I can remember. It is true that I have worked in every school newspaper of any school that I have ever been in. It is also true that I have caused a fair amount of trouble in those various school newspapers.
After I graduated from Loyola Marymount University, another amazing institution with a proud record and history of social justice initiatives, I immediately went to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and from there I went directly to NYU to pursue my graduate studies.
As my tenure at NYU was ending, a new opportunity presented itself, the opportunity to go abroad to report. I was so excited to become a stringer, to cover the civil war in Nepal. I was twenty-three. (And I look exactly the same. I know, I've looked like this since I was twelve.) Being a foreign correspondent was everything I had always wanted to do. I was so excited about traveling to distant places to tell other people's news. It didn't take long though after I came to Nepal and started my work that I came to a harsh and unpleasant realization. I was the wrong person to be telling their stories.
What we often don't think about is that the discipline of foreign correspondence makes little logical sense. You're dropped into a place where you generally don't speak the language. You're dropped into a place where often your coverage, your actions, your very movements are monitored by governments. So working through a translator, in a place where your movements are even restricted, you lack access to real people. And you lack the trust of these real people too, because these real people, they've seen themselves portrayed in our news. Poor, hungry, disease, disaster-ridden people. Hopeless, penniless, but pitiful. You lack the trust of these people. They don't want to share their stories. And I realized, those were not the kind of stories I waited my whole life to tell.
But I continued with my work all the while starting to question the basis for my own knowledge. I had long been a news junkie, reading any and every newspaper magazine I could get my hands on. I realized that the majority of what I knew about the world was derived from journalism. So I began to wonder, is everything I believe to be true actually true? Or was it a translated version of an outsider's story?
I continued my work, and as I trekked and travelled throughout the country in search of these deeper stories, eventually, I got lucky. Eventually, I met Pratima. Pratima was the matriarch of a small village where I found myself in the course of these travels. And over the course of my days there, I watched her. I watched as she negotiated small conflicts among neighbors. I watched as she took in silent confessions. And I listened as she spoke deeply, knowledgably, about the realities of her community, the state of her country's politics, the state of the war. She shared inside information I would have never have access to as a foreign correspondent.
She told me why the nearest health clinic was so far away, and the devastating health consequences it was having for people, especially women in her village. She told me about why good education was so difficult to access. She told me about how devastating it was that all of their young men had been recruited by the rebels, and those that weren't recruited by the rebels, left the community or the country in search of higher wages.
At first, I planned to write Pratima's story. But then I realized she was more than a story. She was the potential for a revolution. What if, I allowed myself to wonder in these very uncomfortable nights sleeping in what was to me a very strange village, what if someone like Pratima became her community's most trusted source for news? What if she became the world's most trusted source for news about Nepal? Someone like her who had the social, historical, cultural, political context that you actually need to tell a real and full story.
It was then that I realized that I had just two things that Pratima didn't: professional journalism training, and a credible, global platform where my stories were published. She had everything else. So then I began to think, how can I create those two little things so that Pratima can tell big stories?
A new model for international journalism I became convinced would do three extraordinary things for the world. First, it would increase access to education locally. In the communities, where these stories would be produced, local people and local governments could have access to ethical, authentic information, so governments could theoretically make better decisions, and people could theoretically make better choices. And with a more transparent, well-informed government and people able to make better choices, freer, fuller lives are the likely result.
Second, I became convinced that this new model of international storytelling would elevate global awareness. The very act of changing the storyteller would fundamentally change the story of places like Nepal and other developing countries and communities. Local people would obviously not seek to victimize their neighbors in their coverage. People just like them, who were striving to take care of their families in difficult situations. While mainstream media tells us that people in these communities are victims, local people could humanize these people. They could tell us the realities of these countries. But beyond that, our understanding of these places would elevate beyond what we know.
Two years ago, the International Women's Media Foundation produced an amazing report that revealed that ninety-seven percent of foreign correspondence deals solely with four topics: war, poverty, disease, disaster. That's why our most famous news anchors go to Haiti only after it's been destroyed. That's why they talk about places like Egypt and Libya only after they're in chaos. And that's why they cover a revolution, like the one in Tunisia, and say it's because of Facebook, because that's something that we can understand.
Given the opportunity for local people to learn how to professionally tell their own stories, they could tell the stories about how local people were building their own futures. How local people were igniting their own change. How local people were innovating new solutions to problems so that they could build better futures for their families. It became a social justice imperative, I thought, that the world understands its neighbors in fuller terms.
And finally, I thought about how this new model would change the lives of the women, now employed and empowered as professional journalists, which I can tell you from persona l experience is one of the most empowering and inspiring jobs that there is. To know how to ask questions that demand answers, to hold the powerful accountable, and to share human narrative that can truly change minds, is a powerful profession. So to share this with women throughout the developing world, I knew would be incredible.
What I didn't know then that I do know now, is that when women in developing countries have access to skills training and sustained employment, every single health, welfare, poverty, education indicator for the entire community goes way up. Why? It's pretty simple. Because women in developing countries reinvest eighty to ninety percent of their incomes back in their local communities. So at GPI we don't train and employ women because of politics or charity. We train and employ women because it's the right thing to do for the whole community.
We're so fortunate that today world leaders are starting to stand up and say, "If you want to change the world, you've got to start with women." So that was the third thing. It really did change these women's lives. I thought it could, anyway.
Soon after leaving Pratima's village, I returned to New York, and then moved to San Francisco, where I took a pretty cool job as a feature writer at SF Weekly in San Francisco.
As I headed west, the idea, still rattling around in my brain, and the idea of Pratima's potential, was still fresh in my mind. So, as the months went by, the idea went from a subtle tap at the back of my mind every now and again, to a pounding in the front of my head that I knew I could no longer ignore.
So I did something extremely crazy and enormously stupid, by the way. I quit my job, a good paying job as a feature writer in a major American media market. Quit. This was February of 2006. Over the next months, I spent my time immersed in books on "How to Found a Non-profit Organization," and "The Wiles of the IRS."
A good friend of mine tells a super embarrassing story that I'll tell you now, which was, shortly after I quit my job, I met him for lunch in San Francisco and I was carrying a Nolo press book, which is like a "learn how to do anything when you don't have enough money to hire someone better than you" series. I was carrying a Nolo press book of how to file your paperwork for 501(c)(3). And I was like, "yeah, this is what I'm doing now." He was like, "Oh, okay."
During those months, those first initial months, I was endlessly researching. My skills as a journalist came in so handy, as someone developing a new business plan. I looked into so many international non-profit training models, and what other NGOs were doing. What worked, what didn't work? What worked, but cost a million dollars? What were they doing for a million dollars, how I could do it for a hundred dollars? Really basic concepts of possibility thinking. When you run into something you think is impossible, dissect the problem and start from scratch.
I interviewed dozens of people, took up far too much of other people's time, asking, I'm sure, far too many questions. I scoured books and journals and websites for information about developing countries, and media markets, and media laws, and safety and security, and women's rights, and all of these things. Then I began to draft a new curriculum that would become the basis for how to train women around the world like Pratima to become professional journalists.
Eventually, I realized that I would need to learn to fundraise too. So I wasted a lot of time trying to learn how to write grants, and meanwhile hitting up everyone I had ever known for money. And, I admit I spent a lot of nights bartending. I quit my job, remember? I also remember thinking that it was absolutely no coincidence that the song that was on top of the charts and often stuck in my mind while I was doing this work was this, and I kid you not, this song was stuck in my mind for six months straight:
[Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"]
This song was actually number one on the charts the entire summer that I was building the foundations of what would become Global Press Institute.
So yes, maybe I was a little bit crazy, but I have some great news. It worked. By September of 2006, we were ready to launch our first program. By March the following year, things were going so well we were ready to launch a second.
Now I had originally wanted the first GPI news desk to be in Nepal, the place where the idea was founded. But cost, always a factor the new entrepreneur learned, made it that Southern, indigenous Mexico was a much more viable option. But the program there went extremely well and so by March of 2007, I was back in Nepal, the place where it all began.
When we began recruitment for the journalists in Nepal, it was the first time that I had been a part of the full recruiting process. More than three hundred women turned out for five spots in this program. Eventually, we made the difficult decision and chose just five: Anju, Kamala, Kalpana, Sonny, and of course, Tara, those women who you met in the video, the Grinnell video.
But before the training program began in Nepal, I made my way back to Pratima's village. I wanted to see her. I wanted to tell her what she inspired. Truthfully, I wanted her to join my training program. When I arrived, I learned that she had passed away, just a few months earlier. She died after complications from uterine prolapse, which is a preventable condition. In the end, I learned, she died on the long walk to the health clinic, just the problem she had told me about the last time I was there.
I was heartbroken. I thought, if she had been able to tell that story then, her life could have been saved. Her story could have spurred the action of local governments, NGOs, international health workers. I left her village with a very heavy heart but an even more determined spirit. I knew that we were too late for Pratima, but I was thrilled that our time had come.
So this is the point where my story blurs and merges with the stories of a hundred and thirty-three women from throughout the world. As I said last night, it has to be the most amazing feeling on earth to be a twenty-five-year-old idealistic journalist. And to have an idea that probably had a one in a billion shot of working, but to know that it does work, and it continues to work today because these brave, bold women from all over the world stood up and said, "Yeah, I want to do this too."
So let's talk about how it works, because that's a lot of the questions that I get. Before we talk about how we know that it is working, in terms of the higher-level social justice questions, let's talk about the nuts and the bolts of how it works.
The first thing we do when we start to think about expanding is we do really in-depth research on these countries. The primary focus is a safety and security analysis that looks at constitutional law, it looks at police practices, it looks at media law both how it's on the books but also how it's practiced in the community which are usually very different things. It looks at all of these things also from the very unique lens of gender, which is a type of reporting, analysis, and study that didn't currently exist. Today, GPI shares its safety and security reporting model with dozens of NGOs all over the world, specifically those who are working with women.
Once we've identified a country and determined that it's safe to operate there, you will notice that if you look at the GPI map that we do operate in a few tricky, shall we say, media environments throughout the world. But we don't operate in any active conflict zones, and we don't operate in any countries where our reporters are considered to be in imminent danger.
After we select a country, we go to the next step, which is we build an extensive partner network. It's so important to say that GPI news desks on the ground are run one hundred percent by local people, and we are able to achieve that by building robust partnerships throughout the entire community.
We do it for three reasons. One, we do it to build credibility. We're a new organization coming to town and the more partners we're able to make makes us more credible. We do it for very practical reasons, which is that we very often end up sharing costs with other local NGOs. For example, we share space in more than half of GPI news desks. And we split costs on things like Internet access, or other things that are extraordinarily expensive.
The third reason that we build such a wide network of partnerships is because when it is time for us to recruit, the next step, we want to throw as wide a net possible. At GPI, our reporters range in age from sixteen, I'm sorry, from fourteen to sixty-five. One of our newest reporters in Rwanda is fourteen. Fourteen to sixty-five. They speak thirteen languages. They represent tribes, castes, religions. Some are physically disabled. Some are members of the LGBTI community. They are literally the most diverse group possible. Just like I shared with you in Ethiopia, we have a bright college student and a homeless, child-bride in the same program. But that's come to be the beauty of GPI. This opportunity translates itself across all of those barriers and all of those different bridges.
After we build the partnership networks and we begin to recruit the journalists, they go through an application and an interview process. We can usually take one to five percent of the people that apply, which is generally heartbreaking. So after we recruit the journalists, we're also at the same time, recruiting a trainer and an editor. That trainer goes through a train the trainer process with me, and then becomes a hundred percent responsible for the reporters in her news desk.
As was said earlier, the heart of Global Press Institute is its training-to-employment model. In my preliminary research and my original research when I was building my first business plan, I found that there were literally tens of thousands of international training programs. But when I went in country, I was seeing people with resumes this long that had taken every training that had ever come to their town or their village, but they were still unemployed. They never had practical application for these skills. I knew that what we wanted to create at GPI was a training-to-employment model.
"The Principles and the Practice" is what we call the first six months of our training, and anyone who completes that first six months receives a job offer from Global Press Institute, either full or part-time employment, whatever suits their individual needs. Once that happens, they begin the business of reporting. Day in and day out, telling stories. And as they're telling stories, they're working in what is a very sophisticated editorial network. This is the thing that ensures such high-quality journalism produced by GPI.
Every desk has trainers, editors who do story coaching. They have mentors, there are translators, and there's deep, deep fact checking, both at the local level, and then when the stories come to the global level at the San Francisco headquarters.
And finally, the results of all of their work is that their work is published on an award-winning, online newswire that's accessed by millions.
It's really important to say that English is not a requirement for our program. The majority of our news is being produced in two languages. The reporters write the news in their local language, and that local language version is also edited to the same levels, and disseminated and distributed [that's my Skype, one of my reporters might call in right now.] So we're disseminating and distributing the content locally for free. The English version goes up on the GPI newswire, where it's available for free for individual readers. It's also available for syndication via our syndication platform, but we'll talk a little bit more about that later.
So that's how it works. Now let's talk about how we know that it is working. Not just working to create exceptional journalism, but working to actually create systemic local and global change.
Earlier I told you about the three things that I had envisioned that this new model of international journalism would create: increased local access to information, elevated global awareness, and empowerment opportunities for women throughout the developing world.
Now this is my favorite part. I get to tell you the stories of not just the content, but the impact this content is making.
In August, one of our newest reporters in our Rwanda news desk, Ritha Bumwe, wrote a really brave piece about sex corruption. Turns out that a tiny, local NGO had done a study over a few years and released the results, to very little fanfare, that revealed that eighty-four and a half percent of Rwandan women admitted to sleeping with a boss in order to get a job. Ritha took this research and did what all good journalists do, which was created a fact-based narrative to actually tell the human version of this story.
Ritha found brave young women and one brave young man throughout Rwanda to tell their stories. Shortly after the story was published, we were contacted by a member of parliament, which is not always a good thing when that happens by the way. We were contacted by a member of parliament who said that they wanted to invite Ritha in. They wanted to have her speak to a roundtable of women in parliament in Rwanda. And she did. And it turns out that Ritha's story, is currently, as we speak, is being used as the basis for writing a new law that criminalizes sex corruption in Rwanda.
In 2010, Tara Bhattarai, who is also known in the office as the "world's greatest human," wrote a really, again brave, incredible piece about violence and persecution that was being experienced by people in inter-caste relationships. These were people who were choosing to marry between castes, rather than opting for the arranged marriage within a caste that their families would generally arrange for them.
The story is extremely powerful and tells some pretty violent stories of what was happening to people who did choose love marriages outside of their caste. Again, because these stories are both distributed locally in local language, but also globally in English, they tend to apply a very unique kind of local pressure to decision makers in these countries.
A few members of parliament got a hold of Tara's story. This time we are contacted by the Prime Minister's office. Just a few short months after Tara's story was published, the parliament in Nepal passed a new law that criminalized this kind of inter-caste discrimination. Their constitution had previously had different types of discrimination outlawed, but this specifically said inter-caste discrimination and violence was against the law. It was a felony that came with jail time and heavy fines. After that, a member of the Prime Minister's office went on camera and credited Tara and GPI for forcing this conversation into the national dialogue.
Those are a few examples of how we know that local, ethical, investigative journalism is provoking change. As a result of just these two stories, literally millions of lives were changed. Millions of people previously facing hardships in their community are now seeing greater forms of justice.
As far as global awareness, this one takes many shapes and forms, and actually, thanks to meeting Jane and Linus from Embrace this week, this story and its impact will hopefully soon take on another form. This summer GPI reporter Aliya Bashir produced this amazing story, one of the best stories in the seven-year history of Global Press Institute. Aliya discovered that between January and June, more than five hundred infants had died at a Kashmir hospital, an average of thirteen per week.
Upon extensive investigation, where she was interviewing parents, nurses, doctors, technicians, staff, janitors, anyone she could get her hands on, she came to realize that in ninety-eight percent of those deaths, the cause of death was asphyxiation. The equipment wasn't working. In the days just after this story was published, it was picked up by some of our syndication partners, and just days after that we got word that two major international organizations pledged the donations of new equipment.
Armed with kind of powerful human narrative, alongside extraordinary research and deep, deep facts, we are prompted to act. We are moved in act. In fact, in many times when we talked to people who have acted as a result of GPI content, they say they felt like they had no choice. I will tell you though, that in conversations with Jane and Linus over the course of this week, I realized that the story of impact in this particular case is not done.
Upon learning that so many international organizations donate equipment like this to hospitals and then people don't know how to use them, I spoke with the reporter via Skype two nights ago, on Monday night, and asked her to please go to the hospital and ensure that A, these machines were being used and used correctly and that people in the hospital were trained to use them. If in fact we find out that they're not, we'll take steps to reach out to our local NGO partners to make sure that the people in this hospital are trained to use this new equipment.
So, just another example of how by bringing Prize winners together in this Symposium, greater change is actually possible as a result of these stories.
And finally, the women of GPI. I will admit to you that I stared Global Press Institute out of my love for journalism, and I never, ever anticipated the deep, deep impact that these women would have on each other, on their communities, and truthfully, on me.
Global Press Institute reporters, as I was saying earlier, are an extraordinarily diverse group of people. People with bachelor's degrees and master's degrees who come from families with means, but happen to live in countries where unemployment is fifty-five percent. There are also people who are former sex workers. Two GPI reporters are former sex workers. Literally stopped their career in sex work in order to become professional journalists. One of those two is now an internationally award-winning journalist.
She's actually really funny. She said in the interview training one time, we were talking about negotiating access to interviews, and she was like, "Oh, I got this. This part's easy."
Education is another major indicator. Together, GPI reporters have literally spent thousands of hours in training. Learning not just the nuts and bolts of journalism, but the women in our program are learning how to type, they're learning how to use software for the first time. They're learning life skills as well. Financial literacy, how to open a bank account, how to do your own budgets, things like that. The number of hours these women have spent in training is just incredible.
By having sustained employment over the course of, for some of our reporters, going on six years, the stories that they tell about being able to better care for themselves. One of our reporters in Kosovo went to the dentist for the first time last year. She's thirty-six years old. They're not only able to take better care of themselves, but also their families. Sometimes the way they share information with us is so hysterically casual that it just makes it all the more honest and heartwarming.
A couple of weeks ago, I was up and had my email open and so on G chat, I try to be on G chat or Skype like twenty hours a day, literally, it's kind of sad. And I get a G chat from one of our reporters in Cameroon, who had just become a senior full-time reporter two months earlier. [Here's one of them now.] Just two months earlier, she had become a senior full-time reporter. So she sent a quick G chat to say, "Hey, with my new salary I was able to get a better house." And because she got a better house, she was also able to travel back to the village where her young son was living with her parents. She couldn't afford to care for her young son and live in a city where she could actually be employed and have a job. So she said, "I got a new house." And she said, "And I got my son back. It feels really good to be a responsible parent thanks to GPI. Gotta go!"
Those stories, those are the ones that stick with us. A student asked us at the luncheon, I think it was, a couple days ago, what keeps us motivated. I mean, things like grant reporting and that kind of stuff can be incredibly tedious, but you just have to think about someone like this reporter in Cameroon, whose life is so fundamentally changed for literally hundreds of dollars a month.
And finally, general empowerment is something that has been so fun to watch. When we were all in Nepal in July, we went to an event celebrating the opening of one of our partner NGO's new offices. My favorite part about that event was watching Tara. When I first met Tara, going on almost six years ago now, I always knew she was brilliant, but she was shy, she was quiet. To see her walk into this space filled with NGOs and journalists and foreigners, her power is palpable. People wanted to shake her hand. People stepped out of her way and gave her a polite bow and Namaste.
Today Tara can get interviews in any government ministry. She can tell stories in a way that even reporters who have been working in Nepal for decades say she's the best. She's literally the best reporter in the country. So to watch that personal transformation is absolutely amazing.
So now we know that yes, journalism is in fact a development tool for these women, for these communities, and in fact, for the whole world. But now the question becomes, how do we create a sustainable model here? How do I make it so that I can keep my commitment to employing these hundred and thirty- three women year after year after year? How do we continue to build our brand, so that we can continue to make a huge impact on the face of international journalism in a larger, more sustained, more powerful way?
I fully admit that I'd never, ever heard the term "social entrepreneur" when I founded GPI. In fact, I would say that it wasn't even until about 2009, that I'd begun to hear it on a regular basis. And it wasn't until pretty recently that I actually began to identify as a social entrepreneur myself.
The definition of a social enterprise is simple. It's a business also dedicated to doing social good. I really think it's the first part of that sentence that's the most important: it's a business. GPI is, and always has been, run like a business. This is not charity. The women of GPI have to work hard. They go through an intensive training. Every single story they're going back and forth with editors, and it's a difficult process. They are not getting handouts, and this is not charity. And our books are run like a business too. Lean in expenses, but fat in impact.
But looking towards the future, I know, that simply relying on fundraising to keep this thing going is neither smart nor sustainable. So just as I did back in Nepal years ago, I begin to think about the business of journalism. And I'm really sorry if I shock anyone in here when I tell you that the business of journalism is dying, and has been struggling for decades. I want to follow that sentence though by saying, you will never meet a bigger journalism optimist than me.
The profession has been slowed to adapt. This pesky little thing called the Internet came around and nobody thought it was going to change much. The future of the industry is absolutely in question. But it's not if it will survive, it's how much it will change and adapt.
One of the things I find so interesting, is that years ago, in my first go as a foreign correspondent, it took me matter of days to realize that foreign correspondence was an impractical means of storytelling. Over the last about twenty years, the majority of foreign news bureaus have closed around the world. Newspapers and wire services can't afford them. So it's not only an impractical method of storytelling, it's an impractical business model too.
So what are we left with? We have a shaky, mainstream media commitment to foreign correspondence that's too expensive. On average, a piece of feature news that runs in a mainstream newspaper can cost up to ten thousand dollars for one article.
In response to this, social media, citizen journalism, have emerged, but not without their own problems. Blogging, citizen journalism, lacks credibility. It lacks a sophisticated editorial structure. In fact, it lacks generally any editorial structure at all. Its relationship with fact is slippery, and that's being polite. It's just not credible. It's appealing because they have the feet on the street. Right, you have the diversity of people being able to bring in information, but at what cost?
We see GPI emerging as a third way. We have the credibility, based on our training-to-employment and editorial structure, and we also have an extraordinarily diverse population of reporters currently producing news that most other news organizations are not even in these countries. Places like Zambia. When I used to teach at a university in California, my biggest pet peeve was that people used to refer to Africa as a country. And I used to make them point to countries on a map, and I didn't even like take the words off, you know, they were like still there, but it would still take them forever to find these places. Although embarrassingly, two days ago my dad asked me what state was above Iowa and I didn't know.
So, where social media and citizen journalism provide these eyes and ears on the ground and around the world, they lack the editorial structure. And foreign correspondence, as we know it, is not going to survive, in fact it's already dying. So, now we know that this is a potential new, third way. But how will we ensure our sustainability?
I've been so inspired this week to learn about Embrace and how they've had the foresight and the vision to split their company into two parts, and that's a direction that GPI is moving. Our first step though, is building a new syndication platform, technology that didn't currently exist for small journalism organizations. As I said earlier, we will always continue to disseminate our news for free in local language in the countries where we operate. And it will always be free for individuals like you who want to go on the website and read it.
But by the very nature of our programs, we produce a saleable commodity. So this syndication platform will allow us to form partnerships with mainstream media, corporations, and for educational uses as well; people who can pay us to utilize our content.
Now while a subscription to a major newswire service for a midsize newspaper would cost thousands of dollars per month, the GPI subscription will cost between forty and sixty-five dollars depending on the size of the news organization. So it's not an expensive proposition, but over time, and within the next five years, it will make Global Press Institute one hundred percent sustainable.
But the trick when you're a social entrepreneur is that your business model has to match your mission. When we think about syndication, we don't just think about "oh, we gotta make money, we gotta make money." We think about syndication as an extension of our mission.
We're currently measuring our syndication in three ways. The first is what I, somewhat crudely, call the "eyeball metric." It goes without saying that when just thirty thousand people a month are accessing the GPI newswire and using our stories to take action that creates social change, if we can get our content in front of millions and millions of people every month, those impact indicators will automatically go up.
And yes we are looking at revenue as a metric, but not so much as dollars in the bank, as time created by having this money through syndication as opposed to fundraising, where I still spend up to fifty percent of my time in given weeks or months. So by generating this revenue it will allow us to do more of what we do best.
And the third thing that we're going to continue to track through local distribution and the free syndication model will continue to be local impact as well.
So as I said, with this new platform we will be one hundred percent sustainable within five years. As a result of this syndication initiative, GPI will continue to grow and to thrive. Five years from now when we're sustainable, when the Grinnell community is here welcoming its seventh Prize winners, GPI will be operating in more than a hundred countries, and will employ more than a thousand women. Because I've come to learn that that's what social enterprise is. It's continuing to build and to grow and to innovate and to sustain. And coming up with a good idea one time isn't enough. You have to be willing to continue to do that.
I think I wouldn't be doing my job tonight if I didn't share what has been perhaps one of the most important lessons of my life. There is one essential ingredient to entrepreneurship and innovation that I have not yet mentioned.
Now, as I said, this is point where the people who know me in the audience are probably closed to mortified, especially because I admit I do have a bit of a potty mouth. But as promised, I'm not going to stand up here and talk to you about the virtues of profanity. Unfortunately though, I am going to talk about another "f" word, one that's even more taboo. This "f" word is so powerfully negative that brilliant men and women have lived their entire lives on the sidelines for hopes of never encountering it. And this "f" work is so offensive, that when human beings are caught in the act of it, the natural response is to lie. To blame someone else, or just to pretend that it never happened.
So tonight I hope that I can end by decriminalizing and demystifying this terrible "f" word.
The problem with talks like the one that I've just given you, is that I've told you less than half the story. I told you about all the times that my ideas were good ones. I told you about all the times when I was right. I told you about some of the GPI stories that have made the most impact. I didn't tell you about the typos. I didn't tell you about the stories that aren't so good. I didn't tell you that for every grant we've ever received, I've been rejected from hundreds. I didn't tell you that for every amazing night like this one, I've been up all night in front of a budget that I couldn't make right. With a problem, with a fear.
I didn't tell you about the bad decisions that I've made. Or my stupid mistakes, the things I wish I could take back. Ugh that cost six months of my time and GPI's life because I made a bad decision. As we were talking about earlier, sometimes the process of making of decisions in an environment like this, particularly in the developing world, you lack both data and time, and so, we make bad decisions.
But let's call failure out tonight. Shine a big, bright light on it, kind of like that one.
And let's actually talk about it for what it is, which is essential, and mandatory, honestly. For someone like me who has long been a classic type A overachiever, failure was my biggest fear. I think most of us think about failure as disappointment. It's falling down, it's regression, it's moving backwards. But we have to think about it in a new way. And learning to think about it in this new way has been one of the most inspiring and transformational points in my life and my organization's life.
In my work I am now actually intent upon failing forward. With every new growth spurt and every new initiative, nothing is going to go perfectly, right, especially when you work in the developing world. Sometimes things go right and I'm like, "oh did something go wrong that I didn't notice or know about?"
Without a deep, clear understanding of our failures, it's impossible to move forward. And by pretending like it didn't happen or it doesn't happen, all we do is put obstacles in our own way, and believe me when I tell you there are enough obstacles out there already.
If you think about it, my journey here tonight began with failure. I failed at my job in Nepal as a foreign correspondent. So without failure, none of this would have happened.
So that's the message that I want to leave you all with tonight. That entrepreneurship, enterprise, innovation, failure is a key ingredient.
So please. Fail forward, fail fearlessly, and fail well, so that you too can achieve absolutely your wildest dreams.
Thank you so much.
>>PRESIDENT KINGTON: Quick question, how to do you deal with the huge variation in base line education that women come from [inaudible]
>>CRISTI HEGRANES: That's a great question. So our program is obviously open to women with this huge diversification in skills. Women with less basic skills and less literacy levels, things like that coming in, they're just producing less. They're not actually earning any less money because they're paid for their time and training and in the editorial process, they're also producing a lot of stories that are just not being showcased on the global level. So most of the stories you see on the GPI newswire are people who have been with the program for at least 6 months to a year, but we try to make it so that the older reporters or the reporters with better skills actually become mentors, and they really work together so it really just boils down to they produce less work for the formal global newswire, but not at the expense of income, that's a really important piece of the program.
>>STUDENT: Could you explain more about the translation process between the local language and English? Who does, how does it happen, how do you check how do you check it for facts?
>>CRISTI: Yeah, that's a great question. One of the main reasons GPI doesn't do breaking news is because our editorial process is quite long. In fact late last year, part of our development team at Third Plateau did an impact analysis of the organization and its, like, the most hilarious graphic you've ever seen when they actually traced our editorial structure, and how things are like, there's an arrow this way and this way and then its sort of over there. It is a very complicated editorial structure.
The translators in these desks are all local people and they are directly accountable to the country editor and so they are trained in fact checking and they're trained in all of these things. It becomes tricky sometimes when translations of direct quotes for example has someone speaking in poor grammar or something that, you know, so a lot of times there's back and forth on things like that to make sure that we're representing people's words as accurately as possible both in local language and in English. And its time consuming, it's very time consuming especially since GPI's focus is on the long form feature. Alright so most GPI stories are longer than 1,000 words, so it is a time consuming process, but it all happens locally and then once the local version is complete, the translation is complete, it gets sent to headquarters in San Francisco and then that draft is edited for any changes, its re-fact checked. A lot of times what happens at that point is that the story is "globalized" as we say. So, because these are local people sometimes they're writing about local customs or local descriptions that people in a mainstream audience, we get about 160 countries per month, people from them reading our news. So we just try to add explanations and things like that and then that version gets sent back and the translations are matched and at that point they go out to their different distribution chains.
So it's a bit of a process, but its absolutely necessary because when you think about what English means, in these communities it means something pretty deep, which is that these are people who have not had access to formal education, which means they are likely of a much different economic status and have a variety of other different social and cultural hardships so I always look at language like its my problem for not speaking their language, and so we try to make it as easy as possible, but yeah it's a good question and it's a time consuming but very necessary part of the process.
>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: So you mentioned one of the most important parts of being a social entrepreneur is finding revenue streams that fit with your mission and make your organization sustainable. Can you talk a little bit about the process of different revenue models that you've gone through and that new exciting one you mentioned.
>>CRISTI: Yeah, definitely. So up until this point, fundraising has been 100 percent of our revenue model, but even just in that, it happens all of the time that people offer funding or foundations offer funding that don't match our mission. You know, we had a corporate foundation offer us funding right at the very beginning for what was for us at the time an extraordinary amount of money but they wanted prior review over content on issues that were controversial for the foundation. So that's a deal breaker, right that's totally a deal breaker. And stuff like that happens, it's not common, but it definitely does happen. So you know looking at...like money's the ultimate corruptor right? We all know that or it at least has the potential to be, so looking at the money you're bringing in to your organization as needing to be as on-mission as humanly possible is super, super important.
Another example of how looking at revenue models has to match your mission, recently our team who's working on the research and development of the syndication platform came to me and said, there's a huge money making opportunity out there that you're not taking advantage of: Getty Images and these other stock image databases. Because GPI reporters take their own photographs, sometimes they're extraordinarily amazing and there's a huge market for those and they're really expensive. The problem is when you put a photo on Getty Images, it's for sale, anyone can buy it.
So for example, last month we celebrated International Day of the Girl at Global Press Institute by producing a huge series of stories about girls from all over the world with a ton of photography. The photography was amazing, but if we put it on Getty Images, there is absolutely nothing in the world that would prevent someone building a site dedicated to child pornography from using our images, and once that happened, I would have no recourse because I made that deal with Getty Images that they could sell our photos. So a deal like that with Getty Images or many others would fast forward our sustainability process, but at a huge cost to our mission and our values. So it is difficult and the contract process to, you know, actually work with mainstream media to make sure they're not editing or changing our stories and things like is pretty time consuming, but it's definitely worth it because it's serving a global good but also an organizational good as well.
>>STUDENT: So you mentioned that lobbying process that happens in each country, so I'm wondering from my experience, I'm from Turkey, there are some great laws that prevent so really bad [inaudible] but they're very much not implemented like [inaudible]. So people go to prisons, they get tortured and it's against the law but these things happens all of the time. So I was wondering, these laws how much of them do you actually implemented and how do you even measure that?
>>CRISTI: Sure, that's a great question. And measuring impact... measuring the impact of story is one of the hardest things you can do, right? Because a story, we look at it like an endless ripple effect. Story can change so much or nothing at all and it's very difficult to put a data point on it, or put, you know, a really specific indicator on it. The best answer I can give as to yes, in our seven year history, almost seven year history, we have two laws, two law changes to our credit. By sustaining a free, fair, ethical investigative news organization in those countries, we don't ensure that the law will be implemented to its fullest, but we ensure that those who do not implement it will continue to be called to action. So, we use the power of story to get those laws changed, and we will continue to get...to use the power of story to ensure that people's human rights are being valued and respected and local law makers who actually went through the process of changing this law are held accountable for their actions.
>>STUDENT: Great talk. I have a question about censorship and self-censorship. Of course you're, you know, not in countries where media can operate freely, but I mention there are also sometimes tendencies towards censorship, a lot of countries have laws that put restrictions on the media for example for writing stories that are critical of government officials and that sort of thing and also I was interested in self-censorship because even though you watch out for the women and not put them in danger, there may be some kinds of stories that can put them in danger and I'm just wondering how you handle both those kinds of censorship?
>>CRISTI: Both excellent questions. With regard to self-censorship, we do a pretty robust what we call story coaching process at the beginning. So when someone pitches a story, they're working with a GPI editor to actually suss out any potential dangers ahead of time. Sometimes though, dangers come up in the course of reporting a story, and what happens more often is not self-censorship but Cristi censorship. I've pulled a handful of stories off the wire in our history, which actually is very difficult decision because the journalist in me wants those stories out there so badly but never at the expense of one of our reporters.
That definitely has come up, and we have three stories right now that we're holding: one from Sri Lanka, which is a really up and down media environment that we've been holding for a while just trying to see what the environment will turn to and will look like, but I always will err on the side of safety for our reporters. With regard to... Brad turn off the live stream, I'm just kidding... with regard to countries and censorship, it's an interesting issue. We hear a lot about countries like China and their very robust online censorship. The truth is that a lot of the countries where we operate, censor print and radio deliberately and all of the time, but just frankly don't have the capacity to censor online content. So for example in Zimbabwe, which is one of the most difficult media environments where we work, we don't distribute a lot of our news there, so our news in Zimbabwe mostly goes out to a global audience.
At the end of last year 2011, yeah last year, we produced an incredible story about political rape, one of the most violent, vulgar and terrible stories you will ever read in your life about how women campaigning for the opposition party in the previous election were systematically raped in some of the most violent ways I've ever heard described. Gertrude, our reporter, won the Reuters Foundation Kirk Shirk Award for International Reporting and they invited both Gertrude and myself to London for what I'm sure would have been a lovely event. Accepting an award like that would have been extraordinarily dangerous for Gertrude and for the other GPI reporters and luckily the folks at the Reuters Foundation were very graceful and also a little bit crafty in the way they said that we were not accepting the award, but they were giving it to us anyway.
So it does come up all the time. I spent half my summer in Ethiopia, you know, trying to work out the logistics of getting our new radio show on the Ethiopia Radio and Television Agency and it's a big win for us that we have this show that we're working on in partnership with the Nike Foundation but, all final shows are still going to have to go through what is essentially a Censorship Board in Ethiopia because their censorship restrictions are just huge and insane. And in countries like that, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, we want to do the best we can for as many people as we possibly can. It's not ideal, but it's what we can do, and it's what we feel comfortable doing for the safety of our journalists.
>>STUDENT: My question is on culture. How do you handle cultural discontent, or like rejection from local culture. Obviously a lot of the people from the San Francisco office don't know about these cultures is there also rejection from men. How do you handle men stopping women or wives or sisters from working and how do you handle that? Because, I mean, not only the language barrier but also just understanding of the country when you're not living there, how do you handle that?
>>CRISTI: Sure, both great questions. First and foremost, one of the things I learned right away as a foreign correspondent is that while I was in Nepal reporting, editors from 10,000+ miles away were often telling what me to what to write about. I was telling them what I'm seeing and they were saying, "That's great. Please write about this." And so at GPI, everything is derived from the local community. So by employing 100 percent local people in these desks, we don't, we rely on them to negotiate issues of culture in terms of the reporting.
Now in terms of the actual journalists coming into the program, male buy-in, family buy-in, those things are so, so important. We do things at our news desks like, the desks are open so that families can use the Internet for free during the weekends so, you know, husbands or fathers or brothers don't get the sense that the GPI office is like this deep, dark place where we are, like, brain-washing their women, right? At the same time, part of the recruitment interview process, the questions are designed to filter out or to ascertain information about a women's home life. It happens actually in almost every single recruitment period that somebody will say, "I'm so excited about this. I snuck out of my house. My husband would kill me if he knew that I was here, but I'm so excited to be here." It's heartbreaking, but that person cannot join our program. It would put her in direct risk on a very regular basis. So it's difficult, it's definitely difficult. The global editors of GPI who are working in the headquarters are all very traveled which helps, but just as in my experience as a foreign correspondent, it's no substitute for knowing, so reporters and local editors drive 110 percent of the editorial process and that's really the only way that we think it should or really could function.
>>SARAH PURCELL: George Drake gets the last question.
>>GEORGE DRAKE: Actually, she asked it. I was wondering how the men respond to women having these opportunities. Are a lot of your women un-married, you partly answered it there, but...
>>SARAH: We're going to have now just one more question but you can answer first.
>>CRISTI: You know it's no coincidence that two of the best GPI reporters have two of the most amazing husbands. I will tell you that that is not at all a coincidence. It can be difficult, but we are seeing changes. I would say about 60 percent of GPI reporters are married with children. It can be difficult, but we're seeing it change, even in a place like Nepal where 5 years ago people just straight out would not talk to Tara or some of the other reporters there. Where now, she can walk into their office and say, "we need to talk right now" and they are like, "Sure. Welcome. Would you like tea?"
So we're seeing it change over time, it's absolutely still a barrier though, it's still a barrier and as GPI is planning our expansion and development in the future, we are looking to heavily invest in Middle Eastern countries and North Africa where the gender roles, gender barriers, and access are going to, just, become more difficult. That's one of the main reasons when people always say "When I look at the map of GPI, there's a big blank spot in the Middle East and North Africa." And frankly its because we haven't in the past had the means to ensure their safety. You know when, as a non-profit organization, you have 3 grand in the bank, that's not the time that you want to start taking risks with other people's lives, but as we grow and are able to sustain, we do intend on making a very deep and direct impact in that region. But not without an extraordinary amount of research in terms of making sure that we launch the program in exactly the right place and it's always going to be a challenge.
You know over the last seven years, GPI has a 93 percent retention rate, 93 percent of all of the women we've ever trained are still employed by GPI today. Some of, most of, the women who are no longer with the program are no longer with the program because they were single when they started GPI and they got married and their husbands didn't like it or they moved because their husband's job moved or something like that. We're very conscious of the... of the tension, but it's so important to say again that GPI, yes we train and employ women, but this is not politics, it's good sense. So by no means do we want to exclude men from our process, right? My right hand person day-to-day is Mike Birkowitz. 60 percent of our board of directors are men. Our NGO partners around the world most are lead by men, and we absolutely recognize that for gender barriers to decrease, it has to be a unified effort. So we work to... we strive for that both in our news coverage but also in the way that we operate.
>>STUDENT: Hi, so you somewhat just spoke to this, but you talked about how you evaluate countries for their safety for your reporters, but then also how your goal is to make the greatest impact possible. I'm wondering, its seems to me like in the countries that the greatest impact... the greatest change is needed is where it is most dangerous for your reporters and I'm wondering if that just seems like a vicious cycle because if your reporters aren't there, then there's no social change, and then it's not safe for your reporters, so I'm wondering how in the future you are looking to move into countries that right now are currently unstable.
>>CRISTI: No, I think that's a really smart question. I think the answer is two parts. First and foremost, I absolutely get the thinking that the places where it's the hardest are the places where the impact is the greatest, but I'm not sure I entirely agree with that because our world knows so little about the reality of places like Zambia and Botswana and rural Chile and all of these places where we're operating, that I think it can definitely be argued that it doesn't have to be super dangerous in order for there to be an extraordinary impact. But I would also say that... you know you're absolutely right, we do want to move into these more challenging environments and the journalist in me wants to be, wants GPI to be in Syria right now. I want to be in Jordan covering the protests as they happen, telling those extended stories, but Global Press Institute is built for long term change. 50 years from now, you and I can have a conversation where, you know, we can talk about if we waited too long or if we went too soon into certain places. In 2007 when I met one of our board members, Sibyl Masquelier, she still remembers this. We had just met and she asked me, "So GPI is in one country." At the time we were just in one country. "How many do you want to be in?" And I said, "all of them." So, we're still working towards that goal and right now it's just, it's really a matter of strategic priorities and looking at where we can do the most good for the least harm.
>>EMILY WESTERGAARD HAMILTON: What stood out about Cristi and GPI to me when I was reading through these nominations was the way that she was addressing two very significant issues: the dwindling quality of that international journalism and at the same time women's economic empowerment.
>>CRISTI HEGRANES: If you think about it, my journey here tonight began with failure. I failed at my job in Nepal as a foreign correspondent. So without failure none of this would have happened. So that's the message that I want to leave you all with tonight, that in entrepreneurship, enterprise, innovation, failure is a key ingredient. So please, fail forward, fail fearlessly, and fail well, so that you too can achieve absolutely your wildest dreams.
I think there comes a moment in every person's life who's interested in social justice where you face that moment where you realize that if social change of the type you're passionate about is going to happen that you are really the only person who's going to make it happen. So I think that social justice is very much a personal calling. Understanding who you are and what you have to offer to a problem in the world.
The best things for me personally about the Grinnell Prize is just the opportunity to really reflect on the path of the organization, in fact just in preparing for my presentation last night, I thought about a lot of things that I haven't thought about in quite some time so it's been a really great opportunity to reflect both on where we've been and where we're going. But in looking back at the past and actually spending some time thinking about those first one, two, three years, a few times I was like wow that's pretty amazing that we actually made it to this point. But also just a real testament to perseverance and the power of human spirit to just propel you and there were many times when people said that it was impossible, but always figuring out ways to make the impossible possible. It's been a great experience to reflect on it and makes me really excited and inspired for our own future as an organization, because if we've come this far, I have no doubt that we'll continue to soar to even greater heights.
Global Press Institute (GPI) works to empower women, improve global journalism, and spur wide-scale social change. After providing journalism training, including literacy and computer skills classes, to women across the globe, GPI employs these women as journalists—empowering individuals and improving the lives of their families. At the same time, GPI also improves global journalism by including the perspective of community members on the issues that impact them, including social injustices in their societies. Today, GPI operates news desks in 25 countries and employs more than 100 women around the world. GPI stories are accessible to over 5 million people monthly and can be found in English on the GPI news wire as well as on UPI, Reuters, and the Huffington Post. GPI stories also appear in local language in dozens of news outlets around the world. Recently, stories written by GPI reporters have been honored with prestigious journalism awards and have helped spur real social change in areas ranging from civil rights to maternal health in countries including Nepal, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda.