South African ITU 2011 Digital Innovation Winner

Cape Town's Hajra Cassim is a winner in the Not-For-Profit Digital Innovators Award at ITU Telecom World 2011, out of 45 finalists from 22 countries around the world.

Held at the end of October in Geneva, Switzerland, Telecom World is one of the globe’s most important ICT events, brought together by The United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Hajra, a trainee director on the Film Industry Learner Mentorship (F.I.L.M.) MICT Seta Sallywood Project, won 8 500 Swiss Francs (roughly R75 000) for pitching the mobile-content-generation showmemobi model to an international investment panel, global leaders in technology, and a huge international audience via the internet.

At Telecom World, Hajra met the likes of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon; Carlos Slim Helú, one of the richest men in the world; and ITU Secretary-General, Hamadoun I. Touré

showmemobi is the Sallywood Project’s own mobile content channel, launching on a new mobile content platform or mobihood (mobile neighbourhood) at the end of November 2011.

Five-minute mobi-sodes of edutainment are written and produced by trainees on the Sallywood Project, a MICT SETA-funded skills programme created by F.I.L.M. to empower young media entrepreneurs.

“Our showmemobi pitch fortuitously captured the essence of the entire conference, that captivating content essentially drives the uptake of technology as the channel attracts more and more users,” says Hajra, a former Bandwidth Barn graduate. “I love ICT and I love making movies, so it’s the perfect way to marry my passions.”

In South Africa, there is over 50% youth unemployment. “Six months ago, I was part of that statistic,” says Hajra, a single mother of a four-year-old boy. “Through showmemobi, we want to empower people who are marginalised to tell and sell stories through film electronic and digital media; stories that touch and transform lives and in the process, create employment for emerging micro-entrepreneurs who generate the content.”

The average feature film costs R5million in South Africa. “Mobile jumps the traditional barriers to entry and allows us to make films, reach an audience and interact with them in an ongoing way via mobile,” says Hajra. “It would take me forever to direct a feature, but now in six months I can direct my own mobile series.”

Using Nollywood’s $2 billion annual industry as an example, Hajra believes the key is to make proudly local content in the local vernacular. “We have 11 official languages in South Africa,” says Hajra. “I’m Indian, so mobile allows me to make films in Hindu or Urdu, which - depending on your content - can be hyper-localized and very niche, or totally generic.”

Hajra is currently developing her first series for showmemobi: Cape Town in Joburg, which follows the journey of a rural woman who inherits the Joburg Bar on Long Street. She plans to shoot the five-minute mobi-sodes on her new Blackberry. “It’s mobile for mobi,” she says.

F.I.L.M. project director Seton Bailey accompanied Hajra to Geneva. He says the prize money is going to buy production equipment for F.I.L.M. and showmemobi. He adds that meeting and working with heads of state and other world leaders was life-changing. “Apart from the incredible contacts, we now have a far clearer understanding of how to pitch the huge benefits of our not-for-profit showmemobi mobile-content-generation project to venture capitalists, angel investors and the world,” says Seton. “Special thanks to the MICT Seta and ITU for laying the foundations for our future…”

At the awards, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General, said, “I have no doubt that many of the young innovators will go on to big things and help further reshape our digital world in ways my generation cannot even imagine.”

Hajra is starting to believe that’s possible after having an epiphany on the trip. “Here was this single mum from a small town, Newcastle, standing outside the UN and engaging with some of the top level telecommunications and business people in the world, carrying the dreams of 40 students in my class at F.I.L.M. It brought me close to tears. I always thought it would be someone else, someone brighter or better. It just shows that if you follow your bliss, doors and windows will open and opportunities will present themselves where none existed before.”

For more information, visit http://www.filmsa.co.za.

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