While working at W+K London, we had the opportunity to work on a once in a lifetime project thanks to Fairtrade. The brief was about raising awareness of the benefits Fairtrade offer and showcasing the effect of choosing to buy Fairtrade products has across their network.
The answer came to us after one of our trips to Malawi. A colleague said that after witnessing the difference Fairtrade made at the village she visited in Malawi, she found herself looking for the Fairtrade mark every time she went to her local store. She could not allow herself not to buy Fairtrade. The challenge I set myself was to create a way to give everyone access to the same experience. For them to witness the positive side of Fairtrade directly, juxtaposed with the daily hardships the local growers face and how we can help.
Our idea was to empower the farmers themselves by giving them the tools to film their footage using Flip Cameras we had provided. They would answer questions posted on the AskMalawi.tv site via video on a weekly basis. Fairtrade would select the best ones, and get their representatives on site to choose the best growers to film the relevant answers back.
The conversation was meant to work both ways. So consumers could answer questions posted from the growers via SMS on the same website. All this would be translated to Chichewa and sent back via SMS, a system widely used across the region. Malawi.tv would have been the first service of its kind and enable direct and two-way dialogue between the producers and the customers themselves.
The vision was to allow any form of conversation to take place, and no subject to be censored or controlled by either Fairtrade or the government in Malawi, who had to give their approval, as we were about to give a group of local farmers a voice that reached across the globe.
The website was meant to mimic a full-screen video TV channel and work more like an interactive TV channel than a traditional website. Working with a great team including the late Andy Cameron and the creative director for Youtube and creator of Google Labs Tea Uglow, we worked on the concept of creating a Q&A system which used the subtitles (Chichewa to English) within the video clips as a form of metadata. This data would enable a more consistent and realistic dialogue between the user and website and understand the syntax of the questions asked. An unparalleled level of human language understanding, which was something only someone like Google and Tea Uglow were happy to undertake.
The plan was to create a Fairtrade.tv network with a number of flight-cases with a laptop and a set of Flipcams inside, to be rolled out to all regions and countries Fairtrade was present. The project would create the most extensive network of direct communication between farmers and consumers on the planet and a vital form of education to anyone of any age and bring us closer to understanding the importance of working together toward a better system.
Unfortunately, after nearly a year of research and endless, tireless work from everyone involved, the project came to an abrupt halt due to a sudden cut in funding. Fairtrade, ourselves and the whole team walked away in tears, and I have never felt this heartbroken at the loss of such an unbelievable monumental project coming to such a premature end.
N.B. Not all captions in the film are real translations from Chichewa and some clips are used for illustrative and narrative purposes only.