In 2013, just one year after InfoAmazonia was founded, the DW Akademie held a meeting on journalism and innovation. It brought together professionals from Latin America and Germany. It was a fun-filled and, of course, inspiring week. Some friendships were born there, and I believe that none of us lost sight of those projects at that meeting.
A few months ago, I thought of this event when Steffen Leidel and Julia Wegner from DW Akademie and Benson Githaiga from the Aga Khan University Media Innovation Centre asked me to reflect on my experiences raising funds for journalism projects. I confessed to them that I had never done such a reflection, but it was precisely the memory of those conversations in Buenos Aires in 2013 that came to inspire me.
I thought mainly about the importance of looking at your project in the long term, of considering an idea at the beginning of a path that can be very difficult (not to say impossible) to know where it will lead.
Patience is key
As I consider this long journey, here are two of the first lessons I can share. First, be patient and be ready to recalculate the route! Follow your ambitions with determination, be faithful to the vision of your project, to its essence. But be flexible to absorb ideas and suggestions from your allies.
In 2013, when I was at the DW Akademie meeting in Buenos Aires, I treated my project very differently. I thought, together with my colleagues, especially journalists James Fahn and Juliana Mori, with whom I had conceptualised it from the beginning, that everything would be nothing more than a data visualisation platform and digital maps.
Today, ten years later, maps and data are still an essential part of what InfoAmazonia does. However, the project has matured into a non-profit organisation with many other activities. As a member associated with this institution, I can say that InfoAmazonia is much more aware of its mission.
Today, I notice that the original idea is still represented in the organisation’s core. But that the organisation itself does many things differently than we had imagined. Apart from data visualisation projects, we make documentaries, investigations, varied reporting, and plural alliances with civil society.
While your organisation must be ready to explore the paths your partners offer, this coherence in telling your story to a donor can be the key to success. This little story with a beginning, maybe some middle ground, but certainly an end to be reached helps a lot to understand the logic behind your ambitions. After all, why would you want to turn your ideas into something concrete? What is your contribution?
One thing that makes me very happy about InfoAmazonia is that (at least) in narrative terms, this is a very sustainable organisation! What I mean is once we were able to launch the first version of the project in 2012, other members joined the team, and among their capabilities is communicating the goals of InfoAmazonia and seeing partnership opportunities.
One of the people on the team that I am very proud to talk about is journalist Stefano Wrobleski. He joined the project as a reporter in 2015. Since then has embraced the narrative about the fundamental contributions that the organisation can make to society. Today as director of InfoAmazonia alongside co-founder Juliana Mori, he acts on the frontlines to establish new partnerships.
Stefano is also the Geojournalism Coordinator for Earth Journalism Network, working directly with another InfoAmazonia co-founder, James Fahn. In this role, he has become an articulator of a network of professionals worldwide who, like InfoAmazonia, believe in using geographic data as a powerful narrative tool to tell the tremendous environmental transformation we are going through these days. So he helps organisations such as InfoCongo and InfoNile to benefit from technology updates, training and other possible collaborations.
So, as contradictory as it may seem, upon reaching its tenth anniversary, InfoAmazonia is different: it has grown but still remains the same.
To better explain this contradiction – of being different and yet the same – I need to use a cliché, a cliché that, not by chance, has a lesson for us. Test the minimum viable product!
I can highly recommend this: try out different aspects of your ideas, like we try out bifurcations on a trail in a mountain or forest.
The main reason for testing is to allow yourself to mature. It doesn’t mean that your thoughts are not at the advanced stage or that the idea has not been thought through properly. On the contrary! It may be complete, but it just can’t find the conditions to execute at once.
So the model, the sketch, the script, the teaser, in short, what we can call the prototype, can be a good start for the realisation of innovation.
Back to the 2013 DW Akademie meeting in Buenos Aires. I was very touched by media innovators from East African countries who illustrated the spirit of leaving a mark, of building something to last with their ideas. During an afternoon of conversation, I shared a proposal on how to “find your voice” when doing grant writing.
My main point is that no one sits down to write proposals, only to seek money. There’s an idea, a vision, an important goal, the need for impact, and last but not least, the need for change.
Gustavo Faleiros is Pulitzer Center’s Environmental Investigations Editor and the co-founder of InfoAmazonia.
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