Upon my confirmation as the incoming Executive Director of EngageMedia, I told Andrew Lowenthal that he was handing me a tremendous gift. EngageMedia is Andrew’s brainchild, one that I like to believe was sparked during (if not partly by) our first encounter, some 18 years ago, at my apartment in Kuala Lumpur. Back then I was a Programme Officer with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with a portfolio on the emergent fields of information and communications technology (ICT) for development; Andrew was mulling over the potential of converging movements brought on by new ICTs – the democratisation of the production and distribution of video documentaries for social change, open and secure modes for that trend, and reconstitution of rights in and brought upon by new media. It was clear that we shared the same ethos and were excited about new frontiers, new possibilities, and new challenges.
Almost two decades later, the world has changed dramatically. The network society is upon us in full force – screens are ubiquitous, data flows are breathed in and out like air, we live in an image and video surplus, and power asymmetries are far greater than anyone could have anticipated while information symmetries are overwhelming. We live in a new openness that is more Huxleyian than it is Orwellian. How do we navigate, individually and collectively? What are the boundaries from which we can benefit from being data subjects? Which are the injustices we should work to reform? What are our rights? How do we remain open yet secure? How do we appropriate technologies for positive social, economic, cultural, and political change?
In the early days of ICT adoption, of networks, information flows, and computation, there seemed to be a promise of flattening power and processes. While this is true in pockets, the concentrations of power by the state and corporate players are unprecedented. As networking has made some aspects of life more convenient for privileged sectors of society, the risk for most – of being left behind and being disabled – remains a challenge. Moreover, the number of actors in surveillance capitalism has multiplied unimaginably – every business is in the business of data collection. The data subject is necessarily a surveilled subject: in education, at work, at play, in social networking, in social media. We watch ourselves being watched, while watching others.
EngageMedia offers and promotes alternatives. It is our namesake – we were founded on the idea that ICTs allow communities and changemakers new opportunities to engage with media. This is more the case than it was at EngageMedia’s inception. Today, the demand and need for skills in video production for change is greater than ever. We aim to scale our efforts to build capacity for independent filmmakers in the region. We continue to expand networks and platforms for social issue documentaries, also. We are proud to share that our Cinemata platform recently hosted 60 films from the Gawad Alternatibo film competition. Cinemata is designed to empower filmmakers by giving them control of how their documentaries are uploaded and curated.
With this transition of office, my enthusiasm for contributing to positive change is renewed. Those challenges and opportunities that Andrew and I shared are more relevant and pressing as ever.
In taking up my new role, I hope to bring interdisciplinarity: network physics and governance on the one hand and rights approaches on the other. I hope EngageMedia will benefit from my near 30 years of experience, of work and life in the Asia-Pacific region. I aim to strengthen our research of advocacy capacities. I aim to further our work and reach in South Asia, while strengthening our existing work in Southeast Asia.
Most exciting of all, I look to learn from our incredibly dedicated and talented team. The organisation operates and shines from their contributions. EngageMedia in recent months has expanded nearly twofold to include passionate professional staff who share a common mission: put simply, to make the world a better place by enabling changemakers and being changemakers ourselves. I am honoured to have this opportunity to grow with them.
Our EngageMedia mission remains intact and prescient as ever. The ink is still fresh, even more than 210 months after Andrew penned these objectives for the organisation:
To our partners and funders, I offer my passion for the issues I’ve been grappling with all my professional life. I offer experience in alliance building, field building, grantmaking, and research. I will advocate for just, equitable, and secure access to technologies that speak to the region’s diversity and heritage. I look forward to your guidance and collaboration. EngageMedia is as always ready and open to push forward positive and constructive agendas.
Upon my confirmation, I promised Andrew that I would treat his gift with the utmost care and responsibility, as he did in his remarkable stewardship.
The EngageMedia family wishes Andrew the best in his future endeavours. He will no doubt make us proud. We look forward to further guidance from him as he serves on the EngageMedia board.
writeln(“May the network be with you, Andrew!”);