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Blitstein: Global Press Institute's Cristi Hegranes Wins Prestigious Grinnell Prize

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My guest today is Ryan Blitstein, board member of the Global Press Institute.  Welcome to OpEdNews, Ryan. Can you please tell us a bit about GPI? 

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photo credit: David Loew

Thanks, Joan! Global Press Institute is a high-impact social venture that uses journalism as a development tool to educate, employ and empower women in the developing world. We produce high-quality local news coverage that elevates global awareness and ignites social change. It's a pretty amazing project founded by a journalist and journalism educator named Cristi Hegranes. 
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  I love the whole idea but I don't think that I understand how it works exactly. Tell us more. Can you give an example of GPI in action?

Well, the results don't look that different from good-old-fashioned journalism. For instance, a few years ago, GPI reporter Tara Bhattarai published a powerful article about discrimination against inter-caste couples in Nepal, including vivid stories of violence against lower-caste individuals. After the article was published, a television documentary was made on one of the couples. The Prime Minister's special unit on violence against women took up their case. That was a small victory, but an important one. And then, last year, when the Parliament of Nepal passed a new anti-discrimination law related to caste and inter-caste marriage, a member of the Prime Minister's legal team credited Tara with forcing the issue into the national conversation. This is just one of many examples of system-level change that GPI has catalyzed in more than 20 countries around the world. 
 What's different about GPI, though, is that Tara didn't go to journalism school or climb the ranks of Nepal's media industry. She's not a foreigner parachuting into report on Nepal either. She grew up in a remote rural village there, and until she was almost 10 years old, she didn't have access to education or basic health services. Against all odds, Tara finished high school and college (the only woman from her village to do either), but had not discovered a promising career path when she connected with GPI's journalism training program. After training from Cristi and GPI, she became one of our most effective reporters. You can read more about Tara, who is now a GPI Country Editor, here. Every GPI journalist's personal story is different, but Tara's is typical. We've been able to offer opportunity to more than 100 women like her, and that number is growing. What's incredible is that these women reporters are making big changes happen in their countries, even as GPI is giving them skills to help change their own lives. 
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  The injection of womanpower into local reporting makes a difference on several different levels, both for the women themselves and in terms of the actual coverage. Can you flesh that out for us?

Of course. Let me start with the coverage itself. As a former reporter, I can tell you that it is very difficult to go into any community--whether it's sex workers in Nepal or the Federal Bureau of Investigation--and earn the trust of the people you are reporting on. It's a challenge to learn the language; to understand the culture; to know what's left unsaid; and to have the history and knowledge that puts what you're seeing and hearing into context. Most foreign correspondents hire local fixers or reporter's assistants to help guide them as they report. What GPI's model does is take people who otherwise might be fixers (or sources) and train them to be full-fledged reporters. This addresses many of the problems I mentioned above. The fact that they're women means they are particularly adept at earning the trust of sources in stories on bread-and-butter issues like educating girls and sensitive topics like political rape. The other great thing is that, as women who've lived their lives in these countries, they turn their attention to stories overlooked by mainstream media. 
 For the women themselves, this is really an empowerment and economic development program. GPI reporters often come from underprivileged communities--members of the untouchable caste in Asia, former sex workers in Africa, and indigenous women in Latin America. Many have limited formal education. Going through the GPI program is literally life-changing--our reporters are able to make a fair wage to help provide for their families, with the knowledge that their reporting is making a difference in their communities. And this has far-ranging ripple effects. International development agencies have demonstrated that investing in women and girls is a great bet in developing countries, because women who work tend to stay close to home, and reinvest 80-90 percent of their income into their families and communities. 
In fact, $1 invested in providing skills-based education to women typically results in a $34 return on investment to the global economy. And when women are educated and employed, poverty is alleviated, infant and maternal mortality rates decrease, population growth is more controlled, and overall quality-of-life indicators in a community improve. 
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  Talk about a win-win situation!  Very exciting, Ryan. I read that Cristi Hegranes, GPI's founder, is receiving a big award next month. What's that all about? 

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Cristi Hegranes, photo credit: Alameda Magazine
Yes, it is a pretty amazing model. Cristi developed it over the course of several years--trying things out, seeing what worked, iterating, and improving. GPI wouldn't have become what it is without a lot of risk-taking and humility on her part. That's one reason I'm so proud of her selection as a winner of the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize this year. The Grinnell Prize "honors individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change." 
It's a $100,000 prize, with half going to the winner's organization, and half going to her personally. As you can imagine, this is tremendous validation for an organization whose budget was less than the prize amount just a few years ago. The announcement alone has significantly raised awareness of our work in both the media innovation and international development communities. Of course, I'm just jealous Cristi gets to meet Jerry Greenfield (co-founder of Ben & Jerry's), who's delivering the keynote at the awards ceremony next week. 
  That is cool.  Ice cream sundaes for everyone!  How did you get involved with GPI, Ryan? 

Once upon a time, Cristi and I were cubicle-mates at a San Francisco newspaper called SF Weekly . She was one of the best investigative reporters on the staff. I still remember when she told me she was quitting to launch GPI. I was very nice about it, but at the time I thought she was nuts and that it'd never work. I'm so glad I was wrong! I acted as a sort of volunteer advisor to the organization for a couple years as it was getting going, and was asked to join the board in 2009. 
  Nice!  What haven't we talked about yet?

I'd love to give OpEdNews readers the opportunity to get involved. We're always looking for volunteers, partners, advocates, supporters...if you want to be a part of the GPI community, we'd love to hear from you. And for readers in Chicago, we're hosting a cocktail event November 27 to celebrate the Grinnell Prize and introduce GPI to new friends in the Midwest. Details here. Thanks so much for highlighting this crucial work!
  Thanks so much for talking with me, Ryan. It was a pleasure. Congratulations to Cristi and GPI!

 link to the Grinnell Prize award/video 
Thanks to Yael B for making this connection. 


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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