The Writing for Freedom Programme
Concept note: The Writing for Freedom Programme
Connecting journalists, artists, writers and civil society activists in the Middle East and North Africa
Freedom of speech and expression have been vital engines in the movements for democracy, human rights and access to justice across MENA. A variety of local and global platforms have been used to create and disseminate art and commentary on old regimes, to build coalitions of protest and to keep a critical eye on the new regimes that have emerged. Outside the transition states, these platforms remain the sites of creative interventions, minute by minute analysis and explosive provocations to the old order. While this interaction is vital, imbued with immense human energy and seemingly limitless potential, it is also often fleeting. The artists and writers who are making these protest movements and interventions are not alone. There are many young people in government service, in politics and in the judiciary, who share the values and ideas of the protestors. If transition is to be successful across the region and if those old regimes that remain in power are to achieve modernisation without violence, there need to be connections made across generations between those inside the machine and those outside. Further, there needs to be regional connections made between these activists who are often not aligned to the traditional regional political actors like the Muslim Brotherhood and the younger generation of officials who want to see their countries change and reform. TSRN is launching a series of initiatives to create a network across the region that brings groups from across political divides together in a common Fellowship experience. This Fellowship will cross divides within countries and it will link key individuals across the region.
The intention is to create linked cohorts of writers, artists, journalists and civil society activists – some of whom will cross over between these boundaries, all of whom will want to enhance their writing and communications skills. The basis of participation will be the ideas and the projects that the Fellows want to see delivered in their own countries. These can be media based projects, creative interventions or civil society projects, but they must all entail a significant challenge for the Fellows in terms of exploring new communications mediums and techniques.
- An experienced journalist working in print now wants to work on longer pieces that combine print publication with an online presence that can also serve as the foundation for video packages.
- A novelist or playright having published successful fiction, now wants to concentrate on creating a web site devoted to promoting, protecting and defending human rights in a particular area.
- A civil society activist wants to explore the use of writing workshops in the compilation and dissemination of human rights abuse testimony.
- An experienced broadcast journalist wants to turn previously completed pieces into educational theatre pieces to take into schools.
- A government information officer wants to develop better internal and external communications strategies to give him or her the ability to present the policy of their organisation directly to the public and to key stakeholders without this being mediated by the central communications departments or the media.
- An elected representative wants to create a digital platform for hearing and responding to constituents’ needs
All these potential Fellows will share the desire to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new communications techniques, all share seniority and potential as leaders in their fields, and all are committed to the modernisation of their countries.
The Fellowship will allow participants to:
- Take time to reflect on new mediums and new media.
- Discuss and act on the interconnectedness of art, freedom of expression and politics.
- Learn from people from different sectors of their own society.
They will then comprise and join a network of likeminded individuals from countries undergoing difficult transitions and over time build into a network of leaders with shared values and a shared appetite for innovation.
For this pilot initiative up to 25 Fellows (depending on funding) will be selected from across the initial target countries: the GCC, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq. This pilot project will begin with a broad sectorial focus to attract writers from across government, private sector, civil society and the media (broadly defined and including digital writers/artists).
Given the need for dialogue across the divides in these polities, the pilot programme will concentrate on Fellows who can present projects that reflect on the twin themes of freedom of expression and pluralism. They must also want to embrace a new medium as their means of taking this project forward. The specific areas of expression or form of project proposal will be the focus of each participant’s Concept Notes and Action Plans.
Each Fellow will have unique attachments in the UK during the residency phase of the programme devised around the content of the concept note/project proposal and the chosen medium. These will be in media organisations, with writers, poets and playwrights, with digital artists and other practitioners. The concept notes will be in English and the Fellows will work in English with their hosts, however the eventual outcomes can be in whatever language the Fellows choose. The learning experience for each Fellow will be the engagement with a new genre or new media, rather than primarily focussed on the content of the project, though this will obviously also develop. While the hosts will have much to contribute in the development of the project, the reality is that the content of the projects will be significantly enhanced by interaction between the Fellows themselves. Individual experience will be complimented with professional workshops focussed on common themes and techniques that allow time and space for dialogue between the Fellows.
On completion of the professional workshops and attachments programme, Fellows will present their work in an exhibition of finished pieces or poster presentations. The Fellows will then have up to 6 months to implement their Action Plans in their home countries and complete their creative projects. They will work on these together with key partners they have identified during the residential part of the programme. A 3-day workshop will take place in-country approximately mid-way through the implementation period drawing upon the skills and knowledge the Fellows gained from the residency period to improve on the presentation and delivery of a second iteration of the exhibition of work. This will include digital presentations, articles and film packages, staged readings and dress rehearsals, as well as presentations of works in progress and updating posters on the delivery of projects. Subjects to be considered might include themes like Islam and Democracy; Women’s Rights and Empowerment; New Media’s Role in Fostering Press Freedom.
In-country follow-up will assist participants in the implementation of their Action Plans by providing advice, guidance, and technical support. The ongoing contact will include the in-country workshop in a three way engagement between Integrity, the Integrity Fellows and their attachment hosts as well as on-going assistance by email, skype and other electronic communication. The follow-up will be action-orientated and may identify needs for greater training, examine new and unexpected challenges, and how to respond to them, and address equipment and funding needs. Depending on the nature of the Action Plan and the need to assure sustainability, the follow-up may draw in other actors as necessary.
Finally, participants will reconvene for a 3-day consolidation workshop in the UK, followed by the opening of a final exhibition of finished work. Participants in the final workshop may include Fellows’ hosts, the previous and next year’s Integrity Fellows and UK based writers and artists. It will also include potential funders, critics, editors and commissioning editors. The first cohort will become mentors to the second cohort and add another layer of shared experienced and learning as well as extending the dimensions of the network.
Each Fellowship will have a full economic cost of approximately £20,000. Assuming 25 Fellows per year spread over the target countries and two Fellowships a year with follow-up, this would entail an annual budget of £1-1.5m.