Empowering Community Voices 

DRISHTI, a media, arts and human rights organization, firmly believe that the future of the media industry is Community Media. The cornerstone of a democracy is a Free Media. India became a democracy nearly 60 years ago yet its media industry remains controlled by a handful of business houses. However, over the last 10 years, a few media professionals, filmmakers, academicians, individuals and organizations have worked tirelessly with the government to truly democratize media.


We believe that the core of democratization of media is when media is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. This is also the basic principle of Community Media. Community Media is a media that is truly owned, controlled by and accessible to the common people living in remote rural areas, tribal hinterland and urban slums. A media in the hands of community people is the most powerful tool to ‘Empower Community Voices’.


We believe in working with local NGO partners/collaborators to initiate a community video unit within the communities they work with. Our core activity is to train local community members in community video production, building a media and development perspective. This training is conducted by a full time trainer located in the community video unit of the local NGO partner/collaborator over a period of 18-24 months to create content related to their lives. The content is decided by a Community Editorial Board comprising of people who live and work within the community. The content created by the community members is regularly  screened back in the community. The content reflects the stories of their experiences, their joys, sorrow, struggles, dreams and aspirations in their local dialect or language, through their local cultural art forms and idioms. Thus creating a media owned and controlled by some of the most marginalized and exploited communities in the world.


The Community Video Model

The Community Video Unit (CVU) comprises of 6-10 community members who are trained as full-time Community Video Producers. They produce a "Video Magazine" on different social issues every two months. These magazines are screened in around 25 to 30 bastis or villages on widescreen projectors to up to 10,000 people. The video is a tool for an NGO to expand scale and reach, promote awareness and information, and to enable communities to advocate and negotiate with relevant authorities.  It also empowers communities with a voice, both locally and globally, when we distribute the videos to the mainstream media.  It bridges the literacy barrier and communicates to people in the visual medium they like best. Finally and most importantly it promotes community-led change, through focused discussions and follow-ups with audiences around an "Action Point," in community screenings that often reach the majority of a village or basti.


What is a Community Video Unit?

·         It is a local production company run by up to 6-10 community members trained in all aspects of video production and distribution.

·         It has two video cameras, one computer, one TV/VCR and one wide screen projector for outdoor screenings.

·         It produces multiple videos on a continual monthly basis.

·         Its videos are seen by up to 10,000 people per month in community settings alone.

  • It is a partnership between Drishti Media and a local non-governmental organization.

Solutions-Based Media

Each CVU produces Video News Magazine every six to eight weeks. The content of the Magazine is decided by a Community Editorial Board based on viewer feedback and key campaign issues. Different segments might include:

·         Community News - the issues of poor communities, such as government schemes, local health issues and upcoming events that are not covered by the mainstream news

·         Opinion Polls - that capture community consensus and call to action on particular issues

·         Success Stories - such as families that have found economic success through educating their girls and other local successes.

·         Short Documentaries – where they provide information and insight on a specific subject, through varying visuals and narration.

·         Legal Tips – e.g., what to do if your name is not on a voter’s list

·         Local Culture and Music - could be introductions to the festivals of another community/religion or capturing local performances for wider dissemination.

·         Expose/video raids - such as short clips of closed government health services followed by an on-the-fly interview with the concerned government officials

·         Editorial - where the organization and the reporters take their stand-for-change on the issue and give follow up action points

·         Local humour/jokes/skits - because we need to make people laugh!


How is it seen?

Our strategy is to bring the programs to the same people, each month. By attempting to match the regularity of a news program as opposed to the randomness of documentaries, the aim is to create community ownership and participation in true People Media. One person on the team is full-time on distribution. Every month, this community distributor, travels to 25 villages, conducts night screenings, leads a discussion, and initiates follow up action.

Local Distribution

·         Widescreen projection in a village or basti square

·         Local cable networks

·         Distribution on VCD/DVDs in self-help groups and NGO networks


National and International Distribution

Drishti is now working to create opportunities to leverage these voices into the mainstream media by distributing their media on the Internet. We’re exploring advocacy campaigns, and starting to work with the mainstream media that is showing a growth in stories from the bottom of the pyramid.



How to Launch a CVU of your own:

We welcome collaborations with any NGO working with an empowerment approach with marginalised communities



The CVU produces impact at four main levels


It encourages government to take action

The CVU’s premise is that people who know their rights are much more likely to exercise those rights.  The videos provide basic legal information, advice on government schemes, and even such simple tips as locations of the local government agencies.  Armed with this basic information, local people have the courage and the knowledge to lobby with authority on their own.  Government, in turn, is much more likely to carry out its functions properly when it knows it is being watched.  The CVU model, therefore, can strengthen democracy by helping fight corruption and by encouraging local people to participate in government.  


It encourages local people to take action

All the CVU videos project the message that local people need to take the lead in their own development, and culminate in an ‘action point,’ something concrete and locally do-able.  The videos inspire audiences with ‘success stories’ of local people who are making a difference, and the screenings and discussions provide otherwise absent platforms for the community to come together to discuss constructive steps.


It expands the scale and reach of social programs

The CVU screenings draw large crowds—on an average night, between 200 and 300 people, which is sometimes the majority of an area.  Many organizations operate on the Self-Help Group model, in which ten to twenty women in that group are an organization’s primary level of contact in that village.  The CVU, with its ability to spread messages to much larger group of people, is a very effective parallel strategy for our NGO partners. 



It transforms the producers into leaders and activists

Community Producers learn to articulate—and crucially, they learn to articulate on any issue.  This addresses a major development challenge today—communities served by NGOs often know how to organize on one issue (say, water, or health) but when a disaster of a different nature strikes, the community lacks the deeper problem-solving skills to address any problem.  The CVU provides cross-cutting training in communications, articulation, and analyzing problems that is applicable to any situation. 


How Video Creates Change



  • It communicates in the medium most appealing to people today
  • It breaks the literacy barrier
  • It is the most cost-effective way to reach large numbers of people if distributed strategically
  • It expands an NGOs' reach and scale
  • It promotes behavior change
  • TVs and films are present in nearly every village on the planet
  • It is a powerful tool in education, fundraising, networking and advocacy
  • It gives a voice to the poor to communicate their needs and knowledge to the outside world
  • It provides a platform to demand accountability and transparency from those in power
  • It acts as a forum for communities to discuss critical but unspoken social issues
  • It encourages 'people's led development', where the call for change is coming from within the community
  • It develops grassroots leaders and communicators
  • It provides livelihoods




The sustainability of the Community Video Units (CVU) is DRISHTI’s top priority and our Research and Training team is working tirelessly towards creating sustainability of these units.


  • Plans are underway to collaborate with a leading Management Institute in order to conduct research on sustainability. We hope to draw out business plans for each CVU to strengthen the community media initiative.
  • DRISHTI also provides ‘12-month’ fellowships to support the community producers.
  • Most of the CVU’s set up in the year 2006, have by now achieved up to 50% sustainability. They have done this by making films for NGO’s just like other professional documentary filmmakers. They also document the events, important activities or rallies conducted by other organizations. Along side this many of our Units have provided video training to members of the community and to the staff of the NGO they work with as well as other NGO’s in the neighbourhood. As our producers belong to the community itself and have successfully challenged all technological barriers, they prove to be excellent trainers.
  • In keeping with this belief, we have also decided to experiment with training the Community Producers to such a level of expertise that they can become trainers of the new Community Producers. As we upscale and take on new collaborations to set up new Community Video Units, there is a constant demand within the system for new trainers. This demand can be fulfilled by our trained community producers. This will definitely add to the sustainability of the Community Video Unit they belong to. Our first such experiment began in July 2008 with AKSHARA’s Community Video Unit in Mumbai. Recently we have begun training producers of SAATH’s Community Video Unit to provide training to 3 new CVU’s. Our producers say that this has been a great empowering experience for them.



Communities a part of a Global Media Revolution

Typically local communities have been exploited and enslaved by technological hegemonies. This is your opportunity to become a part of the new media revolution across the globe and to share your VOICE and expression within your community as well as with the world.




Partners and Collaborators in the Community Video Model:


We have collaborated with more than 10 leading NGO’s in India to set up Community Video Units across India. Our collaborators include:


·         Akshara, a non-profit working for the rights of women in Mumbai.


·         Yuvshakti, a youth network in Gujarat.


·         Yuva, a Human Rights non-profit in Mumbai


·         Laya, a non-profit working for the rights of the ‘Tribal’ in Andhra Pradesh.


·         HIHT, a non-profit which provides local health care in Uttrakhand.


·         Saath, a non-profit working for urban poor in Gujarat


·         Hindswaraj Mandal, a non-profit which works with the schools following 'Nayee Taleem" based on Gandhian ideology.


·         Sahyog- A non- profit, secular organization in Ahmedabad whose primary focus is on long- term development of Vatva area which was severely affected by the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.


·         Udaan- a non- profit education resource center in Gujarat focused on curriculum development, advocacy and training of educators in the values of diversity, equality and citizenship.


In these units, Drishti has trained more than 75 people in the community to create video content on varying issues such as access to basic infrastructure, tribal identity, accessing health care, accessing public distribution systems and celebrating communal harmony. Many of these units are functioning independently today with training and trouble shooting support from Drishti.


















Stories of impact from CVU screenings Until Jan 2008



Drishti along with support from 6 NGO’s set up Community Video Units where media is created by the people, for the people and of the people of the community. Media is just a tool for empowering people to voice their stories and issues so that they become the change makers in their lives and society.


We pen down for you below some stories where this community created content has spearheaded change in the lives of people.


“I don’t want to compare our coverage with that of mainstream media. We do an entirely different thing. We tell untold stories. Stories of people whose lives are rarely covered in the mainstream other than as victims of a train accident or drought. We make films on our community people’s struggles and their success.”

Noor, Community Media Producer 

Sakshi Media

Panchmahal, Gujarat


Aishwarya Rai & Abhishek Bachchan are getting married. If you open the papers every day you will read something about this marriage. I want to know why should the papers cover news like this. Why is this marriage so important to us? Why doesn’t television have news for us & about us? That is why Apna TV is different. We have stories about our community and  for our community.

Samata Jadhav

Apna TV




While making their first video raid, Sakshi unearthed the story that funds allocated for repairing a flooded artery road for a group of villages in Katu had been scuttled. Even while this group was still making their film on basic infrastructure, government officials started rebuilding this road. The team rushed to film this and the official from the Public Works Department not only promised on screen that they would have this road completely repaired but provide an additional funds of Rs. 300,000 for roads in that area. The team followed up this story and saw it to its successful conclusion.

July 2006


Sakshi Media through their exposes have been successful in bringing doctors back to their local Public Health Clinics and got better roads and irrigation. The local goons of a powerful political party where so threatened by the work of Sakshi that they beat up the producers and the trainers while they were at a local screening. The group, which had 5 women and 3 men, was disbanded after this incident. However in December 2008, Sakshi was revived again albeit with new people. One committed producer still continues on board and the team had just one precious woman producer. They continue to work with commitment for their community.


A small information like ‘blood tests done for malaria should be processed within 72 hours from the time the blood is drawn…’ proved to be life saving for Vishwamma.

August 2006


Manyam Praja Video is based in the forests of Eastern Godawari. Like Vishwamma, most community producers come from the Konda Reddy adivasi community. During the monsoons this area gets completely isolated and cut off because the river swells up and people huddle on the banks and become ready food for malaria! This became one of the most important subjects for their film. Vishwamma learnt this important fact about malaria while she was making this film and managed to save her mother from an overdose of quinine, which could have poisoned her. The films made by Manyam Praja Video are one of the few sources of media available to the tribal communities living in this forest area. People walk for 5 to 8 kilometers to come and attend a film screening by this team. The screenings are made richer with dance and music performed by the local people and the community producers join in. This is true celebration of an old culture through modern means and this is what lays the corner stone of community media as a media for the future.


Every household with BPL ration cards are entitled to 12 litres of kerosene. 600 families belonging to Juhapura in Ahmedabad were successful in getting what was their right after watching a film made by their community members in Samvad Community Video Unit. February 2008


This was the simple truth told by Samvad Community Video Unit in their film on the public distribution system. While filming they stood down the lane from ration shops armed with standardised measuring cans. As women walked out of shops with filled kerosene cans they quickly swung into action to measure just how much kerosene the women had received. Most had got between 8 to 10 litres while they had all signed and paid up for 12 litres. There was not a single woman who had received the full 12 litres entitled! This is a reality well known and accepted by the community, however when juxtaposed with an interview of the Food Controllers officer stating in his official tones, the amount of kerosene people should be getting, then this reality ends up having quite a different colour. Samvad also exposed the truth that Juhapura, now a residential area for the muslims rehabilitated after the 2002 carnage, only received 8 litres of kerosene officially. This was blatant discrimination. Samvad screened this film at the Food Control office and around 600 families of Juhapura today ‘officially’ receive 12 litres kerosene.

Many from the community today openly fight with owners of ration shops so that they get their due.


If you are harassed on the streets, trains, your work place or your home… then speak out. Don’t remain silent. ‘Jor se bol…’

March 2008


This was the subject of a film made by Apna TV in Mumbai. Their film on sexual harassment became a part of a campaign launched by the parent NGO, Akshara. This film was screened in the Mumbai Police Department. It created such a stir and impact that a special dedicated help line was opened and is currently being maintained by the Mumbai Police Department. The team feels especially proud of this achievement as they were directly involved in the screenings and sentitisation workshops conducted for the Mumbai Police. This was even more challenging for them than screening and holding discussions in front of their community. When their film was appreciated, this team of young people felt that they have finally done something truly meaningful for their community and for their city.

January 2008/May 2009


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