The Effects of Setting Environments On Young People’s Dreams.

If you have been following, you know that we have been experimenting with the idea of creating content creators in rural areas. We have been doing a pilot with Sophia, a girl in Malindi who showed interest in becoming a tiktoker but did not know how to begin. At the point of starting, she had not heard of the word content creator and could not even pronounce it — read Sophia’s story here. Now, Sophia has 7.6 K followers, just 9 months into the game.

At the beginning our idea was simple: empower local youths like her to take up content creation as a form of expression by teaching them how to use some of the existing social media like tiktok and facebook. They would use these mediums to talk about the issues they care about, their ideas, opinions, their imaginations, their pain points as well as commenting on the performance of their local governments as far as service delivery is concerned. Moreover, because they would have now become influencers, it is they who organisations would work with on awareness and behaviour change campaigns. It would be easier for them to connect with their communities because they are from those very communities — they understand the norms, the language, the nuances etc that universal influencers may miss.

So when we began with Sophia, we wanted to transform her into a Star, in Kilifi and beyond! We imagined her being one of the biggest content creators and social media influencers in the country, because she has the confidence, creativity, voice and charisma that she needs to make it. We imagined her working with big brands, giving talks and mentoring other young people by calling out the creators in them. We saw in our minds how she would talk about the issues of Malindi and call attention to those that needed urgent attention. She would be such a success that she would be an inspiration to other young girls out there who have something to share with the world but are hiding for one reason or another. This is still the goal. But, as is with many journeys, they have their successes and their moments of struggle. We have had our fair mix of successes and struggles:

What have succeeded in?

  1. On top of being a consumer of content, Sophia is now a contributor. She is telling her own unique stories that would not have been told by anybody else. She is giving her audience a sneak peek into her life and that of the community around her, therefore in some way helping spread the experiences, ideas and culture of Malindi.
  2. She is inspiring other people (her friends and people who knew her before she started making content) to experiment with content creation. They say, “Wait, is this Sophie? Sophie has 100k views?! She is going big! If she can do it I will also try it out.” Again, with more people seeing all this diverse content, experiences, ideas and cultures are spread.
  3. She has grown from 0 to 7.6K followers in just 9 months. Her videos are being viewed by an average of 2,000 people per post, with some even reaching 76K and 320K.
  4. Sophia can now develop her own ideas and executive them, without having to wait on us to give her the concept.
  5. Additionally, we have trained her to use tiktok and its functionalities. Now she knows how to shoot/upload her own videos, do basic editing, simple captioning, posting, monitoring the performance of the post and even how to engage with her audience.
  6. She gained much needed interest in content creation that she began to explore other ways to deliver, e.g. through comedy, dancing, stories and lip Synching.
  7. Her motivation to continue was heightened by the fact that she was growing followers rapidly & she was getting attention from her peers and local community.
  8. Because she is online more, she is interacting with a lot more ideas from other creators. This is important because it loads onto her new mental models that she may act on and derive value from.
  9. Gaining Sophia’s trust. And this was difficult. Her default position — as is with many young people in rural areas — is that you have come to ‘use them’ to advance your own personal agenda. Others have lost hope in seeing the activities of nonprofits because “we have seen people like you come and go, so you might as well just save all of us some time.” We observe that for communities to fully buy into your propositions, they have to trust you. And they trust you when you have introduced yourself to them and made crystal clear what your intentions are, when they see you frequently in the places that they are in engaging with them, when you don’t dismiss their opinions and respect their points of view, when you demonstrate with easy examples how your proposition will impact their lives, when you are truthful about the sacrifices they will have to make to realise this solution and, most importantly, when you help them deal with an immediate problem.

What are we struggling with?

The biggest obstacle that we (Sophia and ourselves) have had to contend with is motivation. She constantly finds herself in a space where she feels hopeless. She asks, “What is the point of this? So I do videos everyday then what happens? How long will this take? What if it doesn’t work?” to which we respond by reminding her the bigger picture and introducing her to people who have followed that path and gone to become big e.g. Wabosha Maxine, a popular content creator and influencer, with whom they have a video. Sometimes, we motivate her with some money to solve her immediate needs.

We soon realised that in all the moments when Sophia would have doubts as to the usefulness of this program, there was something not going right in her personal life. Either she had no money (and so no food, airtime, new clothes etc), her relationship was not okay, there was a family squabble, she had not gotten something she had wanted to get or she had come across someone who was doing better than she was and so her esteem had been affected etc. Conversely, if things were going on smoothly in her personal life, she would be very enthusiastic about creating content and would light up with ideas.

Of all her personal life problems, food causes the most damage. It affects her moods, her energy, her motivation and sometimes, her judgement. It causes her to despair, to be desperate and impatient. We observe (and insist since it has been observed by many before us) that in trying to make an impact in our communities, the soundness of the vision is not enough to cause people to act. Their wellbeing is paramount. For as long as they are worrying about food, shelter, clothing and health, one is likely not to succeed. But if you take care of these needs, one now has the space to think about how they might pursue the vision you are proposing.

Like all of us, Sophia wants to succeed. Her dreams include building her own house where she shall not pay anyone any rent, have enough money to afford basics and luxuries as well as take care of her family. But, her setting right now is discouraging. She lives in a rural coastal town that has been adversely affected by loss of tourism, she works a job she hates that may or may not turn a coin at the end of the day, she is discriminated against when seeking jobs just because she is girl and is functionally illiterate, her family is unstable, her friends are uninspiring (they are all in a similar place as she is) and other harsh realities.

As a way out, she is intent on going to the Middle East to find a job there as a security guard. She is almost sure that she will get a job that will pay her KSH 30,000, which according to her, is enough to reach the dreams mentioned above. Every so often, you can hear her lamenting that there is nothing for her in this country where the government cares about nothing but itself, so she would rather go suffer elsewhere. She is among the youths who did not vote in the just concluded 2022 General Elections in Kenya because she feels that the government does nothing for her. All these distractions eat away at what we are trying to work on with her.

For her to come this far, she has had to exert a lot of energy and make huge sacrifices. She contends with friends who mock her because they do not understand what she is working towards, people who make insensitive comments on her videos and even people who have plenty of ideas on how she should and should not create her content —even though they know nothing about content creation. In all of these, we have made sure that we are accessible to her to clarify her doubts.

We hold that we can achieve the dream that we have for her and transfer that to other young people in Kilifi County. We continue to find ways of keeping her motivated and exposing her to ideas and experiences that will inspire her.

We shall keep you updated on the progress we are making with Sophia on her content creation journey. We invite you to partner with us or share any ideas you might have about how we can change Sophia’s life (and through her that of many others) on the comment section below or by sending us an email on [email protected]

Thellesi Trust
Thellesi Trust

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