RNW Media is an international NGO based in the Netherlands that supports inclusive governance and social cohesion as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in restrictive societies across the Middle East and Africa. They specialize in building large digital communities that enable free expression and solicit citizen feedback for social change. RNW Media’s online discussions are moderated by community members to yield robust yet safe and respectful civic discourse and feedback even in highly fractured and conflict-prone countries. Despite the challenge of working in politically-tense contexts, RNW Media has made incredible progress, with 36.8 million users in 2018 alone.
As RNW Media continues to build online communities, they face a few challenges. First, It is difficult to create online communities that are balanced in terms of gender, ethnicity, and other identities, especially in countries with tense political situations. So far, RNW Media has invested in getting young women on their platform in Libya, and as a result they now have a good gender balance – so much, in fact, that many people in Libya describe them as a feminist platform. Achieving a representative balance of gender and ethnicities across their platform, however, is another challenging step. Second, it is challenging to connect youth on the platform to influencers and decision-makers in their societies. And finally, RNW Media is seeking advice for how to scale their model effectively to new contexts. Here is what attendees had to say about the challenges.
1. You reap what you sow when it comes to diversity and inclusion. RNW Media has already seen that their inclusion efforts have an impact! When they invested in getting young women on their platform, more women joined. LabStorm attendees suggested that they use the same tactics to get other types of diverse participants involved with RNW Media. LabStorm attendees emphasized that when inviting new, and possibly vulnerable, audiences to the platform, effective moderation is key. Moderators must ensure a safe, respectful discourse that is welcoming to newcomers and encourages them to readily engage and offer their views on their lives and societies. And without this skillful handling of the online conversation, feedback, especially from marginalized groups, is seriously compromised.
2. When scaling, build trust. Moving to a new country is a unique challenge for RNW Media, because it requires them to not only adjust the platform to the new context, but also to start fresh building trust with the local community. LabStorm attendees emphasized that in-person events, such as the ones currently carried out by the Huna Libya country partner, are a great way to build trust with a new community. People may be more willing and open to engage in person at first, and then take conversations online. In person gatherings are also a good opportunity to collect feedback and ideas from youth that can be applied to the implementation of a new country platform.
3. Consider unique business models for social change. RNW Media builds online communities that generate political discussion and citizen feedback. But sharing that feedback with decision-makers can be a challenge. LabStorm attendees validated RNW Media’s work building the capacity of youth change-makers, but also suggested new creative ways that RNW Media can utilize their vibrant online community for social change. RNW Media could adopt a business model similar to dosomething.org that allows youth to participate in social good projects that suit their interests. As they continue to grow to new country contexts, RNW Media can experiment with new iterations of their model.
This LabStorm was just the beginning of a bigger conversation. Beyond the challenges of ethnic diversity, scaling, and making social impact, RNW Media faces the challenge of working in conflict-prone countries. This LabStorm reminded us of the importance of human connection for building communities in these tense contexts. Effective moderation is key to ensure safe, respectful discourse where young people share their feedback on their lives and societies. Are you an expert at building online communities or working with youth in conflict-prone countries? Leave a comment below, or send a message to [email protected].