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#WomensDay- SIX speaks with women who are pioneering their field: Priyanka Dutt

Published Date: 8 March 2017

As part of International Women's Day, SIX is highlighting a number of brilliant women who are leading in their field. 

We spoke with Priyanka Dutt from BBC Media Action in India. Priyanka has always been fascinated by the power of storytelling and her work involves using a variety of different platforms to broadcast their voices and experiences. #IWD2017.

Can you tell me a bit more about what you do and what inspired you to do this work?
I am a communicator. I've always been interested in the power of telling stories and shaping narratives. I started my career in television and early on I had a chance to work with BBC World Service Trust (now BBC Media Action) as a television producer, which was my first entrance to development work. I found that I could take the skills and experience from mainstream commercial television and use them for very different outcomes. The ability to influence people's lives and how they see world got me hooked on development communication.

That was 20 years ago in TV and over the years I've worked across multiple medias including radio, TV, and online; working with-a whole range and means of communicating with people. What's kept me interested and excited is finding new ways to communicate information so that you're able to have an impact on people's lives.

The reason why I love the organisation and the work that I do is the diversity of the work that we do, from producing mystery shows with adolescents to talk about gender equality or creating mobile phone-based training courses for health workers in remote parts of India or creating radio programmes to use with a group of people that would never have had access to radio and now they have platform to share their voice. My work is about using a whole range of medium and tools to help people tell their stories.


Can you tell us about a defining moment where you could see the impact of your project? What are you most proud of in your work?

One of the core values of the BBC that informs our work is about audiences - they have to be at the heart of what we do. This was brought home so vividly for me back in 2002. I was a producer on a show where we travelled around the country on buses. It was an awareness programme with young people. We were a month into the roadshow and we were out in the middle of nowhere in Northern India. We were stopped at a railway junction and suddenly there was a huge crowd of people behind us. People had come out of the villages, the fields, out of everywhere around us. They had recognised the buses and they had been watching the show. They knew what were doing and they were talking about it. It was so exciting and it's such a vivid memory of being able to speak to the people that we were creating this for. This really stands out for me.

We're lucky enough to do such incredible work. There is another memory that stands out to me. It's a photograph of a man in a tribal community in Madhya Pradesh. He's in a loincloth holding a huge bow and arrow and he's standing face to face with the District Administration asking for his rights when it comes to his land.

This was part of a programme called Majboor Kisko Bola- 'Who are you calling helpless!' It was an awareness campaign that worked with tribal communicates, most at risk of modern slavery and bonded labour. We worked with 110 villages for a year, which wasn't a huge scale but was still significant.

At the heart of the programme was a radio-type show that aired weekly episodes about bonded labour and human trafficking, the law and human rights. We also trained facilitators within the village so they could facilitate a discussion after the show. At the end of the project we found that we were reaching 90% of the families within the villages and 63% of listeners knew what bonded labour was, compared to 32% who hadn’t heard the show.

We also created a missed call helpline number to get feedback on the show. However, this was used for all kinds of things like how do I get my widow's pension? Or my community hasn’t had water for generations, what can I do? I think my children may be in danger of being bonded - what can I do? We received 5000 calls within 1 year.

Through all of this we also created a platform, a listener's dialogue platform, which brought all of the listeners together to speak with district administration, police, and others in power to ask questions and register complaints. We hosted eight of these over the year and registered over 5000 grievances through this process. It was one of those projects where you can see change happen almost immediately. There was a lot of engagement with the community and enabling people to tell their stories.


What is your hope in relation to social innovation in the future? How will your work contribute to this hope? 

Particularly in India, we see that innovation is literally everywhere we look. Indians are known for jugaad (a word taken from Hindi which captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way) and we see it in everything and in everyone. However, there's a notion that social innovation is quite privileged and that you you need special skills to do it.

It would be really good for us to expand the base for social innovation and the notion where it can come from and what we privilege where it comes from. This has to be the way forward.

How we support this idea going forward is that everything for us is about people. It’s about the people’s lives that we want to impact, whether it is about health, human rights, economic empowerment or gender equality. The power of media and communications is to tell these stories, amplify these voices, create this movement, and give wings and momentum to ideas. This is really what we need to be capitalizing on and doing more of.

The power of media is the ability to take something and give it scale and access, all to have a further impact.


You can follow Priyanka on Twitter here.