May 31, 2012
I wonder if you could make a reality “game” that involves lifting poor villages out of poverty. Imagine that a team of show producers land in some African village and offer village leaders the following deal: If the village agrees to let the producers have full access to the village and its citizens, and broadcast them on the Internet and regular TV, the village will get substantial assistance in return.
The game model is that folks at home can sign up to help any one of the several villages in the game. There’s no cost to sign up for a village, but you might decide later to donate your time, money or expertise. The team is comprised of the village plus the producers plus the audience for that village all working together. The objective is to make the most improvement in your village compared to the other teams helping other villages.
A key to making this work is that metrics for success need to be tracked. Perhaps literacy, illness, or even access to running water or electricity could be among the things tracked. That still leaves a lot of subjectivity, so perhaps judges could pick winners each week just to keep things competitive and interesting.
The audience at home would have access to social media tools to organize their efforts. They would pick leaders among themselves and establish their own set of rules for communicating and voting on ideas to try in their chosen village. If a team needs money for its plans, and presumably they would, it’s up to them to figure out how to get it and how to spend it. They could tax themselves, sell ads on their social media tools, or offer promotional consideration to companies that help out, and so on. The rule is that there would be no rules.
The smarter teams would start by gathering as much information on the village as possible. They would want maps of the area to understand the need for roads and irrigation. They would want baseline statistics on whatever needed to be measured. And they would want to get to know several villagers particularly well in order to gather ongoing intelligence and negotiate their planned solutions. Producers would try to get the more interesting villagers to star in the production. Half of the challenge is getting the villagers to cooperate and accept the new ideas. That’s where most of the drama would be.
An underlying assumption for this idea is that the world already has more solutions available than we have mechanisms for implementing those solutions. For example, the world already has technology for inexpensive hand pumps, water purifiers, solar power generators, and whatnot. The part that’s missing is the process for getting the right equipment into the right villages without it later being stolen, broken, or ignored. This is where the producers are valuable. They are the hands and eyes on the ground. And perhaps the first hurdle is getting your chosen village onboard with the plan, and making sure they can provide security and training for whatever assets arrive.
Half of the entertainment value would come from the audience itself as it tries to self-organize, pick leaders, raise money, and decide what to do. I can imagine one team organizing by expertise, with engineers and teachers in key positions. Another team might choose leaders by how much they are willing to personally donate to the village. That would put the richest donor in charge. If the richest donor is also a Bill Gates type, that might be an effective strategy. And you can imagine that every person gets a vote that counts in proportion to their contribution. If you donate nothing, you still get one vote. But the biggest donor might get 100,000 votes. If you don’t like that model, you’re free to switch to a team that organized another way.
I think it would be compelling programming. And in the process it would create models for helping villages that are in the worst shape.