Nº 3 2013 > Young Innovators
Interview with Hajra Cassim
Mobile platform for telling South African stories
Hajra Cassim from South Africa’s Film Industry Learner Mentorship (F.I.L.M.) was one of the winners in the Not-For-Profit Digital Innovators Award category at ITU Telecom World 2011. She won the award for pitching a mobile-content-generation project called showmemobi. Ms Cassim explains that: “Through showmemobi, we want to empower people who are marginalized to tell and sell stories — stories that touch and transform lives and in the process, create employment for emerging micro-entrepreneurs who generate the content.”
What motivated you to enter the ITU Young Innovators Competition at Telecom World 2011? And what advice would you offer young women who hope to become innovators?
Hajra Cassim: My motivation to enter the ITU Young Innovators Competition stemmed from the fact that I was unemployed and could not use my traditional degrees to gain employment. I decided to follow my heart and passion, and saw that my love of social media and filmmaking could be combined to create hybrid platforms for telling South African stories. I joined the Film Industry Learner Mentorship programme, which provides employment, training and skills in the film industry. Knowing that ITU has a history of investing in creative and innovative solutions for young female entrepreneurs, I realized that entering the ITU competition was a great way to create a ripple effect for our not-for-profit showmemobi venture.
My advice to any potential entrepreneur is to “follow your bliss” or to follow the life journey that truly gives you joy. Have fun, create opportunities, and be willing to learn and adjust your plan accordingly. I have realized that what we term mistakes are in reality opportunities for growth and refinement. Having an outline or blueprint is essential for budgets or schedules, but try to experiment, persist with good ideas, and remember that sometimes creativity and innovation can be a product of necessity, as our experience shows.
How has winning this competition contributed to the development of your showmemobi project?
HC: Winning the competition was the first step in helping to create a foundation upon which we could build our social media platform. The win provided the much-needed equipment to film our stories and narratives, to create employment and engage with other stakeholders in the community to address social issues, create awareness or highlight events in Cape Town. We have now successfully launched Kwaai City, a social media magazine programme about local events and community news. We have been invited to gatherings of entrepreneurs, and we have made a guest appearance on SABC 3 television to talk about our programme.
Is the business environment in South Africa conducive to your project and activities — especially as a female innovator?
HC: The business environment in South Africa is conducive in some ways to our project activities, because it offers support such as providing networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs. We are given creative licence and media accreditation to major events and festivals, and we have received help in setting up partnerships with other not-for- profit organizations. However, more could be done by the corporate sector and by government to engage young filmmakers in projects. At present the culture and political climate of South Africa encourage female entrepreneurship and creativity, but many disparate organizations are involved, so there is an evident need for a central agency.
What are the next steps for your project?
HC: The next step for the project is to create 12-part dramas for mobile phones. The stories will be based on topics such as community health, specifically with regard to women’s wellness, and care of young infants and children, with a focus on nutrition and safety. Although these episodes will seek to entertain, they will have an underlying message in order to raise awareness, provide information and provoke discussion on pertinent topics in South Africa, such as HIV, tuberculosis, depression, unemployment, and youth education.
Who or what inspired you to study film?
HC: As a young child I was inspired by my mother who took me to the cinema. The cinematic experience was magical — it was a world in which I felt that dreams could come true. Later, a dedicated mentor inspired me to study the craft and art of filmmaking so that I could relate my narrative in a creative, engaging manner. Independent filmmakers and community filmmakers who have little or no budget yet who manage to create wonderful stories inspire me.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to succeed in filmmaking?
HC: Initially the barriers to entry were high, but winning the ITU Young Innovators Competition opened up opportunities and attracted media coverage, creating awareness about who we are and how we are fulfilling a positive function in the film industry. The learning process of filmmaking and social media is ongoing. I learn new skills and better styles of filmmaking daily.