Interview conducted by Maria Schechter
Today’s change agents develop art and design as a core ingredient of the identity of an individual or a culture. In a world of global flows of wealth, power, and imagery, the search for identity becomes the fundamental source of social meaning. It is important to note that this research began when I initiated my graduate work with New York University, while under the guidance of Senior Faculty, Carlo M. Lamagna, Visual Art Administration Master’s Program, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, 2006. In 2009, I attended Schiller International University in Heidelberg, Germany, where I finalized my Masters in International Business with my thesis work in Cause Related Marketing. This is where I met Valentina Luketa, our class president. Valentina is from Croatia and is a shining example of a cultural liaison. After graduation many of us continued onto various firms and to support the work of international organizations. Recently, I caught up with Valentina to ask her about her experience in Cairo and how social media has been creating a cultural shift within their online communities.
The following is an interview that took place between Maria Schechter and Valentina via Facebook on March 17th, 2014.
Valentina Luketa, Croatia
Maria: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today to talk about your experience in Cairo and with the work you have been doing as a social media manager with the organization. Since graduate school, how has your travel and career been shaped by social media, and what have you been experiencing as a cultural shift in Egypt as a result of the use of social media?
Valentina: Following my graduation at Schiller, I got a job working for a marketing firm in Cairo, Egypt. It was not something I wanted to do as a career, but the offer was tempting; I wanted to live in the Middle East, and I liked the idea of creating content, which was a part of my job. Actually, I introduced my direct report to Twitter and Facebook marketing concepts in 2010, right before the Arab Spring happened. Back then, nobody was using Twitter and Facebook for anything serious. I feel blessed to have had a firsthand account of how that changed and how social media emerged as a vehicle of change in Egypt.
Maria: Tell us more about the importance of the project you are currently supporting with social media. How is it working towards the support of women’s right’s across the Economic Integration of Women in the MENA region?
Valentina: I am currently working on awareness raising campaign ANA HUNNA, which promotes women's economic empowerment and inclusion in the Middle East, primarily Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt.
Meet Women’s Power in Films:
Women are self-determined, active, and powerful in the economy and society! Ana Hunna “أنا هنا“ presents short films about active women in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia: women fighting prejudice, taking charge, and living their lifetime dreams. The protagonists show women as professional role models who break barriers and fight against stereotypes.
A network of civil society organizations in these four countries carry Ana Hunna “أنا هنا“ and show the films at public events, seminars and workshops. The various screenings across the four countries provide an opportunity for an exchange of opinions and ideas. Activists, experts, filmmakers, and actors discuss the films and their own experiences with the public. The debate also continues online through various social media forums.
The initiative Ana Hunna “أنا هنا“ is implemented in cooperation with the regional programme “Economic Integration of Women in the MENA region” (EconoWin), supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Maria: What was it like in Egypt before social media? How is helping to mobilize people?
Valentina: I think before social media was seen as an entertainment media, where people were sharing their personal lives, but now everybody is fully aware of the power of bringing people together online, especially when it is impossible to organize and mobilize on the streets. However, it is important to note that only a certain layer of society has access to social media - mostly well-educated, upper class youth that are literate enough (sometimes that means literarily able to read and write which a good amount of Egyptians are not able to do) to partake in the conversations.
This means that social media still has it’s limitations - but it does have a lot of potential, especially again in a country where a lot of things have been censored for a long time.
In terms of women's rights, social media provides an alternative political, social, and economic forum where women can properly have their voices heard. Twitter is the new public space in Egypt. Since Egypt is inhabited mostly with men, it is a high-powered, culturally structured society that does not always allow women's participation.
Through social media, women can carve up their space and talk about issues that they might not be allowed on the streets, in offices, and generally in political discussions. As you can imagine, women talk a lot in Egypt; there are always responses to actions taking place across the city. For example, a woman was assaulted at Cairo University the other day, and now there is a huge social media response. The response has flooded Facebook and Twitter with input, ideas, and solutions.
The main campaign or image associated with this is of a woman with an umbrella, and it’s raining penises. This is very provocative, especially in such a conservative culture. Social media allowed this woman and her supporters to have a voice. Otherwise, this act of violence against this woman would never be spoken about or mentioned in ‘real life’/offline.
Maria: Thank you, Valentina, and thank you to http://ana-hunna.org, for allowing us to use your material and to interview you for our first blog post with Cultured Social Co. We are all change agents and are doing our part to help spread the word on global social change via social media.