Extend the Frame
Nearly every picture published of the Taj Mahal portrays a stunning architectural feat that has truly withstood the tests of time. The iconic gold peak dome is surrounded by identical spires and the intricate marble inlays are unlike anything else that I have ever seen. The Taj is stunning.
When you zoom out and extend the frame of the photo, the story shifts. The fortress around the Taj Mahal tells the story of the thousands of artisans who worked days and nights until their fingers bled from the intricate marble carving strategies. And when you 'zoom out' further, you see Agra - one of the most poverty stricken settlements in the world. Just outside the fortress walls of one of the wonders of the world, people are starving to death and children are kept home from school to produce products for a factory. Extending the frame around one of the best known love stories in history tells a more complete story of poverty, suffering, and centuries of corruption.
In India, I am constantly challenged to extend my frame. What I see is vary rarely the entire story. I saw the worst living conditions I have ever seen on a trip to one of our project sites. The streets were lined with sewage, the flies filled the air, and homes were very poorly constructed. I walked with a team of NGO workers down the streets of this community of more than 50,000 people and then I extended my frame. I noticed that I saw more children in this neighborhood than I had seen since I was in Delhi. They were playing in the streets. Laughing and chasing each other. Tapping each other on the shoulder and giggling when the say the foreigner. My colleagues entered a home to conduct an interview and I was left in the street as we were sure that my presence would create too significant a distraction. At first I was unsettled, anxious, and frankly afraid. But then, this family came out from the house next door with smiles on their faces and chairs in their hands. The oldest son - 16 years old - put the chair on the ground and told me to sit. We had an incredible conversation about school and his friends and it was cut short by the arrival of my coworkers upon completing their interview. When I extended my frame in this 'slum', I was able to see beyond the living conditions and notice the lives - the people. They told a very different story - one of hope and happiness.
Families around the world have fallen in love with local co-productions and adapted version of the American TV show Sesame Street. The muppets have been on TVs for my entire life. I grew up with Elmo and Grover, Cookie Monster and Big Bird. Here children are growing up with Chamki and Googly, Aanchoo and Boombah. This week, we brought together a room full of stakeholders to celebrate the launch of the ninth season of Galli Galli Sim Sim. The event started and Chamki popped up from behind the wall with a giggle. Shortly after, Googly joined her. Finally, they were joined by Cookie Monster. The muppets interacted with the room, talked to funders supporters and introduced the preview to season nine. This is one frame I have really enjoyed extending.
When you widen your perspective, you see that each of the muppets is operated by a set of human hands (sometimes two sets). As I met those muppeteers, their stories moved me. Extending the frame helped me learn that Ghazal, the voice behind Chamki, is a film director in Mumbai. She explains that to her, Chamki is the girl that lived through adversity and is committed to bringing that opportunity to all girls in India. Manish, the voice behind many favorites (Cookie Monster in this 'frame') loves the art of video puppetry. In fact, he has opened his own studio as a way to support the power of the art form. When he steps into the character of Boombah, he feels most at home because he is embodying kindness in the form of an 8-foot-tall golden hearted lion. Guarav, the muppeteer behind Chamki's best friend Googly, came from a very rural town much like I did. He talks about the limited opportunities and explains that when he steps in front of the camera or a podium, he is thinking about the children in the most rural parts of India. For him, this is about helping children - especially those that are growing up in circumstances just like he did. When we extend the frame of the beloved children's TV show, Sesame Street, we see passion. We see a team of people dedicated to using multimedia to help children grow smarter, stronger and kinder. We see people. But to a child, they see a furry friend that they can laugh and learn with. Putting extra consideration into "extending the frame" is the magic behind Sesame Workshop.
In development, it is crucial that we force ourselves to extend the frame. We have to see the conditions of the people at the bottom of the pyramid and the motivations of those at the top. We have to see crowded classrooms and the children in factories. We have to extend the frame beyond the initial perception to make informed decisions with a knowledge of the complexities of the circumstance.