Wednesday, 12 February 2014

If I Were The President - an idea whose time has come, 13 years later

In 2001 Jim Morgan, who I'd known for around 6 years and is a very politically aware and astute American living in SA, came up with the idea to create a movement that would encourage active citizenship among South Africans. We wanted it to be provocative and get people to put themselves in the boots of someone with real power, the power to change things for the better. Who could be more powerful than the President?  Based as it was on the web, were told it was premature and would need to wait until South Africans were more familiar with the web and making their opinions public.

Thirteen years later, social media have transformed the communications landscape and now everyone is posting, blogging, tweeting and whatsapping. So now it's time to reflect on the original plan and see if some elements of it can be reactivated.

The mission of the movement was as follows:
  • To stimulate creative and responsible ideas for the improvement of governance, whether public or private, by providing an efficient, visible, profitable and responsive channel for the transmission of those ideas, and to thereby promote committed and responsible citizenship through a sense of joint enterprise in all stakeholders.
  • To measurably improve governance, and to increase citizen responsibility and commitment, by providing incentives for new ideas to be presented, an efficient and visible channel for the transmission of those ideas, and a means to measure and reward benefit.
We created a logo which we believed reflected the aims of the movement, which were all about getting people to think constructively about their country and what could be done to improve it. 

This is what we said we would do:

In South Africa today, as in many countries, there is a growing distance between government and the people; a growing belief that the process of government is somehow owned by the powerful political and corporate elites.If I were the President™ is a global project in direct democracy, with South Africa serving as a showcase and a model. Its purpose is to create engaging content for media partners while it opens a new channel for direct input from citizens.

If I were the President™ is an independently owned and managed program that will enable the government to harness all the knowledge and creativity of its citizens to improve the way the country is run in measurable ways. It will provide in-depth information about the real concerns of citizens, and produce content that is engaging and relevant, addictive and absorbing.

If I were the President™generates no losers, only winners. We believe it is an idea that is now possible with new technologies, and needed as a new tool to continue the development of democracy. It is an idea whose time has come.

We got Independent Newspapers and SAfm as media partners, and had very constructive discussions with Endemol, the Dutch-based reality TV production company, to produce a 13 part series using content generated through newspapers, radio and the internet. Jim and I met Moeletsi Mbeki who was at that time Chairman of Endemol and he poured cold water on the project, saying we were stepping on the toes of government and could not expect the support of GCIS or other government departments. We thought he was completely wrong, of course, but it put the brakes on the project. Soon after that Jim and I set up a business importing South African products into the USA and the idea went into hibernation.

Today, things are very different and to a certain extent Primedia and Independent Newspapers have come up with a similar idea in their Lead SA campaign. This also aims to have a positive impact on people, but does not go as far as linking into existing government and private sector programmes that we had in mind. 

So while Jim and I have moved away from the original concept of If I Were The President, this blog is a more modest attempt to promote discussion and debate which I hope will evolve into something interesting. For this, it needs readers and comments/posts from others to please come along and have your say!

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