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Social Capitalists: WITNESS

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner


Jenni Wolfson, acting executive director
Brooklyn, New York
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WITNESS uses the power of video to open the world's eyes to human rights abuses. By partnering with local organizations around the globe, WITNESS empowers human rights defenders to use video to shine a light on those most affected by human rights violations, and to transform stories of abuse into powerful tools of justice. Founded by the musician and advocate Peter Gabriel in 1992, WITNESS has partnered with human rights groups in more than 70 countries, bringing often unseen images, untold stories, and seldom heard voices to the attention of key decision makers, the media, and the general public -- catalyzing grassroots activism, political engagement, and lasting change.

WITNESS partners fight for the rights of indigenous people, and against systemic gender violence and the use of children as soldiers. We also fight for environmental protection where human communities are at stake. We work with diverse groups from all over the world, carefully selecting our partners based on the strength of their human rights work, the clarity of their mission, and the ability of video to enhance their campaigns. We make sure their voices are heard. More importantly, we help empower them by mobilizing a response to right the wrongs they document.

WITNESS is much more than a technology provider. We know that images are important, but without a network of influential allies, our partners have little chance of reaching the highest levels of government and the media. So on behalf of our partners, we broker relationships with political leaders and journalists. We ensure that WITNESS videos are screened at the United Nations and used as evidence before international courts. We also organize far-reaching campaigns to educate the public and make sure these videos get seen.

Ultimately, we strive to open the doors of influence for our partners so they can develop their own relationships and no longer rely on WITNESS as an intermediary. By giving our partners the skills and capacity to train other groups in their communities that want to incorporate video into their work, we are fulfilling our goal of propagating self-sustaining video advocacy initiatives worldwide. The result is a multiplier effect that exponentially increases the leverage of any one organization's resources.

WITNESS partner videos have been used:

  • as evidence in legal proceedings;
  • to produce shadow reports for the United Nations and regional commissions that provide a counterweight to official versions of a country’s human rights performance;
  • to stimulate grassroots education and mobilization;
  • to corroborate allegations of human rights violations;
  • as a resource for news broadcasts;
  • to promote human rights advocacy via the worldwide web;
  • to produce documentaries for broadcast on television worldwide; and
  • as a deterrent to further abuse.

We are preparing to launch a new website that will expand the scope of our work by making the tools of video advocacy available to anyone in the world. Called the WITNESS Hub for Human Rights Media and Action, this participatory site will allow anyone, anywhere to upload footage of human rights violations shot via their cell phones or other mobile devices, and use that footage to create change. This new stage of WITNESS' growth moves us closer to the promise of co-founder Peter Gabriel's powerful vision: the possibility of a technology-enabled populist platform where everyone's stories of human rights abuse and solutions are heard. Peter knew that moving images communicate with an immediacy matched by no other medium, and they inspire people to take action. Today, with the emerging possibilities of media creation and distribution demanding our fresh attention, it is time to take the next step in WITNESS' evolution.