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OneWorld's co-founders, Anuradha Vittachi and Peter Armstrong, explain why OneWorld was established in 1995 - and how it evolved over the first 18 years.

We launched OneWorld on 24 January 1995 - a time when governments, NGOs, and even major media organisations had barely heard of the internet. Communications specialists asked us: 'Is the web the same as email?' and: 'What is a link?'

Distressingly, we were scolded for 'betraying the poor', wasting our time on a geeky new medium that 'would only ever be used by a tiny northern elite' instead of supporting traditional development journalists and broadcasters as the One World Broadcasting Trust was set up to do (and we'd recently been appointed its co-directors).

Indeed, our first, timid aim for OneWorld was to create a storage box for global justice stories that development journalists could riffle through - before it dawned on us that the web had a far more startling and original role to play in bringing about global justice.

Until the web came along, most of us had been captive audiences, passive consumers of content delivered by super-expensive, topdown media organisations, usually owned by billionaire media moguls. (Who else could afford them?) They enjoyed the power to control everything we saw, heard and read; shaped the lens through which we perceived and understood the world.

But the web released us from captivity, putting the means of media selection, production and distribution into our own hands. All we needed was access to an online computer and a desire to exercise this stunning new power. Millions of us became micro-moguls - and the world became a fairer place, not because a few development media broadcasters had disseminated a little more content, but because the web disseminated media power itself.

We were observing a revolution unfolding, and could hardly believe our luck.

But the unfolding was just beginning. Few citizens, even in the north, could access online computers - what chance impoverished southerners? Intermediaries were needed. Since NGOs were often trusted intermediaries for poor people, what if they could use the web to disseminate these hidden voices?

OneWorld pitched into making the first websites for hundreds of NGO partners: from giants like Save the Children and Amnesty to tiny grassroots groups across the global south. And we made them for free till these organisations grasped what a valuable tool they held in their hands. Soon OneWorld had a networked partnership of over three thousand NGOs, spread out across the globe - and it was high time for OneWorld to leave home.

It had begun life as the least regarded of the One World Broadcasting Trust's media projects, but this chick had rapidly outgrown its nest. On International Human Rights Day, 10 December 1999, OneWorld separated amicably from the Trust, and became an organization in its own right.  

On the same day, its founders and trustees devolved it from a single organization into an egalitarian network of centres around the world: just three centres on that first day, exploding to thirteen by 2007 - from Jakarta to Helsinki, Washington to Delhi. Each centre was autonomous; each team could develop its own areas of expertise within an overarching purpose, to use digital media to help bring about a fairer world.

Autonomy, expertise, and a compelling sense of purpose: these were the motivating forces that made OneWorld an unforgettably creative place to work.

OneWorld's creative team pioneered the world's first portal on global justice - and early podcasts (years before terms like portal and podcast were coined); and civil society's first spider and search engine; the first free web-radio exchange service; some of the earliest video on the internet, like the clips of a terrified, bewildered 7-year old child imprisoned in a Rwandan gaol for murder. From its inception, OneWorld's campaigning editorial rang warning bells on child abuse, global warming, unaccountable media - themes now finally exercising mainstream media.

The web was not the only media technology mutating before our eyes. In the early 2000s, traditional landline phones gave way to digital mobile phones, and previously unimagined possibilities opened up for relieving poverty and injustice. In Kenya, we noticed that even unemployed families had access to shared mobile phones - which led to OneWorld's pioneering mobile jobs service, providing work for impoverished Kenyans.

This success led to a mobile advice service for farmers in India, helping save their crops, and to a groundbreaking counselling service for hundreds of thousands of adolescents at grave risk of sexual disease and violence in Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt and Mali. Since 2012, OneWorld has developed its mobile platforms further, combining SMS services with databases and real-time maps to support election monitors in Senegal, Sierra Leone and Mali.

There's much more too, but you get the picture. OneWorld's innovations have already influenced tens of millions of lives, and its innovations for global justice keep on coming. Watch out now for re:act - and who knows what next?


Peter Armstrong and Anuradha Vittachi stepped down from their executive roles at OneWorld in January 2013. Here's a 45-minute film of the leaving party presentations and an employee's review of their achievements.

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