Since my first post Among criticism from entrepreneurs, USAID-funded Bamyan Media Launches Egypts first reality TV Show for entrepreneurs I was contacted by a few people who worked closely with Bamyan Media and shared some insider stories about their experience which will be valuable in analyzing behind the scenes. Also, as four episodes aired, thats 1/3 of the show, that gives a reasonable amount of materials for analysis after the initial feedback and observations.
As the same feedback is repeated for the rest of the entrepreneurs who didnt catch up with the show early on, it became evident that the feedback of majority of actual entrepreneurs is merely the same, viewership rates getting even LOWER after first episode as most people lose interest! Formation of a circle of a few hundreds who are mostly involved with the teams behind the show for a basic form of engagement. And seems like the staff itself doesnt mind getting its hands dirty in feedback war as boiling criticism to a Shabi song they produced starts to surface, Asim Haneef, The show Executive Producer called it the best song ever. view it HERE
Though, a valuable debate also took place on the comments of the above song, with Peter Guirguis seemingly one of the song producers mentions an intellectual monopoly on entrepreneurship and captivating the concept from being commercialized and going mainstream, assuming that Egyptians are already practicing entrepreneurship on their own way from his point of view. Thats worth and intellectual debate on defining entrepreneurship and how it shall be transferred to mainstream audiences. You can view the conversation HERE
Also, as the investment on developing digital assets in the past 1+ year through aggressive advertising didnt pay off in actual viewership, it seems like they decided to go guerilla marketing, they visit popular mainstream cafes like Downtown El Borsa, shift the channel to AlNahar and tried to encourage viewership, the funny bit is that in some of the photos shared in social networks form the exercise, it shows their team sitting to watch it, while people around paying absolutely no attention! They even called on their page for more people to join these campaigns!
As I wrote in my last post, feedback is only a factor in impact assessment, but an actual impact assessment should be based on identifying and analyzing variables, its about finding the variables that matter the most and digging deeper on analyzing them. The first variable of any Impact Assessment project is defining the background and motives of organization, entrepreneur and decision makers behind whatever project being done.
In this post well try to dig down to who is really really the decision maker behind the show, next post will get more into further analysis
So, who is really behind #ElMashrou3?
If you check out their website or their social media profiles, youll see the who is behind El Mashrou3 is presented as TV network, production company, Bamyan Media and organizations working on entrepreneurship in Egypt such and such and such. Even my team noticed couple of channels where Egypreneur is still mentioned, which shouldnt be the case as we terminated partnership back in 2012, so as youre reading this fellows, take it off or would you like to get yourself a reminder?
Furthermore, in a communication they have sent to their subscribers and shared on their page labelled The Story behind El Mashrou3, they seemed to be doing everything possible to cover up on the reality of the ownership and funding behind the show and just mention that a bunch of Egyptian youth with a few Khawaga, Arabic word for foreigner who produced the show in Belad Barra which is usually used to refer to the west and developed countries to actually refer to Afghanistan.
So, why are they so keen on covering up on that and how truthful is the way they present themselves with? And what is the nature of involvement with these partners?
As I get back to my email archive April 2012 as Bamyan Media was starting its operations in Egypt, they presented other entrepreneurship-focused organizations with a basic partnership, I was only asked for approval on using Egypreneur logo on the brochure below and approved it, by then the way the partnership was presented was fairly professional and straightforward. Though, they have used this approval to post our brand in every possible channel without permission afterwards.
Well, obviously Bamyan Media was gaining legitimacy by using these organizations brands, it is a straightforward market entry strategy, you want to befriend those already with good reputation and track record and get their support in what youre doing, a potential massive exposure through TV is a good point to start. Then use that to sell on others that you already have everyones support and that this thing is actually co-created and approved by everyone, which might not be the real case, some of the visible feedback from my last post was from founder of entities presented as partner organizations.
What happened to partnerships afterwards was quite amateurish and superficial, when only numbers matter, even if you run a starting student activity you can get your logo as a show partner and you count as vote of confidence on the show. As its shared by Omar Aysha, I can understand the motives behind such a move as at some stage they were trying to hide the massive USAID involvement, as it might fire back as they go mainstream, they started sticking any logos they get their hands on, so if you want to, you cant find someone to blame!
The point is, none of these partners has any decision to take regarding the show, they might be invited to nice events and focus groups but its only done as much as it serves the objectives of the owning company, Bamyan Media, which hired a team to polish their image within the community and attract beneficiaries who, knowingly or not knowingly, will back their mission and even defend them in return for direct benefits. Add to it the fact that the community working on entrepreneurship support in Egypt still didnt reach the maturity to decide and the critical thinking to accept and reject, often no one will reject anything from anyone while struggling with finding their own next steps.
Truth is, the TV Network is just a TV Network that hosted the show and offered it a standard promotion package, the production company was just a production company hired to produce the show, partners except for USAID and Silatech are just a logo exchange and superficial involvement, mostly to gain legitimacy in front of main sponsors and strategic partners.
For critical analysis, we have to look for ownership, who has the power for decision making and influence.
Thats what matters and thats when we are driven back to where it started:
Courtesy of http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com
In 2007, while David Elliot was working as a Senior Development Consultant for USAID in Afghanistan, his daughter Anna Elliot, 23 years old student at Hampshire University and part time Bartender came for a visit to Afghanistan, observing the popularity of Reality TV Shows at the time, with American-style Afghan Star and others. Anna had an interesting conversation with her dad regarding doing a similar show focusing on entrepreneurs.
As per his Linkedin Profile, at that time, David Elliot was managing a $54 million USAID project for Afghanistan Small and Medium Enterprise Development (ASMED). After the US-led war on Afghanistan starting 2011, the US government directed lots of Aid money into rebuilding Afghanistan, obviously, it seems that senior USAID consultant David Elliot didnt find it hard to secure $500K USD to fulfill his daughters ambition to launch an American-style reality TV Show for social entrepreneurs, probably at the least competitive and non-transparent market, Afghanistan. This Devex page explicitly shows USAID as the organization executed the show.
Surprisingly the only official videos from the Dream & Achieve TV Show produced in Afghanistan was hosted on the YouTube channel of the ASMED fund Mr. David Elliot was leading, showing even that the project might have been funded by funds he personally managed for USAID, checkout the USER NAME of the hosting channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ASMEDInfo/videos
Anna Elliot seemed to postpone her studies and get involved with producing a Pilot series of her Reality TV Show, managed under the umbrella of USAID, the show was hosted on Afghanistans most popular TV Network TOLO TV Wikipedia shows a 41% of viewership market share while the owning company itself claims 59% viewership share HERE, the TV Network claim to have 17 Million constant viewers (NBCNews).
It is claimed that the pilot series attracted 7 Million viewers in Afghanistan, which while looking good for PR, technically speaking, even if the claim is true, given the hosting TV Network statistics, it means that 10 Million constant viewers to the channel has either switched off their TV or shifted to another channel as the show aired, comparably to another TV Show hosted on the same channel Afghan Star they are claiming 11 Million viewers per episode.
But anyway, relying on the pilot series a PR campaign was launched in Western media and the show seemed to gain coverage from media outlets like Fast Company and New York times.
Something here to note that at this time, US media companies, seemed to working on dominating the scene in Afghanistan, a virgin market created after the war on Afghanistan, according to this NBC News Article Why Afghanistans election campaign may look familiar to American TV viewers, it shows that Afghanistan has become a comfy bed for US media companies and aspiring media entrepreneurs.
This entry on USAID website itself, claims that the show was a success story and promises a second season that never came to be and of course shows the muscles of the US development agency in creating entrepreneurial revolutions where it is needed the most: http://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/afghan-entrepreneurs-%E2%80%9Cdream-and-achieve%E2%80%9D
Though this KabulPress.org article seems to disagree, entitled American corruption and mismanagement threaten Afghanistan’s future under headline Suspect American AID projects in Afghanistan, it lists the TV Show by the Elliots as one of the projects USAID claims has created impact while its not actually sensed on the ground. As per Wikipedia (KabulPress) is Afghanistans most read news site.
I found it extremely difficult to track any proper digital footprints resulting from the show in Afghanistan. I was even told by a producer Bamyan Media worked with when they came to Egypt that they didnt want to show him the produced show in Afghanistan, because it was very amateurish. Furthermore, on the tongue of Anna Elliot herself, she stated that the show was boring but 7 million people watched it before one of her team members intervene to mention that she is just not good at selling herself.
In 2009, Anna and David Elliot established Bamyan Media to take the concept further and launch the show in different countries, Bamyan Media uses a mix of a non-profit and for-profit business model to launch the same format of the TV Show in different countries with market for entrepreneurship, mostly developing countries in transition.
But did Bamyan Media drop the USAID umbrella the project started through?
After launching the pilot season, Anna Elliot was being celebrated in western media as a hero who went to Afghanistan to empower its entrepreneurs and was even being hosted in a conversation at The While House
What a second target after Afghanistan would it be other than Egypt post 25 revolution? Yes, that was it, Bamyan Media presented USAID with a proposal to move to Egypt with the backing of USAID funds and it seemed they were able to secure a big check to get their operation started, the deal is supposedly to cover 2-3 years of operating costs for Bamyan Media to initiate their TV Show and business in Egypt.
I can claim having insider information at this part, because at this time, I was working on a similar TV Show for entrepreneurs in Egypt through Egypreneur, that was not an idea or a hunch, but a production-ready concept with agreement with a TV Network and initial agreement with a major sponsor.
The TV Network was sold after the revolution and I was left alone searching for alternatives, passing the 6 months mark in formatting the researching options to produce the show to trigger the entrepreneurial energy of Egyptian youth post 25th revolution and part of a strategy to setup Egypreneur as an independent institution that supports entrepreneurs in Egypt. I was approached by USAID employees who offered support and accordingly was given details about what Im working on.
In the process of communicating with USAID around my TV Show project, I was forwarded an email that was sent by Anna Elliot March 17th 2011, which was a thank you note for USAID support an a promise of follow-up on next steps. I skipped it as the attached format targeting social entrepreneurs didnt seem close to what we have arrived at at that time.
But it seems that it wasnt the case, a few months later, I heard that USAID contracted Bamyan Media to execute a Reality TV Show for entrepreneurs in Egypt, getting busy and overwhelmed with other initiatives we started at Egypreneur, I decided to learn from the experience and completely ignore the matter, but it didnt seem to want to ignore me.
The newly established Bamyan Media out of a spin-off from a USAID project, was able to secure a three years contract with USAID to initiate and replicate their model in Egypt, Omar Aysha, former editor at wamda.com claims a $5 Million USD check was given for their project in Egypt, having no source to confirm or deny, what can be confirmed is that USAID was committed to providing the operating cost for Bamyan Media for 2-3 years, meaning you have 40 employees, 8 services contracts per month, USAID just pay the bills for Bamyan Media allowing them to get cozy while working on their project for two to three years?
Anyway, Bamyan Media created a for-profit company El Mashrou3 LLC through which it handle its operations in Egypt, well, some people might have issues with getting funded as a non-profit then using this money to create a for-profit business, but entrepreneurially speaking youre fine to do whatever you wish as long as you are not breaking the law or any business or personal commitments, I was told that Bamyan Media owns 99% of El Mashrou3 LLC.
Accordingly the controlling element in all activities and actions related to #ElMashrou3 comes from Bamyan Media and El Mashrou3 LLC which received enormous backing from USAID, it seems that Bamyan Media are doing some PR efforts lately to present the involvement as an Egyptian company called El Mashrou3 LLC, which is nothing but an interface to Bamyan Media in Egypt to expand on its commercial benefit. According to their website, Bamyan Media seems to be working hard on expanding the operation of El Mashrou3 to be Pan-Arab reality TV Show for entrepreneurs.
With very little impact and massively low viewership created by the show, added to a few cases of misconducted by Bamyan Media that made one of their former contractors mention to me in a private communication that they are the most horrid unprofessional scam bags I have ever worked with.
It seems that Bamyan Media have got very arrogant given the massive backing from their government money that they not only felt comfortable enough to screw up for two years, but they choose to violate interest and intellectual property of local entrepreneurs on their way to complete dominance on the MENA entrepreneurship landscape.
The questions that comes to our mind as we analyze the leadership behind the show is, are they qualified with a track record to run this kind of thing? Do they have actual pressing desire to create impact through their TV Show, real one? Is the way in which they secured funding for the show and the way they dealt with their contractors and local entrepreneurs represents a social enterprise seeking to create positive impact?
To be continued
In hindsight, Anna Elliot’s reality TV series might seem like a media mogul’s strategy to build market share in developing countries. Source: Milton Magazine
Courtesy of Bamyan Media on Facebook
DISCLAIMER: Information provided is available on public channels, reference is provided for the most part, no personal offense was intended and no ones privacy was violated in the process of carrying out this research/analysis.
Also published on Medium.