It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Without further ado…
We’re presenting Regina Yau, the Founder and President of The Pixel Project!
The Pixel Project is an innovative virtual volunteer-led global non-profit organisation that uses social media and online strategies to turbo-charge global awareness about violence against women, while raising funds and volunteer power for the cause. Whoa! Without a doubt, Regina is one of our digital activism heroes. And here’s what she has to say.
1. What inspired you to create The Pixel Project?
I started The Pixel Project in response to a cry for help from Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation. Their need emerged when the global financial crisis started in late 2008 and donors and funders rescinded, froze or reduced financial pledges. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) who came on board a couple of months later were in the same position as WAO.
I hatched the idea in early January 2009 in the shower (yes – the shower! Archimedes was really on to something!), resulting in me rushing out to call WAO to pitch the idea while I was still dripping wet!
My motivation for getting involved with the cause is personal though. There is a history of domestic violence against the women in my mother’s family, starting with my grandmother who was a battered wife.
Starting The Pixel Project is my way of using what talents, skills and resources I have on hand to help stop the violence and, if I can, prevent other women and girls from experiencing any form of violence against women (VAW).
Also, working in this field has always been my calling. In fact, I have always been devoted to feminism and women’s issues in one way or another since I was 12!
Initially, I was on track to becoming an academic specialising in Anglophone Chinese women’s literature and women’s issues as I loved academia. However, a serious case of chicken pox derailed that career path. I ended up working in Public Relations as a way into the corporate world to hone my skills and build my network of contacts.
Eventually, I started working on women’s issues again by using my professional skills for charity work in my spare time, first doing Breast Cancer campaigns and then, finally, putting everything I have to work for The Pixel Project and the cause to end Violence Against Women when WAO came a-calling.
2. What tools did you use?
I essentially started The Pixel Project from scratch – no funds, no backers, no high profile supporters during what was – to paraphrase Charles Dickens – the best of times and the worst of times.
It was the “worst of times” for such an ambitious social enterprise because we kicked off at the height of the global recession of 2008/2009 when there was very little funding to be had. I mean, it was the reason I started The Pixel Project to begin with – because WAO and NCADV were facing a funding crisis and ironically, The Pixel Project itself needed resources in order to take off! *laughs* So I found other ways to compensate for the lack of funds.
I rolled up my sleeves and put my experience in setting up and running campaigns on little to no money to work. I structured The Pixel Project to mostly run on a combination of skilled volunteer power, donated or sponsored services and products and help from my network of contacts. Anything that needed cash such as photo shoots would be run on a shoestring budget. I wanted to prove that you can run a world-class nonprofit
organisation and first-rate global campaigns on very little cash.
That I was proven right shows that it was also the “best of times” for The Pixel Project to come into being because the time is right and ripe for the first wave of next-generation 21st century nonprofits to take off. With social media technology being free-to-use and easily accessible, increasing numbers of people getting wired up to the internet and the ascent of Web 2.0, we are an offshoot of what Forbes calls “the cheap revolution” where you can start an organisation without overhead costs – just set up shop online and you’re ready to go… and to go global with a keystroke!
So I made The Pixel Project a completely virtual non-profit social enterprise start-up using social media and other virtual and online tools to raise the triple bottom line of awareness, funds and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women. Everything we do from our Twitter Tag Team programme to our annual “Paint It Purple” campaign is designed to take the cause to end violence against women into the 21st century. We don’t even have or need a physical office because our team members can work on our campaigns wherever they are in the world – have internet, will volunteer!
3. Did anyone say “you can’t” or question why it was useful?
Definitely. The Pixel Project started life as – and still is – an idea and vision with a scope so ambitious that many people who didn’t know me doubted my ability to bring it to fruition. In a way, I don’t blame the early naysayers for their take on it. To them, I was an “unknown quantity”, and The Pixel Project started with no funding, no celebrities signed up, no high profile partners or no Big Corporate backers.
Now, after two years of successful digital and hybrid digital/offline programmes and the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign just about ready to launch as I write this, early critics have largely been silenced or have become staunch allies. Now, we face those who loudly and vehemently criticise us for our laser-like focus on violence against women. They are the usual suspects who attack anyone working to make women’s lives better.
Funnily enough, we are rarely questioned as to whether our digital advocacy is useful. It’s probably a sign that unless you have been living under a rock during the past 5 years, the typical person on the street with internet access will have seen, heard of and probably participated in one form of digital activism or another be it signing an online petition or helping to take a Facebook campaign viral.
4. How did you respond?
With the early naysayers, I just thought: “Watch me!” in response to their cynicism, and got on with what I set out to do with The Pixel Project. I’m a pretty determined person and I really believed in The Pixel Project and so I just went with my gut feeling and pushed forward with plenty of sheer grit, strategic thinking, hard work and chutzpah.
You have to pick your battles. My priority is channelling my energies and my team’s energies towards building The Pixel Project and its work to prevent, stop and end violence against women. So my team and I have always tried to the other cheek to vitriol, and just relentlessly keeping our eye on the ball. We are here for our mission to raise the triple bottom line of funds, awareness and volunteer power for the cause, and to get men and women from all walks of life and all over the world working together to end violence against women. Nothing more, nothing less.
This is not to say that we do not defend our work but we feel that the best way forward is to be relentlessly positive and constructive, and to build a formidable body of programmes, initiatives and campaigns that effectively contribute towards preventing, stopping and ending violence against women.
The proof of the pudding is, after all, in the eating.
5. What impact has PP had, how do you measure, can you share some of your
The Pixel Project is still a very young non-profit and we are still gathering momentum for the very long journey towards ending violence against women. Indeed, we are just setting up or had just completed the pilot of campaigns and initiatives that we hope will either be held annually or be ongoing. So in a sense, it is a little early to provide accurate, tangible measurements of the impact that we are working to achieve.
Nevertheless, while we continue to work hard towards fulfilling the triple bottom line of raising awareness, funds and volunteer power for the cause, we have had some surprising feedback. To our supporters, survivors and fellow activists and nonprofits, our positive, solutions-based approach means that the biggest impact on their lives is to give them hope in the long battle to end violence against women.
For survivors, it is the hope that they can come out of abusive and/or traumatic violent situations intact, that they can get help and that their voice matters.
For our supporters, our efforts give them hope that there is help out there should they or the women in their lives need it. Hope also comes from the fact that we provide them with so many opportunities to contribute to the cause.
For fellow activists and nonprofits, we keep hope alive that the younger generations (most of us working on The Pixel Project are in our early twenties to mid-thirties) can and will continue the cause to end violence against women.
Hope is an intangible, abstract notion. You can’t measure it. Yet it is a positive galvanising force that helps people keep going for this very tough cause which has a long way to go. That we have achieved this impact so early in our existence as a change organisation is amazing!
As for my favourite responses, there are so many! Some of the ones that stand out include:
– A couple of our staunch supporters, one of whom is a long time volunteer on our
team, getting our ribbon tattooed on their ankles to remind them that they will
never again let a man hurt them.
– A dedicated informal group of followers on Twitter devoted to re-tweeting every single helpline we tweet during our daily helpline retweet session.
-A domestic violence survivor who emailed The Pixel Project team to tell us that our work has empowered her to begin sharing her story and speaking up so other battered women can break free of their abusers.
6. What is your hope for the future of the project? (and humanity!)
It is my hope that The Pixel Project will continue to steadily mature into an independent and sustainable non-profit social enterprise that continuously leads the way with fresh, workable ideas that will be the engine behind digital and technology initiatives,programmes and campaigns that will help end violence against women by:
– Growing a strong, united, and vibrant network of partners comprising nonprofits working to end violence against women and our allies across other sectors. We really do mean it when we say that “it’s time to stop violence against women. Together”. Nobody can do it alone because of the complexity, scope and entrenched nature of the issue.
– Changing public perception of the cause from a negative one focused on the ugliness of the social ills we are battling into a positive one focused on putting solutions into practice and empowering communities to take action.
– Galvanising action to prevent, stop and end violence against women by providing inspiration to act and creating opportunities for anybody in the world in fun yet effective ways.
I truly believe that The Pixel Project’s work is done when organisations like us are no longer needed – that will the day when violence against women and girls has been truly eradicated. In the meantime, we are here for the long haul.
As for humanity, despite having to face the ugliness of violence against women, I maintain an unwavering belief that most people are good people who want to help. They just need a nudge, a roadmap and an opportunity to get engaged and get involved with the cause. It may sound idealistic but we lose nothing by believing in the best of humanity. Gandhi expressed it best when he said: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
For more, follow The Pixel Project on twitter.