Introduction

Ramzi Jaber is using design and technology to create and highlight data-based stories intended to inform public opinion about social justice issues and mobilize for social change. By presenting information and data that would otherwise remain hidden into a simple, compelling and informative visual tool, his work challenges false narratives that make it difficult to make progress on a social justice issue and enlists citizen sector organizations to use these tools in a way that will shift opinion and behavior.

Ramzi recognizes that in order to address many social justice issues, there first needs to be a fundamental mindset shift among key actors that can then open the way for behavior change. To do this, individuals must be presented with information that makes them think differently about the problem or issue, and that essentially challenges a false narrative that has been developed. Ramzi’s work provides people who are working in the citizen sector, media, and Universities with new visual representations of data that is produced about social justice issues. Using principles of design, technology, and storytelling, Ramzi is transforming data and information that has been unintentionally hidden in reports or buried in drawers into visual stories that are accessible and easily understood, and are used to change thinking and behavior around a problem.

Further, Ramzi is promoting a new culture of informed citizens who make decisions based on facts rather than commonly spread narratives, which often contain misinformation and bias. To integrate this way of communicating social justice issues into programs and educational institutions, Ramzi teaches people how to express hard facts in a visual way that can be easily internalized by a wide audience. Founded in 2011, Ramzi’s organization, Visualizing Impact (VI), works to bring harsh social injustices that happen on the ground to the forefront of public attention. Ramzi is strategically focusing first on Visualizing Palestine in order to change the narrative about a country, people, and conflict that is so often misunderstood by and misinformed to the outside world. Ramzi’s work, however, is already being replicated beyond the Levant region.

Effective storytelling and visual tools are necessary for the success of civic engagement. Such initiatives can only have an impact if they are able to galvanize public support and thus place pressure on decision-makers. The availability of information is expanding faster than our ability to comprehend it, thus leading to an information overload and fatigue for many people. Visualization has proved to be an effective tool to make sense of this information glut given that 50 percent of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information. Today, visual stories are appealing in our modern age of technology, where attention spans are short. Ramzi’s goal is to alter common beliefs based on mainstream media, replacing them with narratives based on facts and universal principles of social justice. Ramzi’s long-term plan is to create a space for changemakers worldwide to use data visualization and storytelling in their quest to address global injustices.

Although Visualizing Impact is starting with Visualizing Palestine, there is high demand for Ramzi to replicate his work beyond the Levant region. Ramzi has plans to train others to replicate his work in new countries and across sectors.

During a time that information travels quickly through social media and traditional media outlets, there is still much hegemony of narratives and control of information by certain governments and corporations, who understand the critical role of media in shaping public opinion about social issues and policy approaches. This sometimes results in the perpetuation of false information and the suppression of data that runs counter to the goals they are seeking.  Increasingly, such disinformation and lack of understanding can be countered by using publicly available data, especially given the massive flow of information and wide-spread availability of “big data.” However, that data often comes from multiple sources, is raw and unrefined, or lies buried within dense and extensive reports that are nearly impenetrable to a lay audience. The number of people who actually read the reports issued by CSOs and international organizations regarding social injustices faced by some communities had been limited to scholars, human rights professionals and activists. Many changemakers and CSOs working on these issues would benefit from being able to use this data and information to present the problem in a clear and understandable way to key audiences, and to improve the effectiveness of their social change strategies, especially for those issues that had been previously understood and filtered through a lens of biased or false information.

 

There is little effort being made to present social justice issues in simple, understandable and accessible ways to cater to a large audience and effectively gather support behind a cause. The result is a gap between the on the ground realities in the Levant region and the media’s presentation of those realities. And, there is a gap between what decision makers understand about a problem, and what the data shows to be the reality.

 

For example, what is happening on the ground in Palestine rarely gets out into international media due to the fact that most of the international media is controlled by political forces, giving viewers only a one-sided narrative. In regards to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in particular, much of the information that is promoted internationally is being screened and monitored by Israeli organizations, making it very difficult for outsiders to see a full, accurate picture of the social problems in Palestine.

 

Even though many human rights and other citizen sector organizations are conducting research and publishing reports about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most of their efforts are targeting decision and policy makers. Rarely is there a focus on changing public opinion by presenting the full narrative. International audiences rarely have access to on the ground information from Palestine.

Recognizing that there is a need to present information differently in order to influence others to act, Ramzi is creating a powerful storytelling tool specifically targeting CSOs, media, and universities. In September 2011, Ramzi set up Visualizing Impact as the umbrella organization for Visualizing Palestine.

 

Visualizing Palestine transforms complex information into visual stories that can be easily grasped by a global audience. These info graphics are produced by designers, information architects, researchers, developers, and storytellers. Visualizing Palestine’s multidisciplinary team works closely together in an agile process that integrates their different skill sets to craft visual tools that seamlessly combine aesthetic value and accurate, meaningful analysis. These visual tools can be used in versatile ways including being posted online and used to encourage action by an online community, printed in reports to compliment written information, on billboards, flyers, posters, in books, etc.

 

The first step of Ramzi’s strategy includes identifying the most prominent social justice issues in Palestine as well as the key actors that are working on these issues. Second, Ramzi gathers a team of people from various disciplines including designers and researchers to start the visualizing process. One of the most important aspects of the process is conducting thorough due diligence and research in order to identify all sides of an issue. The team then identifies the best way to tell the story of a specific problem in a way that is extremely visual, easily interpreted, and easily accessible. After the story has been articulated, using tools of design and technology, the team turns it into a visual info graphic. Ramzi’s current team consists of eight employees (five full-time and three part-time). Due to the difficult of checkpoints within Palestine and challenges in obtaining visas for people who wanted to join his team, Ramzi is based in Palestine with an office in Lebanon and his team members are based in different cities, including Beirut (Lebanon), Amman (Jordan) and Ramallah (Palestine).

 

Ramzi works closely with local CSOs who have already gathered their own research and data. He helps them identify the main issues that they want to address and captures the social problem they are working on in a visual story. He then works directly with larger international organization to disseminate the info graphics and stories that his team produces. Nevertheless, Ramzi only partners with organizations that agree to use data from reputable sources, including all sides of an issue, rather than promoting their own agenda alone. In this respect, Ramzi is encouraging organizations and institutions to examine the whole spectrum of an issue, representing all facts and the larger context and providing open source information for free public access. For example, Ramzi refused to partner with Amnesty International after they had insisted on only using their own data and refused to include credible data from other sources. Ramzi’s work is not about promoting the organizations that he works with, rather he is interested in the social issue being presented in an accurate and compelling way that will inform decisions and spur action.

 

To integrate visual data into the education system, in how professors teach and in the work that students produce, Ramzi has reached out to universities such as the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). The creation of visual data became part of the “Design Management” course in the College of Architecture, Art and Design. Ramzi worked with Professor Shoaib Nabi to develop a brief on how to create info graphics in order to make it part of the curriculum, whereby students will have to produce an info graphics assignment as part of their course grade. Nine other universities have reached out to Ramzi, expressing interest in teaching their professors and students how to produce visual data to present social justice issues. Some of these include the American University and Corcoran Art Institute in Washington D.C., the University of California in Los Angeles, Temple University in Philadelphia, An Najah University in Palestine, American University in Beirut, and others in Brazil, Switzerland, and Australia.

 

To change media narratives that influence public opinion, Ramzi reached out to media including TV channels and newspapers. Seventeen different media channels have used Ramzi’s info graphics such as The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, Fast Company, The Daily Beast, The Daily Star, Monocle, FM4, and Al Arabiya. Ramzi has found that the media is a key audience as they have been eager to show his visual stories and can disseminate the stories to a large audience.

 

Ramzi has already begun replicating his work by teaching others how to produce their own visual data. He and his team hold workshops in the Levant region regularly with members of CSOs and media professionals. Also, Ramzi has developed an online toolkit that will be available for free for anyone to access. Visualizing Palestine team members guide interested actors who want to adopt this approach in their organizations by helping them identify which data to use, how to tell the story, and how to reach out to the audience in order to produce the impact desired.

 

To date, Ramzi has worked with 35 citizen sector organizations, transforming hidden data about social justice issues into visual data. Some of these organizations include the World Health Organization (WHO), Oxfam, Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (EWASH), the Institute for Middle East Understanding, and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. With the US Campaign, Ramzi created info graphics that were placed as billboards in Washington D.C. metro stations and around the city as part of an awareness campaign before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that took place in March 2013.

 

Visualizing Impact is registered as a benefit corporation as it was the best option in the Arab world in order to balance a commitment to social impact and to make the organization financially sustainable. This allows him to charge companies a small fee for visualization stories that they want to disseminate. Ramzi does not however, charge local CSOs and other community organizations. His organization relies heavily on grants and partnerships as well as individual donations.

 

Ramzi’s long term plan is to build state of the art technology for data visualization and tools to empower changemakers to tell their stories. Amidst an air of confusing narratives driven by mixed interests, Ramzi is promoting a culture of informed citizens, CSOs and policymakers who can make more accurate decisions once they are provided with the hard facts and information they need to understand the full breadth of an issue. After Ramzi establishes a solid base with changemakers in Palestine, he will expand to other countries. He is proceeding with caution in order to ensure the quality of the knowledge transfer and to strategically select non-partisan partners. Interested partners who have approached Ramzi include the l’Assocation France Palestine Solidarite (The France Palestine Solidarity Association), the Finnish Peace Committee (Finland), and other CSOs in Lebanon, Iraq, and Bangladesh.

Although born in Jerusalem, shortly after his birth, Ramzi’s family relocated to the United Arab Emiratesafter his father’s exile. Despite having lived abroad for most of his childhood and early adult years, Ramzi’s legal status has always been a temporary one in every country he resided in. Even though Ramzi’s birthplace is Jerusalem, he is not allowed to cross the checkpoints to visit his birthplace due to restrictions on Palestinians who have travelled abroad—they are not allowed to return. He decided to pursue his university degree at McGill University in Canada, where he was exposed to the multi-cultural and diverse city of Montreal. During his university years, Ramzi was the president of the “Arab Student Association.”

 

After graduating inengineering in 2008, Ramzi pursued different internships and jobs in the field of structural engineering in Paris and then moved to Dubai for a permanent position, where he contributed to the structural design of the columns of the “Dubai Pearl” towers. While on a trip to India, Ramzi attended TEDIndia, which inspired him to organize TEDxRamallah in Palestine.

 

In 2009, Ramzi quit his job as a structural engineer in Dubai and moved to Ramallah where he spent two years living and exploring communities in Palestine looking for inspirational stories and speakers for TEDxRamallah, which he co-curated with Joumana al-Jabri.

 

While doing this, Ramzi realized that most people living outside of Palestinian territories are unaware of the narrative of brutal oppression and collective punishment and even more urgently the power asymmetry that has kept this as the status quo. Ramzi recognized that there is a huge dichotomy between what is happening on the ground and the false narrative that exists in mainstream media. Thus, he decided to start “Visualizing Impact” with a global vision of transforming social injustices into visual stories with facts and a context that more people can reach, understand, and retain. Given that Ramzi had been consumed with leading teams in Ramallah, Beirut and Amman to organize TEDxRamallah in 3 cities in addition to his Palestinian roots, he decided to start with “Visualizing Palestine.”

 

Since Ramzi started Visualizing Palestine in 2011, he has been recognized by Al Jazeera, the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Global Voices, and many other organizations. Oxfam elected Ramzi as an Action Partner in their International Youth Partnerships program from 2010-2013, which is a global network of people working for social change. Ramzi was also selected for Stanford’s Social Entrepreneurship “Ripples to Waves Fellowship” in 2012, which is part of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. In 2012, Ramzi co-founded “OnlineCensorship.org,” which allows people to crowd source all actions of censorship enacted by private companies and “Thaber,” which creates algorithms based on behavioral economics. Ramzi is working passionately on different fronts, with a current focus on Palestine, yet with a global vision of activating “Visualizing Impact” worldwide. Using his personal and professional experience, Ramzi is working at the intersection of technology, design, research, and information architecture to cast stories of social justice in an original light.