Neelesh occupies a unique space among communications professionals and his work has had a diverse impact in India. His work straddles many worlds.
Neelesh Misra is the founder of Gaon Connection, India’s biggest rural media platform that reaches 23 million people every month across digital and print platforms. Gaon Connection is a rural media platform unique in India, where 67 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion people live in villages but have no voice in the mainstream media, whether print, digital or TV.
Gaon Connection (www.gaonconnection.com) works across several well-synchronised verticals: video content (long form sensibility in long and short formats), audio content (audio storytelling for the rural-minded), text-digital content, print, India’s biggest media survey team, and smartphone-armed community journalists at the district and village levels.
Together, it is a combination unmatched in India’s media landscape. Working currently in Hindi, Gaon Connection is soon starting work in English, before expanding to multiple Indian languages.
Under Neelesh Misra’s leadership, Gaon Connection has the unique distinction of having broken without any investor funding.
Gaon Connection was recently selected among news entities from 23 countries to receive funding from Youtube under a global competition called the Google News Initiative.
Mr. Misra has led the creation of the Gaon Connection brand and brought rural issues and audiences within easy reach through a series of innovations that combine its ground reach as well as digital reach.
An example of this approach was a property created for Facebook, titled “Mobile Chaupal”. The campaign was done with the Public Policy team at Facebook, aimed at raising awareness on fake news and around digital literacy.
Here is how the activity was executed, and how different verticals seamlessly came together.
The campaign worked across six verticals:
TOTAL REACH OF “MOBILE CHAUPAL” CAMPAIGN:
12,473,000 (12.47 million) in a month
Ground activation: Twelve Mobile Chaupal journeys
Radio: Audio storytelling show on All India Radio
Reach: 1.8 million
Eighteen special pages across seven editions of Gaon Connection weekly, distributed across 25 districts in Uttar Pradesh
Reach: 6.03 million readers (861,000 readers weekly at 21 readers per week for 41,000 copies)
Digital: Videos and text stories
Reach: Facebook/Twitter/Gaon Connection website/Sharechat: Approximately 4.6 million
Reach: 5,000 respondents
Under Mr. Misra’s leadership, Gaon Connection has become a unique case study on how new and innovative revenue streams can help a media platform stay truly independent in today’s media era. Gaon Connection has won some of India’s highest journalism awards including, twice, the Ramnath Goenka Award (India’s highest journalism honour), and five times, the UPFPA-backed Ladli Award for writing on gender.
The bedrock of Gaon Connection is its swiftly expanding cadre of digital-era community resource persons who are part of its “Swayam Project” — Swayam means “Me” in the Hindi language. They are multiskilled, creating videos, audio content, community newspaper editions and carrying out surveys and ground activation across far-flung geographies. They are part of a pyramid that has team leaders at the Block and District level, and in Lucknow where the Swayam Project editorial team rewrites, edits and packages the stories and publishes them.
An hour from Lucknow, in a village called Gadahila, Gaon Connection is putting in place a training hub for the mentoring of community journalists in new-age media tools.
Gaon Connection’s partners so far have included Google, Facebook, Twitter, PayTM, Tata Motors, ITC, Tata Trusts, UNICEF, Unilever brands, TVS, Star TV, Zee, Caterpillar, Birla Cement, etc.Training and mentoring are at the heart of our work and the foundation of our growth.
Neelesh Misra is India’s most loved oral storyteller who revived storytelling and is one of the main contributors to the revival of radio listening in India over the past decade. He is the biggest innovator in the audio space in recent times. He conservatively reaches more than 100 million listeners every month across platforms including Big FM, Radio Mirchi, Red FM, All India Radio, Saavn and Gaana. It has won radio’s top honors.
His award winning primetime show, Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra on 92.7 BIG FM is currently in its 5th season, airing across 53 cities, 1200 towns and 50,000+ villages. The cult show is a national habit. Mr. Misra’s work has triggered the revival of a spoken word revolution in India, creating a sub-culture of open mic performances and poetry and storytelling sessions in colleges and cafes, resulting in the creation of thousands of new voices.
Apart from this, his work is airing or has aired on several radio broadcasters including Radio Mirchi, Red FM, Radio City and All India Radio.
Mr. Misra also commands huge popularity in the digital universe, with his shows on Saavn and Jio, the two biggest apps in the entertainment space in India.
Mr. Misra narrates stories written by him and a group of writers he mentors (collectively called the Mandali) every day.
Mr. Misra has written lyrics for more than 30 films. He has worked with some of the leading composers such as Pritam, Sajid-Wajid, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal-Shekhar, Anu Malik and Sandesh Shandilya.
Mr. Misra is also a live performer, mesmerising audiences with live storytelling across the country. It is a very unique and moving experience to be at his performance. During this performance he narrates a story and sings his favorite songs that he has written for Bollywood films. He is accompanied by his co-singers and musicians to make this experience unforgettable.
Mr. Misra has authored five books (four nonction and a novel) and edited three books. All of them have been on Indian bestseller lists.
- 173 Hours in captivity: The Hijacking of IC-814 (HarperCollins)
- End of the Line: The Story of the Killing of the Royals in Nepal (Penguin)
- Once Upon a Timezone (HarperCollins)
- The Absent State (Hachette) co-authored with Rahul Pandita
- Neelesh Misra ka Yaad Sheher, Volumes 1 and 2 (Westland Books)
- India Yatra (HarperCollins, with a foreword by Nandan Nilekani)
- Dreamchasing, with and about his father Dr. S.B. Misra (Roli Books)
- Inspired India: Ideas to Transform a Nation (HarperCollins, with a foreword by APJ Abdul Kalam).
- Yaad Sheher
- Two-time winner of India’s highest journalism honour, the Ram Nath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism (for a nine-part series for Hindustan Times on insurgency, titled India Besieged) and for a series on Uncovering India Invisible (Gaon Connection)
- A three-time winner of the K.C. Kulish Memorial Award