Social Entrepreneurship Professor launches website to elevate community voices

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Two years ago, Dr. Vicki Mayer hatched a plan to create a user-focused online platform that documents and preserves New Orleans culture. This week, with the official launch of ViaNolaVie.com, that dream becomes a reality.

ViaNolaVie.com is a fusion of two distinct websites, MediaNOLA.org (an archive of Tulane student writings on New Orleans) and NolaVie.com (a cultural magazine). The merger was inspired by a common goal. “We (Mayer and NolaVie Editor Kelley Crawford) realized we have in some ways the same mission, which is to uplift ordinary, everyday people’s voices and give them a professional platform to talk about New Orleans,” explained Mayer. “If we didn’t have such a close, shared vision, there is no way we could have collaborated as closely as we have in the past two years.”

Mayer launched MediaNOLA in 2009 as a way to preserve the cultural heritage of New Orleans while promoting student voices. While successful, Mayer felt the original site was due for an overhaul, due to both technological advancements and lessons learned. “I realized early on that I wanted to redesign the site, find out what people liked about what we had, and what they wanted to change,” said Mayer. “I wanted a site that was more responsive to the needs of the community and sustainable in that way.”

This led her to pursue a Social Entrepreneurship Professorship with the Taylor Center. The program supports faculty conducting university-wide, interdisciplinary research in social innovation and social entrepreneurship, a perfect fit for the new endeavor.

Community-based design thinking principles guided every step of ViaNolaVie’s development. Mayer’s classes each completed a different stage of the design thinking process in relation to the site. By identifying and understanding stakeholders, prototyping webpages, gathering feedback and more, students laid the foundation for a truly user-focused product.

The finished product is a, “…marriage of a historical archive and a journalistic endeavor, both focused on culture in New Orleans and the Gulf South,” (Cailan Rourke, ViaNolaVie.com). The log of content housed on the site is expansive and growing, with roughly 4,500 stories created by students, NolaVie journalists and community members.

“Now I know that what we did in two years was crazy,” Mayer said with a laugh while reflecting on the process, “but we made it happen.”