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CSRwire Member Spotlight: PCI Media Impact: Telling Stories, Saving Lives

Submitted by: CSRwire

Categories: Community Development, Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted: Nov 06, 2008 – 08:44 AM EST


Nov. 06 /CSRwire/ - - November 6, 2008 - If you ask Michael Castlen, Executive Director of PCI-Media Impact to describe his organization in just one sentence, he will say his award-winning NGO, makes "soap operas for social change."

But it doesn’t take more than a minute inside their office to know that after 25 years and 242 productions, Media Impact does more than make soap operas. They have developed and pioneered an Entertainment-Education methodology that uses documentaries, public service announcements, news reports, serial dramas, and comic books to address social issues and mobilize action on a range of issues including sexual and reproductive health rights, women's empowerment, HIV and AIDS, the environment and economic development.

The programs produced by Media Impact often include characters who are role models that face problems similar to those a listener might face. The show invites listeners to solve their own problems the same way the characters do. In this way, a fictional storyline is developed that allows reality to be presented in a non-threatening, engaging, way.

"People are naturally resistant to change when approached directly with educational messages," says Castlen, "But a drama evokes a reaction that appeals to their emotions and facilitates change. The emotional involvement with the drama provokes interpersonal communication with family and friends, resulting in people's ability to better understand the situation and are therefore more likely to adjust their attitudes."

Currently, Media Impact is working on projects in Africa, South America, India and the US. With just 13 staff, six interns, and 10 consultants. It currently has 17 active productions and 10 shows on the air right now in six countries, reaching 4 million people.

The organization always works with NGOs and media consultants from the local communities so that productions are always in the local language and voice.

"Our role is to find organizations in the community who intimately know and have an institutional commitment to their communities, but may not know a lot about the media," said Castlen. "Then you have people who know media. They have the pizzazz, and work at the highest professional level. We recognize the need to get them together and work to do that. Our entire model is about creating mutual sustainability, and leveraging local resources."

Upcoming and ongoing projects

Since 2005, Media Impact's My Community program has provided underserved communities in Latin America with the technical assistance and support for a radio series that enables these communities to tell their own story, in their own language. The initiative has produced more than 35 radio series in nine Latin American countries and the United States. Media Impact estimates that the series reaches a potential annual audience of more than 4 million people. (Link to 2008 program schedule): http://www.csrwire.com/News/12732.html

"My Community motivates local coalitions of grassroots organizations, NGOs, governmental ministries and other key stakeholders to more effectively use mass media to provide their communities with critical information and direction to the resources they need to improve their lives," says Castlen.

In West Africa, the organization is currently developing an initiative for a TV and radio project concerning maternal and child health, HIV, environment, and sanitation in Ghana. The project will emphasize building sustainable links between the local NGO and broadcast communities.

"Many times, behavior-change efforts have emphasized only the broadcast," says Castlen. "Our program builds local capacity and creates cost-effective models that are sustainable in the long term and are not overly dependent on international resources."

Working with youth is a crucial component for Media Impact. The organization is currently developing its Youth Leading Media Campaign in Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, India using soap operas, entertainment and social marketing to engage young people in the design and implementation of their own behavior-change communications strategies to address adolescent health issues.

"In a country with more than 200 television channels, and an explosion of FM radio stations, little of the available programming is driven or inspired by youth, especially young people living outside of the main population centers," says Castlen. "The project is designed to demonstrate an effective strategy for achieving a high-impact, low-cost, sustainable model for addressing these issues in the local context. We expect the project to produce a radio soap opera series, and six locally produced radio magazine shows catered to specific regional audiences creating 144 broadcasts and reaching a potential audience of 50 million people."

Its Youth Empowerment Project addresses challenges that local youth in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru face, including early pregnancy, violence, economic inequities, homophobia, HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, in a new program that brings together local service providers, radio stations and youth groups in the Andean region.

"The project will significantly improve access and increase demand to sexual and reproductive health services for youth, especially in often-marginalized youth groups such as street children, child sex workers and the homeless," says Castlen.

Building the Base

Media Impact is working hard to build and maintain its base of new volunteers and paid consultants. Next spring it will be bringing together a global cohort of media and social change communication professionals from varied backgrounds including production, scriptwriting and project evaluation to learn about its methodology and how to apply it to real-world situations.

Natalia Vaccarazza, the director of programs, is one of the coordinators. "There is a thrill in being part of a live studio broadcast - an energy and 'anything-can-happen' vibe - that permeates the air with excitement and anticipation," says Vaccarezza. "I remember the first time I felt it, at Radio Union, an FM radio station in the heart of Lima, Peru. I had traveled there to work with 'Loma Luna,' a Media Impact radio soap opera and call-in show about HIV and AIDS that broadcast live to millions of listeners each week. In the soap opera, Aurora had just stunned Fernando with the news that she was HIV positive. The phone lines were going crazy with audience reactions: How could Aurora, the beloved school teacher, contract HIV? Should Fernando get tested? Could they still build a future together?"

Vaccarazza witnessed first hand the effect of the radio soap operas on the community.

"As people called in, they spoke about how HIV affected their lives and their loved ones," she says. "A mother said she didn't know how to talk to her daughter about sex. Another caller admitted being too afraid to be tested. Another caller, a young man who struggled to express himself, spoke of being painfully shy and alone. One after another, the calls came in. People spoke with the hosts and with each other. They were breaking the silence around a taboo topic, and forming a community among themselves in the process."

According to Castlen, one of the most effective series the organization developed was a radio soap opera called Taru. First broadcast in 2002 to more than 100 million people in the Bihar state of India, the 52-episode drama was set in three Indian villages, and tells the story of Taru, a 21-year-old woman determined to resist local cultural norms, further her education, and shape her own destiny outside marriage.

"Taru challenged a range of cultural norms, attitudes, and behaviors identified in our local research as contributing to the extreme poverty many listeners were experiencing," says Castlen. "Early marriage, son preference, birth spacing, and other critical health and social issues all receive dramatic treatment as Taru's characters find their way through the pressures and conflicts of modern rural life."

Listener response to Taru was overwhelming, says Castlen. Evaluators from Ohio University documented increases in demand for services, as a result of the radio drama in the range of 200-600%.

"For us, sustainability is the number one thing," says Castlen. "The skills and tools for advocacy we’re providing are getting the message out...when you do that, miraculous things happen."

To read more about PCI-Media Impact, please click here.

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About PCI-Media Impact
Since 1985, PCI-Media Impact's programs have addressed the root causes of poverty and have encouraged people to make choices that lead to better health and sustainable development. Working with local partners worldwide, PCI-Media Impact produces carefully researched and culturally sensitive radio and television dramas that combine the power of storytelling with the reach of broadcast media. For more information, please visit PCI-Media Impact's website at www.pci-mediaimpact.org

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