Dede Keita will explain that you need to fully understand a community to make a sustainable impact. Population Media Center (PMC), an international nonprofit using entertainment to address social and environmental issues, completely agrees and builds this fundamental principal into its approach to creating long-lasting change.
“I was quickly seduced by PMC’s particular strategy,” says Dede. “The radio shows with a story arc spread over many episodes was different from conventional and traditional methods of communication known in the field, and it was a novelty for the countries concerned.”
The countries Dede references were Mali, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire. It was 14 years ago when Dede began working as Project Manager for PMC’s Cesiri Tono (“Fruits of Perseverance”). This 144-episode radio serial drama aired November 2004 through October 2005 in Dioula, which is a widely spoken language in all three countries.
“Cesiri Tono focused on child labor issues, child trafficking, exploitation, reproductive health, gender equality, and other related issues,” says Dede. “I was in charge of coordinating the production and dissemination of the drama in the three countries and strengthening the partnerships with stakeholders, local press, research agencies, marketing agencies, and other local organizations dealing with the same social issues.”
Dede was born in Mali and was a perfect fit for overseeing PMC’s Cesiri Tono. PMC hires local writers, producers, and essential in-country staff to create culturally-specific and popular TV and radio shows.
“We need a lot of great trainers who speak numerous languages,” says Kriss Barker, PMC’s Vice President of International Programs currently overseeing dramas in more than 10 countries. “Dede is a great trainer. She led the Cesiri Tono project very successfully for three years learning the methodology first-hand in addition to attending a PMC training workshop. She really understands how research is used to develop content in our dramas.”
PMC conducts extensive ethnographic and formative research that guides local in-country teams with character development, storylines, media placement, and issue treatment and solutions. This is the backbone to making the characters “real” dynamic people with different facets to their personality that resonate with target audiences. This is essential for behavior change because people must see themselves reflected to build motivation, self-efficacy, and resiliency.
“There is socio-cultural research, anthropological research, and there is a literature review of material that exists in country in the specific domains of inquiry,” says Dede. “It is through all of these tools that we come to understand the real problems that touch society, the needs of the society, the needs of the people, the needs in the situation, and needs of the partners in development.”
PMC believes this customization is essential for effectiveness, but it’s also this customization that allows PMC’s methodology to be so versatile and work across different issues, cultures, languages, religions, and media markets. PMC’s entertaining TV and radio shows are unique, and the process for building them is reproducible and empirical. It’s a very agile intervention.
“What delights me is the dynamism of the methodology,” says Dede. “It can be applied to all the evils that affect society (the promotion of reproductive health and gender equality in particular); the stories are diverse because the same problem is treated differently from one place to another; and PMC’s strategy allows writers and producers the ability to take into account the socio-cultural realities and the facts of the moment.”
Kriss describes Dede as a natural leader with extensive background in public health who brings a wealth of experience to PMC trainings in order to instill expertise and responsibility within the local PMC team.
“With Cesiri Tono, Dede really showed that hiring talented people from developing countries and giving them the autonomy and trust they deserve along with the appropriate supervision can make a very successful project,” says Kriss, describing Dede’s assistance in helping to define PMC’s delineation of headquarters and in-country roles during PMC’s early days of existence.
“The rules outlined by PMC’s strategy must be well followed for implementation – which requires full involvement of the entire team,” says Dede. “Hiring local teams is essential because they are all part of the community, the same cultural and social lifestyles, so they are also affected by the same problems of the society which creates stronger feelings and expressions. The local team grapples with real-life challenges and solutions, actively thinking about progress instead of the continuation of history. The main objective of the training is the appropriation of the methodology by the trained team so that they can make a difference.”
Cesiri Tono, which was distributed to 169 community radio stations across the three countries and reached more than 5.5 million people, resulted in 32 percent of listeners in Côte d’Ivoire knowing at least three factors that can lead to child trafficking compared to 14 percent of non-listeners. In Mali, the belief that it is acceptable for women to work outside of the home was 53 percent higher among listeners than it had been before the show.
“The research and design of PMC dramas and characters, specifically PMC’s transitional characters, supports the discussion among the listeners,” says Dede. “Because the drama extends for many episodes, listeners can weave strong emotional links with the characters and it is through those characters that we, as a society, evolve.”
About Population Media Center
Population Media Center is a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education, dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, population stabilization, and the environment. For the past two decades, PMC’s entertainment programming has promoted social and cultural change and has helped 500 million people in more than 50 countries.