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More than 350,000 Congolese tuned in every week

May 11, 2018

It’s estimated that more than 350,000 Congolese listened regularly to Pambazuko (“New Dawn”), an entertaining radio show in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that was designed to educate as well as entertain. Listeners showed increased knowledge in topics ranging from contraception to deforestation. It was a radio show created and broadcast by Population Media Center (PMC), an international nonprofit that has broadcast entertaining shows in more than 50 countries and helped more than 500 million people live healthier lives.

Pambazuko brought powerful and fun storylines to life,” says PMC Program Manager Lindsay Reid. “Our first rule is that we need to be some of the best entertainment on the air. But Pambazuko also provided information, or corrected misinformation, about a variety of issues. The show took issues like reproductive health and contraception, girls’ education, and wildlife protection and demonstrated why and how these things were relevant in the lives of the audience.”

Pambazuko ran for 1.5 years, broadcasting 156 episodes. Each episode ended with a cliff hanger, spreading the storylines out over the entire broadcast. Audiences traveled vicariously with the evolution of characters as the stories presented different challenges and opportunities.

Pambazuko was broadcast over 14 community radio stations in Swahili, one of the DRC’s national languages,” says Reid. “It was designed according to PMC’s storytelling methodology. Working with stories allows us to show nuance and interrelated issues. Our shows reflect the sexy and fun, but also the complex and intertwined nature of life.”

When the broadcast ended in August 2017, PMC got to work on the next stage of the project – what is called “endline.” That’s when teams conduct a national cross-sectional survey that is representative of the target population. The multi-stage cluster cross-sectional survey had to be stratified by residence (rural/urban) as well as by province and age. The survey sample was more than 2,500 individuals. Researchers visited homes with both male and female researchers to allow male-to-male and female-to-female surveys and to overcome illiteracy.

The survey collected information on demographic factors, key programming indicators, as well as exposure to the show. The depth of information acquired allowed researchers to conduct multivariate comparisons to determine if differences between listeners and non-listeners were statistically significant after controlling for confounding factors, such as sex, age, number of children, marital status, education, residence, and religion. Basically, researchers wanted to make sure that the difference between listeners and non-listeners could be attributed to the show itself and not some other factor.

What researchers found was that Pambazuko did have a significant impact on a number of indicators. For instance, listeners were 2.4 times more likely than non-listeners to approve of family planning and were 2.4 times more likely to say that they could ask their spouse or partner to use contraception if they wanted to.

When probing about girls’ education and gender equality, researchers found that listeners were 3.2 times more likely than non-listeners to state that girls should be encouraged to pursue their education to a high level and 2.1 times more likely than non-listeners to agree that investing in a girl’s education benefits the entire family.

On environmental topics, listeners were 1.7 times more likely than non-listeners to state that they agree that poachers who traffic in protected species should be reported to the police. Listeners were also twice as likely as non-listeners to say they have been involved with planting trees and 2.9 times more likely to say they have been involved in protecting animal species such as gorillas.

Gorilla peeking through the leaves
Photo from the Jane Goodall Institute, a PMC funder and collaborator.

“The results were encouraging,” says Reid. “It’s estimated that 30% of our target audience had heard of Pambazuko and 16% listened to more than half of the episodes. To reach more than 350,000 people at least once per week for 1.5 years – that scale of impact is just part of why entertainment can be so successful at changing social norms.”