Last month I visited a micro-village called La Prusia on the outskirts of Granada, Nicaragua. The village, supported by changemakers from Casas de Esperanza, has a growing community of clean, livable housing, a small, volunteer-run school, and La Prusia even has it’s own, small radio station.
Soon after, I went with a crew from Actuality Media to visit a school where Granada-based changemaker Building New Hope provides volunteers to a class for blind children. We witnessed five quiet, hesitant, blind children slowly become happy and cheerful, then rise out of their chairs to dance around as their volunteer teachers coaxed them along with song.
Music is a fantastic medium for telling stories, and for teaching lessons. One of the world’s changemakers that knows this best is the Johannesburg, South Africa-based Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication. Soul City pushes health and social change through great media on the radio and also television.
“Soul City is awarded for making a real and positive difference to the lives of some of South Africa’s most disadvantaged people, mainly in city slums and regional and rural towns, by harnessing the power of the mass media to produce relevant, informative and entertaining programs.” In 2007 the Soul City Institute won the University of Queensland Communication for Social Change Award.
Soul City Institute took the existing format of big media companies and adapted that plan to be used for greater impact on their community. With prime-time television shows and radio dramas, as well as new internet media, the organization tries to focus individuals and communities on issues of human development and health problems.
Building on an already successful model is a likely way to succeed, but it is not a guarantee. Part of how Soul City Institute sustains itself is with advertising and sponsorship like other media outlets, and by producing award-winning content. At the most recent South African Film and Television Awards the Soul City production house received nominations for six awards and actor Vusi Kunene, from the dramatic production Soul City, took the best actor award. Longtime South African popular actress Lillian Dube, who has had parts in both Soul City and the Soul City Institute’s children’s network Soul Buddyz, received a lifetime achievement award.
Since its premiere in 1994, the television show Soul City has entertained viewers while educating them about having multiple sex partners, the dangers of HIV, alcoholism, and more – without ever backing down from startling realism.
“Every week, around 4 million South Africans tune in to the series in expectation of what will happen next to its stars. The season that just finished was mainly focused on alcoholism and moderate drinking. Soul City wraps moral lessons into a thrilling story,” reports the Street News Service, “In South African television, ‘Soul City’ competes for the highest number of viewers with a slick drama series about a flashy advertising agency drenched in bling. Where the latter lets the audience dream of a life in luxury, Soul City adopts an image of a world closer and more recognizable to the average South African.”
Outside the flagship show, Soul City Institute also has many other brands including the already-mentioned Soul Buddyz children’s brand to teach lessons to the young, as well as Buddyz on the Move. The station also features Kwanda, a reality TV show about volunteers giving a community makeover, and the popular series Untold that feature stories from countries all over southern Africa. These countries aren’t just subjects for the media, as the institute reaches outside of South Africa to Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.
The shows broadcast to these countries often coincide with educational campaigns like Phuza Wize – a campaign to spread knowledge about South African drinking norms – and every campaign has media that is tailored to each country. One of the most recent campaign, the ongoing OneLove, is focused on HIV prevention and the message has spread well.
“According to research conducted by the institute 61% of adults in South Africa are aware of the OneLove message, it was announced at the 5th Aids Conference by Soul City in Durban on Tuesday,” reports ioL news, “Of those exposed to OneLove, single women were 66% less likely to have multiple sexual partners than the previous year. Men exposed to the campaign were 42% less likely to become involved in transactional sex.”
People like Soul City’s Senior Executive Sue Goldstein have taken a successful business idea and adapted it to be a power for good that serves as an inspiration for other would-be changemakers around the world.
“The crucial role played by edutainment media as a health communication strategy in bringing about social and behavior change,” Goldstein recently said.