Will Vicky be able to make more money now that her husband has left his job? Will Miriam be able to fulfill her dream of owning her own house? What about Vicky’s pregnant teenage sister? How will a new baby affect the household? And who, after all, is the “man” in Cambodia? These and other questions captivated a full house at the Foromic panel on using non-traditional media techniques for training. Non-traditional it was, with discussions of telenovelas (soap operas) and reality TV shows, HIV-AIDS, financial literacy and savings accounts, child trafficking and women’s and men’s household roles. This panel proved how financial, academic, and health institutions are using soaps for more than daytime dithering. In fact, some of the LAC region’s leading microfinance organizations are proving that combining such seemingly frivolous fare with important messages can be an effective and sustainable vehicle for providing training and achieving behavioral changes.
The panel included several leading innovators in this field:
Christine Pearson, a management professor from Thunderbird School of Global Management, described the training modules developed in a soap opera format to train 100,000 women microentrepreneurs in Peru. The program, led by Mibanco, with funding from the MIF and AUSAID, was designed to help poor rural and urban women improve their businesses, lives and economic situation. The content and format were tailored to address three major challenges: achieving massive scale, limited windows of time to hold trainings, and consistent, uniform presentation in various parts of the country by different facilitators. Using clips from a specially designed telenovela focused on financial literacy turned out to be the ideal mechanism to reach a wide audience, with “Vicky” and her family problems creating relatable situations to stimulate honest conversation among participants for training purposes.
Amy Banks, from Puntos de Encuentro, a feminist NGO based in Nicaragua, introduced her telenovela, “ContraCorriente” (“CrossCurrent”), a full -fledged soap opera that has already reached national scale. The program was sponsored by Banco Adopem and Women’s World Banking as a vehicle for financial literacy and to encourage savings, but also included other messages on health and social issues. The spicy Dominican soap, according to Amy, needed to have a variety of messages to mirror the reality of women’s lives. As she put it, “Sex, Power, Money… what better subjects for a drama?”
To add a men and masculinities gender angle, geographic diversity, and the impact of media on health outcomes to the discussion, Lynda Bardfield, an expert from FHI 360, discussed “You’re the Man,” a nationally-broadcast reality show in Cambodia. This program puts a group of young men into various situations to challenge traditional views of masculinity and stress equality, respect for women, and safer sexual health practices, with the goal of decreasing HIV infection rates in Cambodia.
All of these programs are undergoing intense processes of evaluation to determine to what extent and how behaviors are changed by media, and early indications point to very powerful effects. The oldest experience with the most evaluated data to date was presented by Susanne Duryea, a senior economist at the IDB. Suzanne’s study convincingly proved that women in Brazil dramatically changed their attitudes about family size, resulting in the most significant fertility decline in a country other than China, which had a government population control policy. This drop from six to two children per household from 1960 to 2000 is attributed to the family size portrayed in the telenovelas aired by one of Brazil’s most prominent networks, Globo. The effect was strongest for women of lower socioeconomic status and for women in the late phases of their fertility cycle. Notably, Suzanne reported that merely being reached by the Globo network had the same effect on fertility as that associated with an additional two years of schooling for women.
So are soap operas a farce or force for development? This panel evidenced the clear links between NGOs, microfinance institutions and universities and innovative uses of media. From scale, cost, outreach, and effectiveness perspectives, these panelists showed how non-traditional media techniques are changing clients’ preferences, whether they access a new financial product or change an engrained behavior, and many of these projects have rigorous evidence attributing causality to the interventions being discussed.
What’s clear is that with a little unorthodoxy, creative design, and some spice, playful learning may take the place of traditional classroom training models. The question now is how the development community can push the envelope with “edutainment” services to create credible, high-quality products that pair creativity with social messaging in unique ways that successfully stimulate demand.
View the session at Foromic.