Narrative storytelling podcasts tell personal stories while highlighting social issues for the audience in non-didactic ways.
A growing number of development agencies and NGOs have created their own podcasts to showcase their work and bring listeners into the daily lives of the communities they support.
The Radio Workshop (founded as the Children’s Radio Foundation), a youth development NGO working in five countries in Africa, shares their journey to creating their own podcast.
As a medium, radio remains extremely relevant throughout the world. In Africa, it dominates the media landscape, with 80% of the population tuning in every week, surpassing print, television and the internet. The affordability, affordability and acceptability of radio help position it as the most trusted source of information, especially in the rural areas of the continent. Over the past few years, audio has grown through the expansion of digital platforms such as streaming, internet radio and podcasting, the latter especially having huge potential to reach new audiences and share lesser-heard stories.
Since 2006, Radio Workshop has been training young people across Africa as radio reporters, giving them the tools and skills to research, produce and broadcast their own shows on local radio stations. Reporting in local languages on issues such as mental health, LGBTIQA+ rights and climate change, young journalists are leading important conversations on the issues that matter most to them. Their radio shows interweave personal narratives and information and open a space for dialogue, awareness raising and shared solutions in their communities. We currently work with a network of 65 partner radio stations and over 750 trained youth reporters.
A few years ago, when we started exploring the potential of podcasting, it seemed like a great opportunity to continue our mission to use audio to empower young people while expanding our work.
Podcast listening in Africa has grown steadily over the past few years. This growth can be explained by the spread of smartphones and the steady reduction in data costs in most African countries. The convenience of on-demand content and the ability to explore a variety of topics also seems to meet the growing appetite for quality domestic stories that reflect the complex and varied realities of life on the continent.
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In early 2021, we took a step to create our own podcast called Radio Workshop – a narrative non-fiction show distributed monthly and created in collaboration with our network of youth reporters and radio stations across Africa. It tells stories from places that are often overlooked in ways that reflect how young people understand the continent. Some recent episodes have explored topics ranging from vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria and South Africa to mental health in Zambia and access to electricity in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Creating a podcast was the opportunity to deepen our youth radio work and our cooperation with radio stations. The production of the podcast is integrated into our youth radio work in community radio stations. For example, topics for upcoming episodes can be discussed with listeners on the youth journalists’ weekly radio shows. Radio stations provide a recording space and a local broadcast platform, while receiving free high-quality content as well as new skills. Podcast production allows us to add to the podcasting ecosystem by pairing young reporters with experienced journalists and activists and by training aspiring podcasters who can in turn produce content for Radio Workshop. Through co-production and distribution agreements with global broadcasters and podcast companies, our podcast gives us access to national and international audiences who may be interested in broadcasting our content or even support our work.
Our three-part series, I Won’t Grow Old Here, highlights South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis from the perspective of Mary-Ann Nobel, a 23-year-old young reporter. She takes the listener into her community, interviews her friends and family members, and offers a personal insight into the challenges faced by young people in her Johannesburg neighbourhood. The series was broadcast on ten public radio stations in South Africa and was used to launch dialogue events on current challenges facing youth. The series was nominated for Best Podcast at the One World Media Awards, which gave both the podcast and the NGO significant exposure to a new audience.
While podcasting can be a great tool for NGOs, it is still a significant undertaking. This requires the involvement of producers and editors experienced in audio storytelling and in creating content that evokes empathy through the intimacy provided by such a medium. Above all, it requires the commissioning organization to relinquish its control over messaging and trust the power of narrative to bring out the authenticity and complexity of issues in their local realities.