By Emily Cholette, FrontlineSMS:Radio Project Intern
I’ve been volunteering with the FrontlineSMS:Radio project and recently had the pleasure of speaking with Colin Spurway of BBC Media Action, an organization which helps people around the world to harness the media to promote change in their communities. Colin is the Project Director of Loy9(pronounced ‘Loy Pram-booun’), a multimedia initiative in Cambodia geared towards encouraging youth participation in civic life through the use of a television series, phone-in radio shows, online discussions and roadshows. We had a great discussion about the significance of the Loy9 initiative in promoting youth engagement in civic society through mobile technology, as well as some of the challenges.
Colin kicked of our discussion by sharing shocking findings of a study carried out by BBC Media Action and UNDP in 2010 which looked into how young people in Cambodia contributed to civic life. It demonstrated extremely low levels of participation, revealing that many young people didn’t even know fundamental facts about how their country was governed and how they could participate with the government on local or national levels. Colin noted that around 2 out of 3 people in Cambodia are under the age of 30, meaning that this large youth population combined with extremely low levels of participation is worrisome. “Young people’s voices are not being heard in decision making now,” he explained, “But also looking forward to the point they need to be the leaders of the country, few young people will have experience of significant decision making or responsibility.”
Loy9 was launched in January 2012 to fill knowledge gaps among the youth and promote participation for those who may feel alienated from decision making processes. Colin passionately explained the importance of Loy9’s branding: “Its got this positive sense of achievement, which is fun, successful and achievable. ‘Loy’ is used when someone does something well. It’s very Cambodian: it’s optimistic, yet realistic. The ‘9’ is not ’10’, it’s not saying 10 out of 10.“
Colin explained that one of the main challenges in running a project that aims to increase participation is that it is not a sought out service like maternal health or English classes might be. It can be quite difficult to convince people that they need to engage more in civic society: Colin was adamant that “You can’t simply impose it on them and expect positive results.” So Loy9 uses mass media to offer edu-tainment which connects with the youth in Cambodia in ways which are appealing and meets young people where they are. Harnessing tools and channels they already use gives them accessible options on how to engage. In realizing the importance of a multimedia approach, Loy9 combines the use of television series, radio shows, online forums, roadshows and SMS.
To ensure dialogue in the programming, Loy9 has been experimenting with two way communication platforms to allow more youth to engage with the weekly topics. Mobile penetration in Cambodia is very high at almost 95% and Colin suggested that, “mobile is by far the widest access media platform,” which clearly pointed to benefits of integrating SMS and voice options. In contrast smartphone penetration is very limited and only 7% of youth (between the ages of 15-24) have ever used the internet. (Ever!)
So Loy9 integrated FrontlineSMS to support their televised talent segments, in which viewers were invited to vote for their favorite act through SMS. The TV show gets 2.5 million viewers weekly and they are invited to exchange dialogue with the presenter on the TV show’s topics which include conflict management, making an effective public speech, working with local government, running a sports team, career advice and much more. The initiative to promote dialogue with the presenters and the talent show vote via SMS received mixed results, however. Loy9 was expecting thousands of incoming SMS each week from the talent voting segment, however only received a few hundred per week.
A significant challenge is that Khmer (the language in Cambodia) has one of the longest alphabets in the world, and the script is incompatible on many mobile phones, thus Colin affirmed that: ”Sending an SMS is quite a task.” Formatting a vote using numbers or letters is one solution which reduces the burden on what needs to be included in 160 characters. Challenges like these keep Colin and his team on their toes, and they are constantly having to innovate and come up with fresh ideas on how to promote participation.
Loy9’s multimedia initiative has been very successful in a short amount of time. Colin and his team are constantly adapting their project design to overcome challenges such as foreign script, cost and incentives to engage, which has helped them to develop a successful initiative that combines a variety of different media platforms. Knowing the target audience, and knowing how to effectively communicate with them are also key to fostering participatory relationships. Loy9 has done exactly this and taken the time to learn and respond to the type of content which attracts the youth in Cambodia, and which media platform(s) are used by different demographic groups. We’re excited to see Loy9 celebrate its 1st anniversary in January 2013 and will continue to follow their progress and exciting ideas in using mobile.
To read more about Loy9 click here.