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How can we encourage young people to take control of their lives? This is a challenge for parents with teenaged children the world over, and something that C4D practitioners can clearly help with. In this post, we look to Femina Hip, a highly successful Tanzanian social movement, which seems to have mastered the art of ‘edutainment’ by following one simple rule: make communication relevant.
“Ruka juu! Ruka juu!” sings the theme tune coming from the TV, followed by some infectious beats and colourful graphics of people jumping. Those of us who aren’t Swahili speakers may not immediately be able to follow the presenter, but as the programme begins it’s easy to recognise the tried and tested formula of the reality competition genre.
‘Edutainment’ in action: Ruka Juu’s vibrant presenter pops out of the foliage with a message of empowerment for Tanzania’s young people. The second series of the reality TV contest focused on agricultural entrepreneurship.
Six young contestants have been selected to put their entrepreneurial skills to the test. But before you cast this off as a Tanzanian version of Dragons’ Den
(UK) or Shark Tank
(USA), please keep the country’s high rate of unemployment in mind. While the contestants go head-to-head in their battle to be voted Best Entrepreneur by the audience – which carries a prize of 5 million Shillings (approximately US $ 2,250) to go towards developing their enterprise – the underlying message to Tanzanian youth is rather more serious. Ruka Juu
, now a household name among Tanzanian youth, makes its objective clear at the start of the series: to promote entrepreneurship and tackle unemployment. For its producers, the innovative Femina Hip
, even the title – translated as ‘jump up high’ – serves as the motto and motivational message they wish to convey to young people.
This is not Femina Hip’s first foray into television. Prior to its launch, they had already successfully started Fema TV
, a talk show dealing with commonly-faced issues for young people living in an ‘underdeveloped’ country. Aimed at 15 to 25 year olds, the show has succeeded in reducing the taboos that used to shroud issues of sexual health, consent and HIV/AIDS in Tanzania.
Hip, fun and interactive: the Fema TV talk show has created a space for young people’s voices and questions to be aired.
The innovative use of SMS technology and phone-ins allowed young people’s voices to be heard for the first time, and for their questions to be answered. This possibility for interactive participation has not only boosted engagement within a young audience, but also encouraged knowledge, and active use, of technology.
Understanding what gets an audience’s attention From the outset, the aim of Femina Hip’s wider social movement was to educate young people about sexual health. Back in the 1990s, before the social media boom, people relied on religious institutions for the transmission of such important messages. However, many found this awkward, and the tendency to promote abstinence was simply not relevant to the real, lived experiences of young people. Traditional ‘coming of age’ rituals remained common among certain ethnicities, but these tended not to be spaces for dialogue or answering questions. In schools, progress was hampered by fears that sex education would only promote promiscuity, while the available materials were few and inadequate at best.
Norwegian-born Minou Fuglesang, a young lady who’s now hailed as a ‘champion’ in the world of communication for development (C4D), realised that if vital messages of protection and safety were to reach girls and young women, the medium had to be relevant. And what is better at reaching today’s youth than visual, interactive media?
The medium has to be relevant! 10 million copies of Fema magazine are in circulation in Tanzania, making it a significant communication platform for messages of youth empowerment, sexual health and active citizenship.
In collaboration with her Tanzanian colleagues, Minou founded a magazine, specifically designed to appeal to young girls. By thinking carefully about their audience and trying to understand its needs, Fema magazine has become Femina Hip’s most reliable, long-term communication tool for transmitting important messages about sexual health, active citizenship, economic empowerment and gender equality.
Since its first issue went to print in 1999, the magazine’s popularity hasn’t stopped growing. There are now around 10 million copies, both current and back issues, circulating across the country, including its rural areas. It was core funding from Swedish and Danish governmental donors that made this snowball effect possible. In parts of the country where connectivity is poor and television is yet to penetrate, Fema is a glossy, attractive and informative item on many young people’s radar. It is even distributed to over 2,500 secondary schools and used within the classroom as an educational resource.
Originally having in mind a young, female audience, Femina Hip was founded in the 1990s to fill a gap in sexual and reproductive health messaging in Tanzania.
Learning from Femina Hip There is a lot to be learnt from Femina Hip’s success. Minou’s willingness to get into her target audience’s mindset and think about what its members would pay attention to, and her drive to extend this to further visual mediums, has created a ‘mass mentorship’ phenomenon. By tapping into popular culture and making the agenda ‘hip’ and fun, Femina Hip has won the hearts and respect of youth where teachers, policymakers and pastors have come up short.
There is a lot to be learnt from Femina Hip’s success. Minou’s willingness to get into her target audience’s mindset and think about what its members would pay attention to, and her drive to extend this to further visual mediums, has created a ‘mass mentorship’ phenomenon. By tapping into popular culture and making the agenda ‘hip’ and fun, Femina Hip has won the hearts and respect of youth where teachers, policymakers and pastors have come up short.