Interactive radio: Key to achieving the SDGs

Photo credit: Jesse Winter

One of the landmarks of last year was the global agreement on a new plan of action to follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In September 2015, world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York and unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 highly ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Strategically applying ICTs — and radio in particular — will be key to success on the road to 2030.

Ambitious, global goals

The MDGs rallied the world around a common cause to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people, with significant results, but there is still much work to be done and a lot at stake — and not just in the developing world.  Unlike the eight MDGs, which focused only on less developed countries, SDGs are for the whole planet and are sometimes called the Global Goals for this reason.

Agenda 2030’s 17 goals and 169 new targets are also more ambitious than their precursors. The MDG to reduce poverty has been replaced with the SDG to eliminate it completely, for example. And the targets are more demanding across the board. The new plan also encompasses new issues such as climate change, sustainable consumption, and innovation.

Leadership and vision

We do not have an easy task ahead of us. Strong leadership and vision will be key to making the goals of the 2030 Agenda a reality. In 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Dr. David Nabarro, who recently led the UN’s Global Ebola Response and Scaling Up Nutrition movement, as Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda.

Dr. Nabarro has described the 2030 Agenda as a “horizontal mosaic of life,” emphasizing the importance of seeing the SDGs as fully integrated, complementary, mutually reinforcing, and interdependent. To be successful, he says, we must avoid the human tendency to stovepipe and silo them, and treat each goal as independent, stand-alone, and in need of its own specialized bureaucracy.

This is a remarkable vision and a daunting challenge. How will we, the people of this planet, identify and weave together actions that will bring about these ambitious yet essential goals?

Rising to the challenge with radio

We need to work together as a human race like never before. To do that, communications is key.

One of most notable differences between now and when the MDGs were launched in 2000 is the richness of the information and communication technology (ICT) environment and the potential this offers for more interactive and participatory communications.

Relevant and well-loved around the world, radio is a particularly powerful ICT.  It is especially useful when it comes to reaching, serving, and connecting vast numbers of people in rural communities in developing countries at a very low cost. The ubiquity of radio in the developing world is met only by that of cell phones, which give radio more power and appeal than ever before. Combined with cell phones, radio has been re-born as a two-way, interactive tool that can give voice to those who are typically heard from the least.

In my work with Farm Radio International, I see every day the amazing things that radio can do. With cell phones in their hands, rural people aren’t limited to listening to radio programs; they can also participate. We developed a tool called beep2vox to give farmers a free way to connect with radio stations and shape the broadcasts that serve them. In the world of radio, “vox” means voice — and beep2vox is our system for sharing farmers’ voices with a missed call, at no cost to the caller. When audience members call the radio station and hang up, leaving a “beep” with the station, they are called back and given the opportunity to leave a recording to be played on the air.

Sharing the voices of small-scale farmers over the airwaves can be incredibly powerful — especially for women farmers. One of the projects currently employing beep2vox is Her Voice on Air, a project designed to help create farm radio programs for women by women. Through the project, women farmers are gathering in listening groups and using a smartphone to record and send messages to their radio station to be aired in subsequent broadcasts. Women farmers report that hearing themselves on the radio has not only made them feel more confident but has also led to an increased awareness and appreciation in their community of the contributions they make. Advancing multiple SDGs at the same time, these radio programs are empowering women, advancing food security, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture, and helping farmers cope with the impacts of climate change. The list goes on. Everything is interconnected, after all.

Inexpensive and impactful, radio is a platform that can facilitate knowledge sharing on a grand scale. Utilizing it to its fullest potential will be key to success on our journey toward a better common future.

This is an adaptation of “Radio on the Road to 2030,” published on the Huffington Post Impact Blog in June 2016. 

About the author
Kevin Perkins is the executive director of Farm Radio International, a position he took up in 2006. Since then, he has had the pleasure and privilege of participating in its growth into a leading communication-for-development organization that specializes in applying interactive radio to a variety of rural development challenges in Africa.


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