Narrative storytelling podcasts tell personal stories while highlighting social issues for audiences 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 across Africa, shares its journey of creating its own podcast.
As a medium, radio remains highly relevant across the world. In Africa, it dominates the media landscape with 80% of the population tuning in each week, surpassing print, TV and the internet. Radio’s affordability, accessibility, and acceptability help to position it as the most trusted source of information, especially in rural areas across the continent. Over the last few years, audio has grown through the expansion of digital platforms such as streaming, internet radio and podcasting, with the latter especially holding 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 like mental health, LGBTIQA+ rights, and climate change, the youth journalists lead important conversations on the issues that matter most to them. Their radio shows weave together personal narratives and information, and open space for dialogue, awareness-raising and solution-sharing 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 appeared as a great opportunity to further our mission of using audio to create opportunities for youth, while also amplifying our work.
Over the last few years, podcast listening in Africa has grown steadily. This growth can be explained by the proliferation of smartphones and the steady decrease in data costs in most African countries. The convenience of on-demand content and the ability to explore diverse topics also seem to be meeting a growing appetite for quality homegrown stories that reflect the complex and diverse realities of life on the continent.
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In early 2021, we took the leap 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 make sense of the continent. Some of the 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 collaboration with radio stations. The production of the podcast is integrated into our youth radio work at community radio stations. For example, the 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 getting free high-quality content as well as new skills. The production of the podcast allows us to add to the podcasting ecosystem by pairing youth reporters with experienced journalists and activists, and by training aspiring podcasters who can, in turn, produce content for Radio Workshop. Through co-productions and distribution agreements with global broadcasters and podcast companies, our podcast gives us access to national and international audiences that might be interested in relaying our content or even support our work.
Our three-part series, I Will Not Grow Old Here, highlights South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis from the perspective of Mary-Ann Nobele, a 23-year-old young reporter. She brings the listener into her community, interviews her friends and family members, and offers a personal take on youth challenges in her Johannesburg neighbourhood. The series has been broadcasted on ten community radio stations across South Africa and was used to kick-start dialogue events on the current challenges facing youth. The series is nominated for best podcast at the One World Media Awards, which has provided both the podcast and the NGO considerable visibility with new audiences.
While podcast production can be a great tool for NGOs, it nevertheless represents a considerable undertaking. It requires the involvement of producers and editors with expertise in audio storytelling and in the creation of content that triggers empathy, through the intimacy provided by such a medium. Above all, it requires the commissioning organisation to relinquish its messaging control and trust in the power of narrative to bring out the authenticity and the complexity of issues in their local realities.