|A publication of the Asian Development Bank||No. 1 June 2008|
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“This gives us a unique ability to transmit audio programs and Web-based material... even where Internet, phones, and electricity aren’t an option"
FIRST VOICE INTERNATIONAL
Learning from the Sky
A nongovernmental organization is using satellites to beam development news to the poorest pockets of Africa and Asia
Illustration by Mervin Malonzo
Delivering timely information—about everything from tsunamis to safe-sex practices—to remote populations is a challenge development professionals have grappled with for decades, especially in Asia and Africa where distances and dialects can make communication more tribulation than trial.
Factor in scarce resources, dangerous terrain, and historically high rates of illiteracy, and the challenge of reaching the world’s poorest and most isolated increases exponentially.
To overcome these barriers, development agencies increasingly have harnessed the technology of satellite radio to reach remote listeners, beyond the power grids and cellular phone coverage circles of Asia and Africa.
“The advantage of the technology is the fact that it’s inexpensive, can reach the most remote areas, and can be used for any number of development purposes,” explains Jason Forauer, program manager for First Voice International (FVI).
FVI is a US nonprofit organization that owns 5% of the broadcast capacity of the WorldSpace commercial satellite radio network. WorldSpace has two satellites—aptly named AfriStar and AsiaStar—which reach Africa, most of Asia and the Middle East, and much of the Pacific and Europe with digital quality audio transmissions. The broadcast capacity was given to FVI as an endowment to be used exclusively for noncommercial, humanitarian programming.
“This gives us a unique ability to transmit audio programs and Web-based material—efficiently and effectively—right across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, to literally billions of people in nearly 100 countries even where Internet, phones, and electricity aren’t an option,” trumpets FVI’s website (www.first
FVI works to combine technologies to help communities maximize the impact of broadcasts, Forauer says. With a simple satellite radio receiver—at a cost of about $100—communities can receive the transmission or download content via a specially designed computer terminal.
FVI customizes the system according to the community’s needs, he adds. If there is no electricity, for example, solar panels can be installed to power a crude computer or receiver. If there is an existing AM or FM radio transmitter, content can be rebroadcast directly to portable radios—an attractive scenario because only 1 in 10 people in developing countries has a standard radio, according to the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.
In other cases, such as collecting agricultural information in Africa, the satellite feed is used to pull together information from varied sources, from e-mail to cellular phone text messages, to make certain remote agricultural or livestock-based communities receive important information about crops and climate.
High Tech Meets Low Maintenance
“We go into these grassroots, remote situations beyond the reach of the Internet, print media and electricity and try to develop some sort of adaptive solution” to disseminate information, Forauer explains, adding that radio erases the barrier of illiteracy, common in remote areas.
The content of broadcasts depends on the donor organization, the development partner, and the community being addressed. “We are not content providers,” Forauer explains. “We provide the ICT [information and communications technology] platform.” The equipment employed must be low maintenance, he adds, as local partners are trained to look after and maintain the new technology.
Programs utilizing FVI’s satellite feeds have ranged from establishing agricultural reporting networks across Africa to setting up a system for broadcasting information on HIV/AIDS and human trafficking in remote stretches of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR).
Funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for 6 months during 2007, the program in northern Lao PDR tested the effectiveness of dramatized informational content delivered via satellite radio feeds. The radio shows provided information on HIV/AIDS prevention and human trafficking to remote, information-starved areas in local dialects.
“These dramas delivered more than entertainment,” remarked the ADB report on the program. “Broadcasts were combined with village listening groups organized by discussion group leaders from the village communities… Villagers were encouraged to talk about how the story characters and events compared to the situations in their villages and were prompted to ask questions about HIV/AIDS and trafficking.”
“The pilot project… clearly demonstrated the contribution ICTs, and specifically satellite radio, can make in maximizing rural communication efforts, thereby improving the reach and impact of health and other related economic development information,” concluded Sharon Smith, the regional manager for Asia/Pacific for FVI, in her final report. •
|© 2013 Asian Development Bank|