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Impactful Media: How TV Is Shifting the Global Landscape for Good
My Tam Nguyen, 20 Jul 10

From expanding awareness of global health issues in the United States, and implementing health education in Haiti, to addressing tribal conflict in Kenya, and changing the perception of Turkey in the Middle East, soap operas, television and videos are helping to save the planet.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently invested over $1.37 million in the Hollywood Health and Society Global Health Initiative, a project of The Norman Lear Center, in partnership with the World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund. HH&S works to increase global entertainment-education efforts for United States television programming:

The grant enables HH&S to work to increase U.S. public support for global initiatives that reduce health disparities and disease around the world. The main goals of this effort include increasing the accurate presentation of global health topics, such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and vaccine-preventable diseases in popular primetime TV shows; and increasing understanding and support among TV viewers of global health programs that can save lives and reduce disease, especially in Africa.

A new UN funded soap opera, "Under the Sky," is one example of a TV show that is targeting global health; in this case in post-earthquake Haiti. The show will feature 16 episodes, aired three nights a week in 16 camps, and is intended to inform Haitians on how to improve security, sanitation and hygiene in their tent cities. (via Global Poverty and The New York Times)

In Kenya and 12 other countries, The Search for Common Ground produces "The Team," a TV show utilizing the relationships and political dynamics of soccer teams to portray the transformation of conflict into cooperative action. "The Team" targets countries traditionally wracked by conflict and shows positive role models taking responsibility for their actions, which, it is hoped, will increase tolerance, cooperation and national unity in viewers. Encouraging dialogue instead of violence, Common Ground also provides public screenings with moderated discussions in rural areas where TV is not accessible. (For more, see NOW on PBS.)


Countries like Turkey, are also utilizing soap operas as a social diplomacy tool. to shift perceptions of its country in the Middle East. "Gumus," or Noor in Arabic, is a Turkish soap opera that is successfully shifting perceptions of its country in the Middle East. 80 million viewers, from Morocco to Palestine, watched its final episode. Its success likely lies in its dramatic stories told from a Muslim point-of-view; per an article in Foreign Policy:

The idea of watching Muslim men and woman who share the same values and cultural background with their brethren in the Middle East is a very appealing one because it raises taboo subjects and challenges conservative values by someone from within, as opposed to an outsider.

The Turkish soaps have been daring and candid when it comes to gender equality, premarital sex, infidelity, passionate love, and even children born out of wedlock. Coming from a Muslim country like Turkey (even one imbued with a strong secular identity) made it easy to penetrate the thick walls of conservatism in the Arab world where bigotry and misogyny often masquerade as "moral" or "ethical" issues.

As a result of the popular soaps (which by the way are watched not only by women but entire households), Turkey has carved out a strong place for itself on the Arab street.
The broader impact of the story is that a simple television production can be utilized as a potent social tool to effect change and influence thinking -- and in the process win a few million hearts and minds.


The Population Media Center also utilizes media to affect social change, specifically around issues of sustainability and population. The PMC has programming worldwide, and advertises the success of their Brazilian programming:

From September 2006 to March 2007, TV Globo broadcast the highly popular program Páginas da Vida (“Pages of Life”)...It was highly entertaining, yet able to raise many important questions throughout Brazil concerning social and reproductive health issues...At the conclusion of this particular program, multiple quantitative and qualitative studies assessed the impact of Páginas da Vida...Some highlights of these results include:
• Among viewers interviewed at BEMFAM family planning clinics, 60% of clients age 18-24 said that scenes in Páginas da Vida served as a stimulus for them to seek a health service.
• There was more than a 50% increase in knowledge among women interviewed with regard to various reproductive health issues such as: contraceptive methods, family planning, maternal health, maternity/paternity, unwanted pregnancy, adolescent pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS

From sports to global health, captivating and engaging storytelling conveyed through accessible and portable media has the power to create social change. Bill Ryerson, the founder of the PMC, says that not only are media solutions more cost effective ("For example, in the Tanzania project we were just talking about, the cost per person who adopted family planning was 32 cents. The cost per person to change behavior to avoid HIV infection was 8 cents. When you can save lives at 8 cents a person, it is worth doing something."), they're also more lasting. For example, when a soap opera character on PMC's Tanzania show, was shown dying of AIDS over a two year period, resulting studies indicated the story had a lingering impact on viewers:

when he started dying from AIDS, which he did during the serial, there was a massive self-reported change in behavior. Of the audience members, 82 percent of them in a survey at the end of the two years said they had changed their behavior to avoid HIV infection. The most common change they said they had made was reduction in the number of sexual partners. The second most common change was condom use.

All of the projects above have the ambitious and worthy goal of influencing viewers around the world to shift their behaviors into collective impacts that create a healthier and more sustainable world.

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A non-existent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is. This term is most frequently used in "team building" seminars and conferences in which said drones discuss the most effective ways to convince consumer zombies to purchase crap they clearly do not need or even want.

Posted by: Elaine on 20 Jul 10

This is such a wonderful story. I like to see that television and this funding form the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is being used for a good cause. I'm always concerned when these foundations give out money because you don't always see the outcome of the investment, but here the benefit is clear.

Posted by: Marketing Forum Guy on 20 Jul 10

Television has definitely changed most of the people's lives. It made them aware of the things that is happening all over the world.
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Posted by: Aode Foster on 21 Jul 10

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