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Fighting Poverty With Soap OperasGlobally, it is estimated that at least 150 million people, or 2% of the world’s population, are homeless, with another 1.6 billion people, or over 20% of the world’s population, lacking adequate housing. However, at the end of 2018, 51.2% of people worldwide and 45% in developing countries were using the internet. Almost 60% of households had internet access in their homes in 2018, which is up from less than 20% in 2005, and broadband access continues to grow with a penetration rate of 69.3 per 100 participants. A report by the International Telecommunication Union found that almost 80% of households had a TV by the end of 2012. This percentage is 69% in developing countries, while “virtually all” households in the developed world have TVs. Over two-thirds of households with TVs took digital signals in Sub-Saharan African in 2016, and estimates report that TV penetration will reach 99% in 35 forecast countries by 2021. Especially in impoverished areas, internet and television, and more specifically soap operas available across many different providers, help people stay up-to-date on both current events and employment opportunities, learn more effectively and, rather surprisingly, escape poverty.

Soap Operas Aid Poor Turkish Women

In a study by Ozgun, Yurdakul and Atik, the researchers found soap operas affected young women’s self-perception and social advancement who lived in impoverished neighborhoods of Izmir, Turkey. The study found that due to their local income, the women overall viewed these soap operas as tools of information gathering without the emotional burden of heavier news. The study suggests that soap operas become their primary connection with the outside world, exposing them to consumer culture and marketing that are useful skills to have when entering the workforce.

More profoundly, these women were often able to connect on a cathartic level with the characters in these soap operas who endured the same economic struggles but were able to escape poverty. Some women noted that the soap operas reminded them of their difficult pasts, which prompted them to “review and assess” their current life conditions and deal with daily problems. The shows also revealed to the women what they lacked in life, whether it be a job or power, and exposed them to the affluent “other life,” which led some to feel dissatisfied with their condition and ultimately try to come up with solutions to escape from it.

However, the study also reveals that while soap operas empower some women, they can also exacerbate poverty even more, as some women try to mimic the lavish lifestyle of some characters without the finances to do so. Thus, the authors suggest that it may be more impactful for television networks to showcase culturally accessible public programming with more informative, advice-filled narrative content to better reduce poverty.

Combating Poverty Through “Edutainment”

Similar to the suggestions of Ozgun et al., Bilal Zia and Gunhild Berg experimented with “edutainment,” or entertainment with an educational aspect, by working together with the production company of “Scandal!,” a popular South African soap opera, to incorporate financial education messages throughout the plot. Since making financial decisions can be challenging for impoverished populations that lack education in finance, “Scandal!” hoped to develop better habits within viewers through a subplot about debt and gambling.

Zia and Berg ran a study in which one group of people would watch this soap opera while a control group watched another show, and the researchers found that viewers of “Scandal!” showed significant improvements in financial knowledge and behavior. Viewers of “Scandal!” started to borrow from others less and reduce unnecessary expenditures like gambling. Viewers reportedly connected with the main character of the show and ultimately made more economical life decisions that could in the future help them escape poverty.

Fighting HIV with Soap Operas

In addition to increasing financial literacy, soap operas can also improve health and medical awareness among impoverished populations. A study in Nigerian found that people who watched the soap opera “MTV Shuga” were twice as likely to get tested for HIV and were overall more knowledgeable about HIV transmission. The show, which has been broadcasted in more than 70 countries, focuses on an impoverished woman and her HIV-positive lover as she navigates the complex reality of HIV’s role in daily life.

The show, which has been supported by organizations like UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, raises awareness of the dangers of risky sexual behavior especially in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, which has approximately 1.5 million new HIV/AIDS cases each year. In addition to HIV testing, “MTV Shuga” also contributed to a reduction of chlamydia infections by 58% and a reduction in having concurrent sex partners by 14%. The study reveals that edutainment like “MTV Shuga” is more influential and cost-effective than more traditional educational campaigns, which keeps people both entertained and informed.

Lowering Fertility Rates Through Soap Operas

A 2012 study by La Ferrara, Chong and Duryea explored the impacts of telenovelas, or Brazilian soap operas, on fertility rates in Brazil. After a year that the signal for Rede Globo, the main telenovela producer in Brazil, became available in municipalities across the country, the researchers found that fertility rates sharply declined. This effect was strongest for women of low socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom lack proper education regarding safe sex and childbirth.

The research found that among the telenovelas studied, 62.2% of main female protagonists did not have any children, while 19.8% only had one child. Data reveals that telenovelas contributed to the decline in the number of live births particularly among 30 to 34-year-old women from around 4.4 to around 3.2. The study concluded that these soap operas helped mothers make more educated decisions surrounding raising a family, which could lead mothers to seek future employment or save monetary resources for child education.

– Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

signpostAs of last year, there were almost 80 million “forcibly displaced people worldwide.” This figure includes refugees, asylum-seekers and others. As refugee communities are in crucial need of proper medical aid to withstand the COVID-19 pandemic, global powers are devising plans to help them. During the early stages of worldwide lockdown, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) proposed a $33 million pandemic-response plan for improving refugee settlements. Objectives include increasing health service availability, spreading reliable and medical-oriented information throughout refugee communities and implementing efficient surveillance systems. 

Although these efforts were a step in the right direction, they are not enough to assist every displaced refugee in the world. Groups like the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) are certainly championing refugees’ needs. However, it does not take a global superpower to make a positive impact on refugee communities; one website has helped refugees during the pandemic through access to information.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Refugees

COVID-19 has impacted refugees and other forcibly displaced people in three major ways:

  • Health: Constantly sanitizing, maintaining social distance and obtaining medical information are luxuries that many refugees do not have access to. As such, a refugee’s health is in constant jeopardy.
  • Income: Refugees working in informal jobs are likely to have been laid off due to the pandemic, and losing work means losing the only financial safety net for a refugee.
  • Protection: Hostile xenophobic and racist sentiments have been directed at asylum-seekers during the pandemic, which makes those seeking refuge in foreign countries targets for violence.

While these three obstacles are preventing many refugees from securing safety, they can be solved with one essential tool—information. Reliable information regarding health, income and protection can help many refugees.

Signpost as Virtual Back-up

Signpost is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and a virtual project that utilizes digital platforms to spread critical information throughout vulnerable communities. The organization has made a large impression since its founding in 2015. It has positively impacted almost two million people. Signpost has effectively helped and communicated with people across eight different countries, which demands fluency in several languages. Accurately conveying information regarding public health services and other needs to refugees using their native tongue has saved thousands of lives.

Everywhere, refugees are struggling to find trustworthy information about COVID-19. In response, Signpost has been reaching out and providing valuable, potentially life-saving, information to refugees. In particular, Signpost has supported the most vulnerable communities in countries like Greece, Italy, El Salvador and Honduras.

  • Signpost in Greece: Signpost has developed an app that has numerous services listed for refugee use such as medical services, transportation and housing. Also, the organization is scheduled to put out a website for current COVID-19 information throughout the country.
  • Signpost in Italy: The organization has given asylum-seekers information about essential services through Facebook, an established panel where users could ask questions and share key information regarding COVID-19. In Italy, Signpost focused specifically on informing refugees about Italy’s healthcare services and policies.
  • Signpost in El Salvador and Honduras: Signpost developed CuentaNos. It is a virtual platform that not only provides vulnerable people with information about housing or protective services, but also about COVID-19 and locations for medical assistance. Signpost also bundled its online resources efficiently to allow refugees accessibility through WhatsApp.

Everyone has been affected by the pandemic, but asylum-seekers and refugee communities are especially disadvantaged since they are displaced from their home country. Signpost, a website, has helped refugees by providing access to important information about dealing with COVID-19. Although Signpost is just one example, technology-based organizations are mobilizing to provide some type of digital support for refugees. Whether help comes via the Internet or in-person, any outstretched hand toward refugees anywhere is a glimmering sign of hope for a better future.

– Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Article 19The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in article 19 that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Named after this assertion, Article 19 is a human rights organization whose mission is to protect the freedom to speak globally. The group has worked in many different nations to address censorship, access to information and equality and hate speech, among other subjects.

Founded in 1987, Article 19 is based in London but has regional offices throughout the world, working with 100 organizations in more than 60 countries. The organization protects free speech on a global level by lobbying governments, intervening in individual incidents of rights violations and shaping legal standards relating to media and access to information.

With a commitment to combatting censorship, Article 19 has advocated on behalf of journalists arrested in Gambial, as well as Tanzanian politicians imprisoned for insulting the president. It has launched a petition that calls for a binding agreement for Latin American and Caribbean governments to guarantee access to information and justice in environmental matters, asserting that openness and transparency can help to monitor political corruption.

The organization has also written on the need for hate speech to be addressed in Myanmar and has taken a stance on racial discrimination in Tunisia, stating that racism inhibits pluralism of voices. Article 19 is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of 119 organizations committed to defending the basic liberty of freedom of expression. The nongovernmental organization raises awareness, acts through advocacy coalitions, forms petitions and conducts conferences and workshops.

Article 19 is also a founding member of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network, a group connecting organizations and individuals promoting access to information. The coalition runs projects such as a discussion list of lawyers, academics and civil society representatives concerned with the right of access.

In March 2017, Article 19 participated in a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council to draft The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, a document that will protect the openness of the media and safeguard the liberties of individuals and organizations internationally. The document is intended to inform policy makers and legislators in navigating liberties online and offline.

The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy affirms the right of individuals to exercise freedom of expression anonymously and to use secure communication tools, while calling for the regulation of mass surveillance, describing this practice as interfering with privacy and freedom of expression. Additionally, the plan calls for the protection of confidential information given to companies online, as well as the right for confidential journalistic sources to not be disclosed. Through these measures, The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy safeguard fundamental liberties in light of the digital age.

Article 19 is taking a stand against political censorship, the spreading of misinformation and the challenges that journalists face across multiple countries, calling for greater transparency and accountability. The organization operates on an international level, envisioning a world where freedom of expression and information are held in value. Navigating the digital era and the dangers of an oppressed media presence, Article 19 continues to fight for a diverse global community of voices, intervening in cases across the world and engaging in policy work to advance human rights.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Google

Solar Power in the Fight Against PovertyHunger, lack of education, conflict, disease, war; these human calamities have a common factor: poverty. One word to define a worldwide phenomenon which unfortunately hits 2.8 billion people on earth, or near half of the total entire population.

So, what are the solutions to fight this burden? Investment, innovation, technology and education are all viable options. But more and more multinational companies, associations and even simple citizens are now engaged in the fight against poverty, using a very special tool: solar power. As a source of renewable energy that is good for the environment, solar power can also help people get out of poverty by giving them access to electricity.

Today, most inhabitants of developing countries rely more on kerosene than on electricity for their basic needs such as household lighting. This is not only because the cost of electricity is extremely high, as the poorest people in the world pay 40 times more for the same energy services, but also because, most of the time, the nearest outlets are located miles away from where poverty is striking.

Because of this poor resource distribution, 15 percent of the global population still lives without access to electricity, and it is this inequality that solar power is attempting to balance by giving people easier access to electricity, information and education. For example, in Bangalore in India, families using solar panels can save $100 a year, money they tend to invest in their children’s education.

According to Simon Bransfield-Garth, Azuri’s CEO, a leading company in solar power in emerging markets in Africa, “a child spends an extra [two] hours per day doing homework if he has electricity.” But giving people access to electricity, and thus to information and education, is only one advantage this form of energy has to offer developing countries.

First, using solar power requires only one natural resource: the sun. This free, nonpolluting and unlimited
generator makes solar power one of the most environmentally friendly energies in the world. Furthermore, green energy is reliable and cheaper in the long run than kerosene or generators. It is also safer and easier to preserve in case of natural disasters, as solar panels are detachable and can be put indoors.

Helping in both the fight against poverty and climate change, solar power seems to be the perfect solution for those who still don’t have access to electricity. But there is much more at stake here: every year, more than four million people are killed by indoor air pollution, more than AIDS and malaria combined. Developing clean energy is, now, a matter of life or death.

As concluded Justin Guay, associate director of Sierra Club’s International Climate Program, “Just providing a few hours of solar lighting alone improves the human condition.”

– Léa Gorius

Photo: Flickr

data_standardsSetting higher standards for data reporting and compatibility is essential to track and foster progress in initiatives all over the world. That’s why two networks, Development Initiatives and Publish What You Find, are heading a project to develop more universally applicable data standards and help organizations and projects transform their data to match the new standard.

Improving data standards for organizations, particularly those administering aid in countries abroad, will help elucidate the work being done and facilitate collaboration and communication between groups in different sectors. These standards also allow for interoperability, which is defined as the ability for technology and software systems to communicate, exchange data and use this data for researchers to draw conclusions about projects.

Needless to say, higher standards for information will improve the efficiency and speed with which organizations analyze and improve their efforts and also allow them to share their efforts with other groups who can replicate them. Doing so will not only improve the way information it is collected but it will also make it more widely available — improving access to and understanding of the latest projects organizations all over the world that they are engaging in.

In investments directly related to foreign aid, such as those in healthcare, education, agriculture and water access, higher data standards will allow organizations to share the outcomes of their projects with donors who can track the flow of their funding. They can also publicize their findings with other organizations that can then compare and collaborate to find more efficient, cost-effective solutions.

Something as seemingly small as transforming and improving the way with which organizations report their statistics can make drastic improvements to people’s health and way of life all over the world. Examples of this are logging administration and efficacy of immunizations, schools or communities with the highest risks, spread of disease and robustness of food resources. Interoperability allows organizations and donors to link up and improve the work they are doing.

Development Initiatives and Publish What You Find hope their data allows people to make more efficient use of data, whether by directing the flow of funding or improving aid projects. Efforts like these will improve access to information on development flows and therefore their efficiency. This project is ambitious in its design of overhauling sector-level systems, but the change it will bring about will be much broad, influencing the lives of people all over the world.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: Omidyar, Devinit
Photo: University of Mary Washington

Internet.org-Facebook
The promise of the Internet to promote gender equality, health and education in the developing world can be seen as the global internet dream. For the two-thirds of the planet lacking internet access, making this dream a reality is a major challenge moving forward.

Facebook’s internet.org platform has been seen as having the potential to better promote this dream. And though the problem certainly has the potential to greatly improve conditions of connectivity worldwide, a lack of attention to net neutrality and privacy separates that potential from progress and puts users of the platform in danger.

A letter posted to Facebook on May 18 by advocacy group Access Now, and signed by a variety of organizations, criticized the issues and the groups demands.

On issues of net neutrality, the platform has been criticized for the practice of zero-rating, defined in the letter as “the practice by service providers of offering their customers a specific set of services or applications that are free to use without a data plan, or that do not count against existing data caps.”

Zero-rating is an inherent aspect of internet.org’s model. Under this model, certain sites are free after being reviewed by guidelines. Other sites face potentially being routed through internet.org’s proxy server. The server also strips sites of content which violates data use guidelines, which ranges from videos greater than one MB in size to pervasive modern design features such as Javascript.

Along with assisting the platform in zero-rating content creators, the proxy server makes the surveillance and censorship of the platform easier. In an article titled, “Internet.org is Not Neutral, Not Secure, and Not the Internet,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that HTTPS encryption on sites which run through the proxy server is only possible on the Android version of the service. Though this certainly provides protection to some users, the majority of those that could benefit from using internet.org have basic feature phones, on which Android software is not usable. The May 4 update to the program also prohibits TLS and SSL encryption, according to the letter posted by Access Now.

As a result, oppressive governments will be able to pressure Facebook to provide information about individual users, block web pages and even block users. This lack of security assigns a responsibility to Facebook which endangers users, the letter alleges.

Facebook responded to these concerns in an article titled, “Internet.org: Myths and Facts,” though the response has been seen as inadequate by critics of the platform, with issues of encryption and net neutrality remaining key points of criticism.

The promise of the global internet dream is Facebook’s vision in the creation of internet.org. And though the service currently has the potential to make that dream a reality, greater steps must be taken by all parties involved for the two-thirds of the population for whom that dream matters most.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Facebook, Access Now Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet.Org,, Hindustan Times, SiliconBeat
Photo: TNW News

outernet
An estimated 60 percent of the world’s population has no Internet access. Of the people with regular Internet access, several million can only access censored information. Syed Karim, founder of Outernet, plans to change all that.

In 2012, Karim founded Outernet to bring the Internet to the remotest parts of the globe. To him, information is a human right as basic as food or water, and the Internet is the best information delivery system in history. Outernet is a datacasting company that could change the way isolated communities receive Internet. Using hardware of its own design, the company can bounce prepackaged streams of data off small satellites and onto Wi-Fi-enabled devices anywhere in the world.

Outernet’s hardware innovations come in three forms. The first is the durable 24-inch satellite dish that receives the data stream. Designed like a folding colander, the dish can expand and contract by unfolding a series of overlapping panels. It can fold down small enough to fit into a bucket, making it easy to transport. Instead of the small motor most satellite dishes use to rotate, the Outernet dish articulates on a threaded screw that makes it extra durable, especially under windy conditions. Outernet has also perfected a device called a Lantern that serves as both a data stream receiver and a portable Wi-Fi hot spot. Lanterns are about the size of water bottles and can receive almost any information on the Internet.

Perhaps the most impressive of Outernet’s accomplishments is its fleet of CubeSats, shoebox-sized satellites that bounce uni-directional data down to Earth’s surface. This past March, the U.K. Space Agency agreed to fund the fleet of CubeSats. By 2016, Outernet plans to have three of the tiny, inexpensive satellites in orbit, each delivered by piggybacking on launches for larger projects. “It costs about $100,000 per kilogram,” Karim said. “The cost of the launch is much more expensive than the satellite itself.”

The service Outernet provides is not the same as conventional Internet access. It works more like a conventional radio. The signal is one-way and generalized. As Syed Karim put it, “When you talk about the internet, you talk about two main functions: communication and information access… It’s the communication part that makes it so expensive.” Because the service is only information, not communication, it is also much harder to jam. The signal sent from Outernet’s CubeSats is almost impossible to censor.

If Outernet succeeds in its mission, basic information will become available to everyone, everywhere. Censorship will be, if not a thing of the past, then at least much more difficult to pull off. Farmers in rural India could request price predictions for the upcoming year before deciding what to plant. Schools in rural Africa could download the most up-to-date lessons and facts to learn from, and not rely on old, potentially inaccurate textbooks. Information could become as widely distributed as food or electricity, and the world could take one more step toward equality.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: World.Mic, Outernet, Gizmodo, Wired
Photo: Indie GoGo