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Viamo’s ServicesOver the last two decades, cellphone ownership has steadily increased, with 73% of the world having mobile broadband connections in 2020. In response to this trend, a group of Canadian and Ghanaian engineers founded Viamo in 2012. Viamo is a social enterprise that uses mobile technology to distribute educational materials and compile data. Operating in more than 20 African and Asian countries, Viamo reaches millions of people a year. Over its eight-year existence, Viamo’s services have diversified thanks to partnerships with more than 500 organizations.

The 3-2-1 Service

This toll-free service offers educational content and interactive training through interactive voice response (IVR). IVR is an automated system that communicates with the listener through prerecorded or synthetic speech, thus removing the need for literacy. Furthermore, Viamo translates all content into local languages so it can reach the largest number of people.

Many of the partner projects that Viamo undertakes end up on the 3-2-1 Service once completed. For example, Viamo’s partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to create Link It, a mobile service meant to connect farmers to markets in Nepal, saw the finished product integrated into the 3-2-1 Service platform.

Another example comes from Mozambique, where Viamo partnered with a coalition of groups including Chemonics and USAID to create a storm warning system. This system has been a part of Mozambique’s 3-2-1 Service since its creation in 2016.

Besides these, Viamo’s services through 3-2-1 include audio dramas, news and children’s educational programs.

The diversity of the 3-2-1 Service has garnered it more users than Facebook in some countries, with thousands of people utilizing it at any point in the day.

Wanji Games

With the help of Viamo, Peripheral Vision International established Wanji Games. These edutainment games feature branching path narratives, where listeners role play scenarios ranging from navigating gender-based violence (GBV) to managing money. By exploring a scenario’s different endings, the player can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter to apply it to their lives. Since these are accessible via the 3-2-1 Service, these games are free to play.

Engagement Campaigns

Viamo helps its partner organizations transmit information to the general population through its comprehensive mass messaging system combining IVR, chatbots, SMS, mobile apps and social media. For example, in the past, Viamo had remotely trained Rwandan healthcare workers on mental health using IVR.

Surveys, Polls and Call Centers

Viamo’s relationship with network operators grants it the benefit of having access to customers’ demographic information. As such, Viamo can distribute surveys and polls to achieve a sample representative of the general population. Furthermore, since network operators disclose a customer’s geographical location to Viamo, it can map the results.

Due to the conflict in South Sudan, the government has prohibited journalists from reporting in the country. To bypass this issue, Viamo and Forced Out created a phone survey to measure the displaced population in South Sudan. The survey found that the war had displaced more than 40% of the nation’s population. This provided the international community with statistics to properly gauge the scope of the refugee crisis.

Viamo also has a variety of call centers integrated into the 3-2-1 Service. One instance of this is Legal Aid Forum Rwanda. Victims can call the call center to get legal advice and possibly get connected to a lawyer who could represent them for free.

Viamo’s Reach and Future Impact

Viamo’s services have reached more than 10 million people. With plans to expand into new areas, such as Latin America, Viamo will continue to have an impact in the foreseeable future.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

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