Educating over the Airwaves in Tanzania: A Case Study
Glory Pads “Safe Menstruation Heroes” Programs on Tanzanian National TV and Radio
Written by Deborah Jordan Brooks, Ph.D. (IMHER Founder, Associate Professor at Dartmouth College)
Based on interviews conducted with Hyasintha Ntuyeko, of Glory Pads
Edited by Fiona Sleigh & Vy Nguyen, IMHER Research Assistants
CASE STUDY SUMMARY: Glory Pads of Tanzania recently produced a series of radio and TV programs which merge menstrual health education and stigma reduction with brand advertising. With these programs placed on Tanzanian national stations during the spring and summer of 2021, they reached hundreds of thousands of people. Based on interviews with Glory Pads founder and CEO Hyasintha Ntuyeko, this case study focuses on practical tips for MHM and other types of social good organizations that might be interested in extending their own educational efforts to mass media airwaves in their own countries.
The “Safe Menstruation Heroes” Project Overview
Many people worldwide tend to spend a good part of each day consuming mass media. However, aside from the occasional menstrual pad advertisement, there is little acknowledgment in the media that girls and women menstruate.
That is part of why it is exciting that Glory Pads of Tanzania recently decided to harness the power of mass media for menstrual education and brand awareness, delivered via locally-produced programs placed on Tanzanian television and radio stations during the spring and summer of 2021.
To be clear, original, mass media-based education will never be cheap or easy; it has its challenges, which will be discussed here. Moreover, TV and radio programs can never entirely replace the richness of in-person two-way discussions about menstruation.
However, as an additional avenue for educational outreach about MHM, the ability to reach hundreds of thousands of viewers/listeners at a time (and with the potential for endless future replays on social media) should not be underestimated in its power to help to normalize public discussions about menstruation, partly through the power of “hitting people from all sides” with MHM messaging.
Here, I describe the Glory Pads mass media project, based on a series of interviews I conducted with Glory Pads founder (and former Dartmouth YALI Mandela Scholar), Hyasintha Ntuyeko.
My own interest in this case study comes from my own work on female-led MHM entrepreneurship (leading to the creation of IMHER), combined with my academic research on the power of the mass media to influence politics and policy, along with nearly two decades of leading students through video production projects in my university courses. Mass media messaging can be incredibly powerful and remarkably cost effective; the degree to which that power routinely goes unharnessed within MHM and SRHR educational efforts has never made sense to me.
As such, I am describing this project here in considerable detail. That is so that other MHM organizations around the world can potentially consider what mass-media outreach could look like within their own countries and communities. A major message from this case study analysis is that relatively modest budgets and/or lack of prior production experience need not necessarily be deterrents to a social good organization taking on a project of this nature.
RADIO PROGRAMS: Eight different 30-minute radio programs, aired on the Tanzanian national FM radio station. Aired from April 17th to June 5th. For an example, listen to one of their radio shows (in Swahili)
TV PROGRAMS: Three 30-minute TV programs, shown on the national TV station in Tanzania from June 12th to July 5th. For an example, see their first TV segment, their second TV segment, or their third TV segment. All are in Swahili, with English subtitles.
WHY TV & RADIO? With the help of the DUKE-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator Program – and with Michael Moscherosch and Minette Paes as Hyasintha’s mentors through that program – Glory Pads conducted a baseline survey of their target audience. Two-thirds of their target audience of 14-48 year-olds said that TV was their first choice for menstrual education, followed by radio on a national FM station. With that knowledge, the organization started looking towards the possibility of television and radio programming for sharing information about MHM, and towards trying to normalize the discussion of it in the national discourse through long-form media productions to be placed in Tanzanian national media outlets.
CONTENT: These programs are comprised entirely of original programming, and a few product ads. They feature “kid reporters,” combining general, (mostly) non-product specific menstrual education with references and ads for Glory Pads, a disposable menstrual pad based in Tanzania. Short, original entertainment-focused scenes (singing, dancing, and comedy bits) are interspliced into the programs to keep adolescents tuned in.
“VIBE”: TV segment #1 features “kid reporters” (boys and girls) and entertainment interludes (skits and songs), “kid in the street”-type interviews with secondary school students assessing their knowledge of menstruation, an interview with a doctor about menstruation, and a personal account by an adult woman of challenges with her first menstrual experience. Ample references to Glory Pads, as well as several advertisements – are included at various points during the program.
WHY THIS APPROACH? Glory Pads has long been engaged in educational work around MHM (i.e., menstrual education for adolescents and community members; “Train the Trainer”-type work around MHM; teaching lower income girls and women about how to sew their own pads; MHM education focused on disabled populations; etc.) Moreover, Glory Pad runs standard length television advertisements of 60-seconds and radio ads (also 60-seconds) as a disposable pad company, as part of their overall brand awareness and marketing mix.
- For the TBC FM radio programs, the content managed to reach around 726,000 listeners per program (x 8 programs)
- For the TBC1 TV programs, the content managed to reach around 322,000 viewers per program (x 3 programs)
- Social media use for Glory Pads increased by over 200% (and counting).
- Glory pads significantly increased their sales and brand awareness of their pads, measured in various ways, including adding a considerable number of new wholesalers for their products.
Program and Production Costs
Media costs tend to be individually negotiated, and do not tend to be widely shared. As such, we cannot publish the costs of this media project here.
However, we can note that, at IMHER, we were pleasantly surprised by the very reasonable cost of airtime for this project. Yes, it is a budget line item for always-stretched budgets. Yes, that will vary considerably between countries, media outlet, and time of year. And yes, there are far more costs involved than just the airtime (see some discussion of those below); moreover, the planning and production time required can be considerable.
But relative to the vastly higher per-participant costs of standard face-to-face classroom educational programming, it is also possible to view mass media outreach (at least when negotiated at low-season, new customer rates – more on that below) as a relative MHM education bargain.
Consider, too, that some donors may be motivated by the idea of extending educational outreach to populations that can be harder to reach than kids in schools (i.e., mothers and grandmothers, fathers, girls who have left school, boys who may be excluded from some in-school MHM programming, etc.) Having an example like the Glory Pads mass media project (see links below) may help donors to be able to envision what a project may look like.
Project Features of Note
- It was created locally, which makes it feel locally relevant to adolescents
This only had a chance of working because it was created by Tanzanians, for Tanzanians.
The world at large may tend to be willing to watch television programming created elsewhere when it is focused on Hollywood-style entertainment. But educational programming, especially to adolescents, is a much harder sell. If it doesn’t feel relevant and interesting, few will watch it, so engagement is key. Country-based relevance – local people, local stories, local settings, and relevant cultural norms and accents – tend to all be key to engaging viewers in educational programs.
- It prominently featured adolescents, which tends to draw kids into programming
Kids get “talked at” by adults in almost all parts of their lives. For educational programming, getting kids to educate kids is a useful way to get them to pay attention. With much of the focus on kids, the programming opens up the opportunity to bring in adult educators (such as the featured doctor in the first TV segment) for short segments, without losing viewers.
- It was inclusive of boys
Rather than making this program just for girls, the reporting team for the first program was split between a “head boy” and “head girl” who guided the program, with questions about menstruation posed to a mix of school girls and boys. Seeing boys take both leadership roles and educational roles on open, public discussion of menstruation has the potential to destigmatize menstruation in a way that a focus just on girls can sometimes help to unintentionally reinforce.
- The television programs were inclusive of the deaf community
The television programs included an on-screen sign language interpreter in order to make the programs accessible to the deaf community.
- The programs advertised a product, but without stigmatizing alternatives
This programming was part education, and part brand awareness. But there is no reason that fully non-profit work without a brand-related message wouldn’t be at least as engaging, without the advertising component of it.
It seems notable, too, that even with the product advertising for disposable pads baked into the programming, criticism of non-disposable pad options for menstrual care did not seem to be a part of the messaging that we noticed (something that can too-often be a problem in some menstrual product advertising.)
Some Tips from Hyasintha Ntuyeko
IMHER asked Hyasintha about observations and tips she might have for others who might be interested in similar projects in their own countries. In those exchanges, she particularly emphasized the following:
- Do not assume that airtime will necessarily be unaffordable
Hyasintha reports that the Tanzanian national TV and radio station saw menstrual education as a valuable part of their mission, and were willing to work with Glory Pads to make it possible, both in terms of reduced rates and production support.
She noted that in general, rates vary seasonally. As such, they were able to buy time during the “low season” for most product advertising, which produced considerable savings for airtime rates, sometimes with special deals designed to attract new customers. Further negotiation can also sometimes be possible.
She also notes that organizations should, “choose strategically the time slot you want to broadcast your programs especially when you are targeting adolescents.” The number of viewers/listeners can vary tremendously throughout different days of the week. Furthermore, different genders and age groups vary tremendously as to when they are most likely to consume media. As such, analyze the data that media stations provide to you to see when your target audience is most likely to engage with that station, and buy your time accordingly.
- While airtime costs may end up being more reasonable than you might expect, production costs in other respects can add up.
In addition to airtime costs, there can also be other costs, such as celebrity endorsement fees, actor – and actor coaching – salary expenses, the cost of transport allowances given to hosts and program supervisors, meals for cast and crew, and the like.
- Making your content engaging can be almost as important as the quality of the content itself
Those engaged in MHM education work are often working with a “captive audience” (of sorts.) Sure, the content definitely has to be engaging or adolescents can always find ways to “tune out” of even required sessions. But in most cases, most audience members are expected to at least physically be present throughout an entire “traditional” MHM program held in a school, allowing at least some degree of passive learning to take place.
In contrast, TV and radio depend entirely on the willingness of viewers/listeners to “stay tuned.” So if the content can’t keep the audience happily engaged, they will physically go elsewhere, by changing the channel (…yet you will still effectively be paying for them as viewers!)
Some tips for engaging viewers that Hyasintha offered, include:
- Involve celebrities in your production if you can (i.e., if you can afford to hire them, and/or if you have contact with some that are personally committed to MHM as an issue) =
- “Use drama, music and prizes to make the program interactive and engaging”
- “Engage community members in your content by allowing them to narrate their testimonies and responding to questions”
- “Engage males in all perspectives e.g telling testimonies, responding to questions, drama, adverts, professional advice and make them one of the program co-host.”
- Similarly, she emphasized the importance of sign language interpretation for television programming to engage the deaf community, while noting that it was surprisingly challenging to find young sign language interpreters.
- Expect delays (because there are always delays in media production work!) and pad your schedule accordingly.
Time is money in media production, and too often, timelines are created with “ideal” scenarios in mind, rather than “real life” scenarios, which frequently involve delays.
Hyasintha recommended padding production timelines with the expectation of delays to avoid stressful – and expensive – last-minute production rushes.
In short, it can be wise to take how long you think the process should take, and then double, or even triple, it. You are likely to need that extra time, and, at worst, you will just be finished a bit early.
- “Storyboarding” is critical, but understand from the outset that it will be time-intensive to do well.
Planning out every aspect of the program ahead of time – and then fully vetting it with a team who will identify programs and/or missed opportunities – is essential to successful programming. Hyasintha reported that the “storyboarding stage” – i.e., the point at which the script and transitions between scenes are mapped out, usually visually, with photos representing each “scene” – “needed a lot of team work, time, patient and flexibility.”
In an ideal world, time would also be left to show story boards to focus groups of target audience members to get their ideas and feedback before going into production (yet another reason to pad your timeline for the production schedule.)
- Young reporters can be a fantastic way to engage young viewers, but understand that they tend to require a good deal of training.
Hyasintha was highly enthusiastic about the value that their young reporters brought to the project. However, she emphasized that they required more training than her team had initially expected, which added both time and money to the process.
She said that having that expectation from the start would have helped for planning purposes. But she noted that there was incredible value to their involvement, both to engaging views and to their own community leadership on these topics.
- At the same time, be sure to center the programs around content experts – most likely doctors and MHM educators – while “flanking” them by more entertaining content.
Hyasintha felt that making experts like doctors central in the programming was key to enhancing the educational content in the program. It allowed the show’s creators to be able to provide reliable information at a greater level of detail than most of the adolescent reporters and program participants were realistically able to cover in their own comments.
Adolescent educations know that the “serious” (i.e., “content rich”) works better when it is kept relatively short, especially when a bit of entertainment can be included before and after the more serious learning occurs. Additionally, finding adult experts who are especially good at connecting with young people can help to make adolescents pay attention, as well.
- Celebrity contributors can be worthwhile, but can require special handling.
There can be considerable value in drawing on celebrity “star power” to engage viewers. To allow that process to be successful, Hyasintha recommended budgeting for someone to manage these relationships, since they sometimes require a special touch. Legally binding legal contracts that are carefully written to make expectations from all parties clear and enforceable from the outset tend to also help to facilitate the successful integration of celebrity partnerships into media projects.
- Pick a media outlet that can offer production support, in addition to airtime
Hyasintha strongly recommended seeking advice from the media outlet on the matters of content standard and compliance before the storyboarding phase. After the program has been mapped out, Hyasintha recommended having the station review the storyboards. That can avoid the potential for rejection of content after it has been recorded and edited, which can add significant delays and expenses.
Hyasintha reported that the media outlet they worked with for their project did far more than that, actually producing and directing various aspects of the programming. As such, she recommended asking which production support services are available through each media outlet from the outset, because some may be set up to provide full-service production support. Furthermore, if programming can be timed to take place outside of a media outlet’s “busy season,” rates for production support may be far more negotiable than they would be during their prime season.
Organizations engaged in MHM or other social good work would be wise to explore the possibility of expanding into mass media outreach efforts.
Most already have some kind of social media presence, often with some educational component; however, while typically inexpensive, social media tends to be inherently limited for reaching low-income populations – and especially low-income female populations – in many places. In contrast, far more families tend to have regular access to a radio and/or a television. In practice, that means that mass media outreach through radio and/or television is still the only real mechanism in many locations for gaining relatively cost-effective access to large numbers of homes at a time with educational messages that can reach people of all genders, all ages, and most income levels.
Moreover, unlike the inherently “individual” experience of consuming most social media, a program played on the family TV set or radio has far greater potential to generate spontaneous, cross-generation discussions. Given that stigma reduction is a core goal of most MHM outreach efforts, any method that can generate family discussions about menstruation can be seen as a huge “win” for normalizing it.
The innovative and ambitious Glory Pads project showcased here demonstrates that this type of “scalable reach” through the mass media can be viable as a complement to traditional MHM educational efforts (that is, at least in countries without airwave restrictions for topics related to menstruation).
Perhaps just as importantly, this case study also demonstrates that such an effort does not need to include Hollywood-level budgets, experience, or polish to accomplish important goals. Indeed, the high-energy, adolescent-focused, Tanzanian-infused, local-schools-and-city-street “vibe” of the Glory Pad programming almost certainly made it feel more intimate and relatable to its viewers than any program a non-Tanzanian-led organization could ever produce for that country.
In this case, it took an intrepid MHM innovator like Hyasintha Ntuyeko to bring this project to fruition in Tanzania. IMHER hopes that sharing the nuts-and-bolts details of her experience and learning curve on this project with our readers might potentially inspire other social good organizations – even potentially those with relatively modest budgets and little to no prior media production expertise – to consider the possibility of expanding to television and radio airwaves in their own countries as part of their organization’s own educational mix.