Guest Blogger: Saritha Thomas - Empowerment Through Community Radio

Saritha Thomas , 31 Mar 2012
Saritha Thomas

Oh, the pressure of writing a guest blog on….! ;-)

I am Saritha Thomas and I run the NGO People’s P.ow.e.r Collective (PPC). We help rural and isolated communities in my home country, India, set-up and sustainably manage their own not for profit community radio stations as tools for empowerment, development and change. Community Radio, as a participatory, community owned and managed medium has the unparalleled capacity to reach every last person, via the airwaves, no matter how remote.

Of all media, radio is the most easily accessible and cheap, and therefore an effective tool for communication for the less privileged and where literacy is low. Community radio (CR) broadcasts in the local language, sharing relevant information, practical solutions and messages of hope that promise a better tomorrow for all. It serves as a tool for social inclusion, empowering communities in media dark areas by providing them with knowledge and information that can vastly improve their lives and livelihoods.

My background has been in broadcast, primarily in radio for the past 12 years, working in India at Radio City, then the U.A.E at Dubai’s City 101.6 and most recently, with the BBC World Service and Radio 4 in the UK. CR and its potential has always fascinated me; how a simple and straightforward medium like radio can unleash so much power, just by enabling people to listen and to speak – by giving them a ‘voice’.

In 2009-10, I decided to take my love for CR to the next level. I went to the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) London, with my bare bones of an idea. This is where PPC was born. The next three years were a tremendous learning curve, both for me personally and for PPC. I spent a year building the concept behind PPC and creating a concrete plan and an implementation model. I also spent 6 months living and working with 5 rural communities in India that have already taken the plunge with CR. This development phase was massively important for me to understand the real challenges isolated communities are facing at the grassroots, and then to ensure our approach for training and capacity building in CR addresses them. This phase was supported by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. A short film documenting this research is available on our website Based on the learnings and experiences in the field, PPC has turned the current business model of CR in India on its head, and I believe change is coming home!

We are now on the verge of launching an 18 month training and capacity building Pilot Programme. We will be supporting our rural partner community based organisation – Mandakini Ki Awaz Kalyan Sewa Samithi (MKA) in Bhanaj Village, Rudraprayag District, Uttarakhand, enabling them to construct and run their own CR station. The station will serve a population of 150,000 people in the region. Our training model includes an innovative, engaged and holistic approach to training and capacity building where we look at the CR station as an open and accessible Community Resource Centre and as a Social Enterprise around which the community can organise themselves to drive change. I will be based in Bhanaj, along with two other PPC staff members, for the entire 18-month period. During this time, we will forge relationships and establish trust within community, as we guide them towards achieving their own CR goals. At the end of the pilot, the MKA community will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to guide their station into the future.

As for PPC, we will capture learning in the form of practical and multilingual tool books which will be a blueprint for replication as we roll out projects across India. It will also act as an implementable guide for roll out by other communities. Syndication and scaling up together with the setting up of a Community Radio Resource Pool / Think Tank, is our long term goal.

PPC is currently fundraising for this pilot programme. We are looking at a multi-pronged approach to fundraising via trusts and foundations, corporates and CSR support, crowd funding via our website and individual philanthropic giving. One of our current campaigns is to get some Richard Branson support via a Virgin Unite Facebook and twitter competition. So actually, here’s an opportunity for you to get involved if you like! Your support would be just brilliant! Just –

(1) Click this link to watch my video:

(2) Login to Facebook and Twitter and then LIKE it and/or TWEET it – by using the icons on the bottom
right of the video box that opens up when you click the link.

Thanks for this time and if you would like to get more involved with our work, support us in anyway or just say hello, I would love to hear from you! Please get in touch, Saritha Thomas and/or Peoples Power Collective on Facebook, @ppcol on twitter or email me on [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you.

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