Internews, in partnership with MobiKash and local radio stations, piloted an mDedications from August 2011 through January 2012. The project piloted a new technology that was designed to enable community members to call their local radio stations, record a message through an IVR system, and pay for this message using mobile money. Radio stations could in turn access and download these messages and incorporate them into their programming, thus airing listener voices with great efficiency and ease while also creating a sustainable revenue stream for the radio stations.
Overall, the mDedications project showed promise that the underlying concept could be successful at increasing the efficiency of listener participation in radio programming through greeting messages, song requests, and other types of messages. At the same time, the project faced several challenges that limited its ability to fully test and understand how a system using mobile money could impact efficiency and sustainability of community radio stations.
All of the radio stations involved in the project were very excited about the concept and believed that it would increase their efficiency and their revenue. Once the system was launched, Sayare FM Kisii had the most positive response from listeners and received a considerable number of messages almost immediately. Members of the station explained that they had a particularly positive response for certain programs, for example the Maasai language program. They believed this was because the announcers for these programs spent a lot of time encouraging the listeners to use the new system.
Another potential reason for the hugely positive response at Sayare FM Kisii is that this was the station making the most use of greeting cards. Greeting cards are simple cards that listeners can fill out with greeting messages at a cost, and which radio announcers then read on air. It is possible that because they were accustomed to writing and paying for their own messages to be aired, listeners could easily understand and translate their interaction with the station through greeting cards into interaction through the WanaKonnect system.
Other stations had varying degrees of response, and voiced several challenges throughout the project. Many had initial difficulties promoting the system and raising awareness in their areas. This was made particularly difficult because the platform frequently went down or had errors, meaning that recorded messages didn't get played until after a significant time lag. The phone line also went down for significant periods of time. This made it difficult for stations to advertise the platform and plan their programming to include the messages, and also led to the communties becoming disillusioned about the platform. This shows the necessity of ensuring that technology is working smoothly before implementing it with local partners.
Another challenge that radio stations faced was a lack of awareness of MobiKash and a lack of MobiKash users in their areas. This, along with delays in technical development, meant that the payment component of the system was never implemented and the ability of the system to generate income for the radio stations was thus never tested.
Research by R@iHub will give us further insights into what worked and what didn't work, and why the project was more successful in some areas than others. These initial observations show that there is significant promise for the concept, but that there is a need to build the concept on dependable technology and to ensure that the mobile money system is already popular with and well known by the general public.