Central African Republic, Mali and South Sudan
Growing up with albinism, Harouna felt estranged from those around him. However, since joining other young people in hosting ‘Youth Talk’ radio shows, he has been confidently and powerfully reporting on Mali’s most salient issues. “This project, the other participants, allowed me to be me, accept myself. I tell other kids to listen to us, to heed the voices that have the power to make you believe in yourself,” he says.
The Youth Talk project, initiated by Search for Common Ground (Search), has amplified the voice and agency of hundreds of young people like Harouna in the countries of Mali, South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). As well as enabling youth journalists to produce high-quality radio programmes, Youth Talk has increased their awareness of their role and capacities as agents of change. It has also fostered their motivation, entrepreneurialism and success. By giving young people opportunities to raise issues through their own radio programmes, the project has had a positive impact on wider community perceptions of youth perspectives, including on challenging issues such as forced marriage. This has contributed to the inclusion of youth in shaping media discourse as a central element of democracy in the three countries.
Search took a holistic approach to accessibility and inclusion, with context-specific selection criteria that focused on diverse and harder-to-reach participants.
The project used radio as a suitable medium, as it acted as the main source of information in all project locations. It was used to provide platforms for young people to be heard and take part in dialogues on those issues that affect them.
To enable transformative change in young people’s place in society, the project also bridged intergenerational divides and reinforced mutual understanding, for example through home visits and
community consultations in Mali.
To ensure meaningful involvement, the project design addressed different barriers to participation, for example through a tailored safeguarding policy to address protection concerns arising from the conflict-affected contexts and an increased public profile. Close engagement with parents, guardians and caregivers helped reduce normative barriers relating to the participants’ gender, age and other identity factors. Resource barriers were addressed through measures such as the provision of food and contributions to school fees.
To enable participants to address difficult issues in their own radio programmes, they were trained on radio journalism and conflict transformation including skills such as research, editorial practice, conflict analysis and active listening. The young journalists were also helped to build up their emotional resilience, including sessions to prepare them for dealing with potentially traumatic stories shared by interviewees.
Young people make up the majority of the population in Mali, South Sudan and the CAR. Yet recent peace negotiations and other political processes in these conflict-affected countries have mainly been limited to adult elites. To support young people in being heard on important issues and to help them shape their societies, Search initiated the ‘Youth Talk’ project, supported by the Bezos Family Foundation. In 2019-2022, Youth Talk worked to empower young people in the three countries through radio programming.
Search trained over 350 youth journalists from Mali, South Sudan and the CAR on how to produce and facilitate interactive radio programmes. These young people reported on local conflicts and used their unique stories to tackle difficult issues in their communities, speaking about issues such as forced marriage, violence against minorities and their first-hand experience of the impact of war on their education. They worked to find solutions to these problems, reaching out to thousands of their peers across the three countries and uniting their voices. To provide a common platform for young people and adults, the project also established consultative workshops and intergenerational dialogue sessions with community members.
By elevating youth voices and perspectives, Youth Talk contributed to more-inclusive media discourses as a central element of democracy in Mali, South Sudan and the CAR. An external evaluation conducted in 2022 found that the radio shows had successfully brought youth voices to the forefront. Indeed, some 90% of community members who listened to the young journalists’ radio programmes agreed that these added value to critical social and political issues, a considerable increase from 43%, when Youth Talk was launched. The project showed that the media has the ability to leverage youth’s change-making power, influence the social norms surrounding them, popularise their perspectives and ensure that they participate in decision-making, ultimately creating a more peaceful, democratic society for all.