Conversation with Michal Rahfaldt on Radio and Youth Empowerment

UNESCO is pleased to make the audio and text of this interview available copy-right free for the celebration of World Radio Day 2019. Radio stations are especially encouraged to broadcast the interview, either in its totality or by exacting the answers and announcing the questions themselves.

UNESCO spoke to Mr. Michal Rahfaldt, the Executive Director of the Children’s Radio Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to develop and support youth radio projects across Africa. Michal is an anthropologist, radio producer, journalist, trainer, and academic specializing in youth media and education. Before joining the Children's Radio Foundation in 2007, Michal taught journalism, media studies, and social anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He was involved in a wide range of youth radio projects prior to working at CRF, including collaborative productions with prisoners, asylum seekers, primary and high school students, and other children and young adults. As a journalist, he has contributed to the BBC World Service, National Public Radio, and the New York Times.

Click here to download the full interview

Q. We have with us here today, Mr. Michal Rahfaldt, the Executive Director of the Children’s Radio Foundation. Thank you, Michal, for joining us today. Would you share with us briefly the work of your organization?

At the Children’s Radio Foundation, we worked with community radio stations to create opportunities for dialogue, skill building and leadership among youth in communities across Africa. We have 75 youth radio stations across six countries, where we give youth the tools and the skills to produce radio, really putting youth at the driving seat of radio stations. Our goal is to get them into conversation on the issues they face, they use radio in their communities to work together to tackle some of the most pressing issues.

Q. In these radio projects, how do youth participate?

We have a philosophy working with young people, where we are not always choosing youth who are the best, the brightest, the loudest or the most articulate. We are looking for young people who can benefit from the skills of learning radio; perhaps it is boosting confidence, leadership skills, or presentation skills. At each of community radio site, we work with local radio stations to select a wide range of youth from the community. This involves mapping out the community to look at their divisions and differences that may not be evident on the surface, to really make sure that they are creating a group of youth reporters who represent the diversity of their community. By doing that, we see ourselves as enabling a much richer conversation where young people can work in their community to tackle issues that are important to them. Youth participation is really, what drives this project. They do everything at the radio station, from deciding on the topics they want to cover, to going out and doing the reporting, doing interviews, as well as siting behind the audio booth, and recording and ensuring the broadcast goes out in a very high quality way to their community. For us, youth participation is not just on some superficial levels, it is really giving youth full control of what is going out on the airwaves.

Q. Why is radio chosen as the medium? What is radio’s unique contribution in empowering youth?

Radio as a medium for dialogue and conversation is important to what we are trying to achieve. With our work that cuts across a really wide range of issues: health issues, education, human rights issues, we are tackling a lot of very difficult conversations. Radio allows youth to say what is on their mind and through the anonymity of being guarded (their faces not being seen, they don’t really have to say their names). That anonymity allows certain kinds of conversation to emerge that don't come through other medium. Also, for us, working across six Africa countries, radio is Africa’s first choice, the way that one can reach deeply and to communities. When we work with youth in our radio projects, they are tackling issues in ways that represent the uniqueness of the places, which they grow up. Community radio stations allow us to do just that, to speak in local languages, in ways that relate to local people, to really address local issues in nuanced ways.

Q. Can you share with us some of the local issues that are discussed in your youth projects?

We take on a broad range of issues from adolescence and health, to education, jobs and access to employment, climate change, LGBTI rights, and even showcasing local stories and local success stories of young people in the community, as well as opportunities for youth locally that they can pursue. Each of the youth radio shows represents an entertaining and informative mix of content that youth collect in their communities. They use radio production guides that give them the confidence to produce high quality show. About the content, they not just saying what is on their minds, they are informed by research and data about the specific issues, how it manifests in their communities. So more than anything, we are interested in that young people can go out and map things that are happening in their own community and use radio to tackle the health, the education, human rights issues.

For example, for communities in South Africa, it might mean that the youth, who are migrants, have no access to education. Their struggle is to be seen and heard, to be able to go back to the school system. However, the community down the road may have a very different issue, where they have high levels of drop-outs. Working with community radio stations, youth in communities are able to make the wider community aware of that, get them talking about that and address that. We use our programs to provide those kinds of local nuances and to get those kinds of local conversation started.

Q. Do youth also participate in the decision-making processes of the radio stations, such as deciding the topics they want to do?

Youth do everything, from deciding the topic to deciding the approach they want to take. How it works is that at each radio station, we have a mentor who is usually an employee of the radio station, to guide the young people through the process. It is very focused on the fact that youth are directing and guiding the process. I think that is one of the added values of the children’s radio foundation has to all these radio stations, is to get them thinking about how they can work very productively with youth and to encourage youth participation without taking over and deciding. Youth participation takes a lot of time and there is a lot of learning that takes place during the process. Nevertheless, we are really set on the idea that young people have very fixed ideas on what needs to be address in their communities. Given the platform to do so, they can do some incredible things to mobilise their fellow young people to take actions around these issues.

Q. Are there any difficulties in your youth projects you faced in reaching out to youth?

Some of the difficulties we faced in reaching out to youth would be in talking about topics where young people are very openly and freely speaking about issues related to sex, health issues... Some are difficult conversations that they would not otherwise have with their parents or their elders in their communities. We sometimes get elders and family members calling in to the radio stations and saying things like “what gives you the right to talk about this topic, you are a young person”. I think what is really interesting to see how youth engage with that. They are very often able to speak very respectfully to these people who are criticising them. They speak and share with them the importance that they need to be talking about these issues; otherwise, the results are high rates of teenage pregnancy, high rates of school drop-outs. These conversations are very important to the community.

I think part of it is coming up against community norms of youth participation and the ceiling that dictates the extent which young people are able to contribute and really working with youth for them to manage that properly, so that they can bring out a very fruitful and peaceful conversation that is based on productive dialogue.

Q. Does any of your projects focus on the issue to gender equality or inequality?

Gender empowerment is at the heart of what we do. Every issue we take on, from health to education to human rights, it is examined from a gender perspective. Education for instance, how are young girls are excluded from schools in certain areas of Zambia? Or, how is their education not invested in by their families? For health topics, we focus a lot on adolescences health, particularly young girls getting access to health services, especially health services around sexual health. We see everything we do as an opportunity to address gender issues, and we try to get people to think about these issues in a complex and intersectional way.

Q. This year’s world radio day celebrates the theme of “Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace”. What is your world radio day message?

I think the key to getting along is really to talk about it. Radio is so important in getting communities speaking and working through issues. I suggest that all the listeners to radio to take time to do that, to listen and to listen deeply, and really try to listen to someone whose views are different from yours.


Thank you Michal for being with us today.

Thank you for having me.


Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author; they do not necessarily represent those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.