Once in a while, when we take the time and effort to consciously engage in reflective practice, we get to think about events, and develop insights into them. Often, reflection enables us to learn and improve our methods and processes, as has been the case with the Internews team in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in addressing alternative revenue schemes for community media outlets.
In 2016, we highlighted the story of how two community radio stations leaned into rice and rental chairs, to stay on air. Back then, Radio Television Communautaire 117 in Kibombo could only afford to operate for two hours a day as they heavily relied on generators, which came at a high cost, and in an almost non-existent advertising market. Thanks to a small grant, the radio station’s management opted to buy rice processing equipment which was used to hull about two tons of paddy per day. The proceeds of the sales went into supporting the radio station as well as its listeners’ club. A similar small grant enabled Radio Bandundu in Kwilu Province to provide allowances to its volunteers and staff after they purchased chairs and tents for hire, a venture which they reported earned them more than 200 USD per month.
While most of the new income-generating activities initiated since then have had a real impact on revenues (most outlets reported an increase of 150 to 200 USD per month), a lack of management capacity and insufficient engagement of the community in the management of these activities presented a huge risk to the sustainability of the revenues generated by the radios.
The monthly additional revenue from most income-generating activities
Upon reflection, Internews changed its approach to media sustainability in the DRC in 2019 to include technical support. In addition to the small grants, radio managers are now walked through the design and implementation of a business development plan and are mentored on issues such as marketing and advertisement, and decision-making on the purchase of new equipment, based on tailor-made organizational capacity assessments (OCAs). As a result, there have been improvements in management, marketing capacities, and revenue generation, which have led to the sustainability of their business models and have impacted their alternative revenue schemes.
Radio Lobiko exemplifies the success of this approach. Located in Mbandaka, the capital city of the Equateur province in the Northwest of the DRC, Radio Lobiko won an Open Media Fund small grant to open the first restaurant offering Wi-Fi service in Mbandaka! Additionally, thanks to Internews’ intervention to provide a solar panel kit and train the radio technician to maintain the system, Radio Lobiko now broadcasts 13 hours a day, against the initial 5 hours a day. These efforts have seen the radio attract advertisements from local businesses, retain experienced staff, and renew the interest of the community, notably by elevating the voices of women in their extended programming. This action will be especially useful this year as the DRC goes to the polls to elect new leaders in general and presidential elections that are scheduled for December 2023.
“In August last year , thanks to Internews, we opened a restaurant that welcomed customers from all walks of life. A year later, with the proceeds from this restaurant, we were able to buy industrial battery chargers, enabling us to launch a public battery charging business. Today, apart from the restaurant, we have the public charging business. Owners of bars, music shops, etc. come to the radio to have their equipment charged from the generator. We also take the opportunity to charge our own chargers, because at this time of the year there isn’t enough sunshine to power the solar panel we received from Internews.” – Jack Mokanda, the Director of Radio Lobiko on progress regarding revenue generation for his radio.
Increased revenue generation is vital for the independence and professionalism of the local media in the DRC. Over the course of three years (2020-2023), Internews observed a significant increase in average monthly revenue of a sample of ten partner community radios (eight of which are in rural areas) from 445 USD in October 2020 to 5,771 USD in June 2023. This development represents revenue from non-grant sources such as advertisement and alternative revenue schemes. And this was achieved in large part to Internews’ support to these radios ranging from training, provision of equipment, mentoring to the pursuit of alternative revenue schemes.
Radio Lobiko’s broadcasting hours, up from 5 hours a day.
In the DRC, Internews sustainability activities are funded by USAID through the Media Sector Development Activity.