• Project: Foroba Blo-Voice-based Citizen Journalism
  • Summary: Introducing  new and innovative voice technologies that will enable anybody with simple phones to become citizen journalists and access Web-based information, and support community radio stations to access and broadcast live content stored on the Web, without requiring computers or Internet connectivity.
  • Funder: International Press Institute
  • PartnersWeb Foundation, VU University Amsterdam and Sahel Eco.
  • Status: Starting in December 2011 and running until November 2012

The Story

Community radio stations in Africa are an essential, and often only, source of information for people living in rural regions. They serve as hubs of information, relays of news, and community knowledge sharing agents. However, owing to the challenges associated with limited and poor infrastructure, the interaction between radio stations and their listeners, as well as with journalists in the field is very difficult, resulting in delays in the delivery of timely information.

The recent increase of mobile phone use in rural areas is now offering new opportunities to involve all members of the community with their local radio station, and increase the quality of the service as well as the usefulness of the radio. The aim of this project is to exploit this new potential, and enable all members of the community, including those from the diaspora, to access and contribute to news and information on the radio.

This project is based on new and innovative voice technologies that enable people with the simplest phone to access Web-based information, independently of their reading skills, their language or their education level. It also lets community radio stations to access and broadcast live content stored on the Web, without requiring computers or Internet connectivity.

The primary goal of the project is to build a mobile-accessible voice news platform that allows:

  1. journalists to deliver and retrieve news from remote areas. Due to the possibility of access via low-end mobile phones, the platform will enable anybody to become a citizen journalist, including inhabitants of remote rural areas, by allowing those wishing to share local news or local knowledge to quickly transmit information;
  2. community radio stations to access and manage news stories sent by journalists and citizens, and broadcast them without being limited the physical distance or access to traditional news and information providers;
  3. individuals and organizations in rural areas to access and contribute news stories via more channels, through community radio stations or by directly calling the voice news platform itself;
  4. enhanced opportunities for sharing knowledge between geographically distant communities in domains of shared interest (e.g. agricultural innovation knowledge with respect to farmer-managed natural regreening in the Sahel countries, an important area of current local and international collaboration);
  5. extended possibilities for interested people outside the rural localities (including family members working elsewhere, and more broadly the diaspora) to have access and contribute to the news through the Web facilities provided by the voice news platform.

Expected Outcomes

  • A mobile-accessible voice and Web service platform for news. The platform’s design will be published for anybody to use, and its software will be open-sourced.
  • A voice news service operating in Mali to validate the platform and show how it can be replicated in any region of the world.

This project is a partnership between the World Wide Web Foundation , VU University Amsterdam (Network Institute) and SahelEco, an NGO in Mali engaged with several community radio stations in the Segou, Bankass and Bandiagara regions.

About the name: “Foroba Blo” are words from the Bambara language. Together they signify a space where everyone has the right to speak and the truth can be told, but only if you do it respectfully.