Haircuts and telecentre sustainability

September 3, 2005 § Leave a comment

Chok’we, Mozambique

In Chok’we I had a chance to see my first UNESCO community multimedia centre (CMC), a combination telecentre and community radio station.


The Chok’we centre impressed me in a number of ways – the flow people between the telecentre and the on air studio, the popularity of the radio station with the local community, the incredibly valuable local content and services being offered (like announcements about lost ID that people had found on the street). But, what stuck with me most was the conversation we had about sustainability.

One of the biggest sustainability challenges the CMC has is maintaining its pool of nearly 60 volunteers. These are the people who keep the centre alive, who offer training, gather local news and talk on the air. Yet, there are no resources to pay for bus fare, give prizes for significant volunteer contributions or even offer lunch for volunteers who stay all day. The result is that it’s tough to keep volunteers involved.

“What about making a deal with local restaurants, trading lunch for radio ads?” I asked naively. “Could that help?”


Alberto, the head of the centre’s organizing committee jumped in quickly in Portuguese with an answer. “We’re already doing that, sort of. We have a deal with the local barber. He gives the volunteers free hair cuts, and we advertise his barber shop. It’s very popular with the volunteers, especially the radio announcers who get treated a bit like celebrities.”

For me, the haircut conversation highlighted one of the potential benefits of mixing community media with more traditional telecentres: both approaches have ideas and innovations to offer each other. Just looking at sustainability, community media around the world has a tradition of volunteerism and bartering advertising for goods while telecentres have a tradition of offering fee-based community services. Models like the CMC provide an opportunity for these ideas and histories to creatively blend.

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