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Shujaaz FM - inspiring Kenya's young entrepreneurs

Shujaaz FM comic is Kenya's most widely distributed publication (© Shujaaz FM)
Shujaaz FM comic is Kenya's most widely distributed publication
© Shujaaz FM

Each day across 17 leading Kenyan FM radio stations at national, regional, district and community level, DJ Boyie broadcasts a short five minute show to millions of listeners. While DJB may be a fictional character, and the programme not really made in his bedroom, the popularity of the daily broadcasts, and linked monthly comic-strip magazine, is very real.

"As a young person I want new projects, new ideas, new things to help me grow up, positively," says Paul Peter Kades. His voice, familiar to millions of Kenyans, provides the character DJB, the dreadlocked, glasses-wearing school leaver who runs a radio station in his bedroom: Shujaaz FM.

Launched in February 2010, Shujaaz is the inspiration of Well Told Story, a Nairobi-based communications company. Since then the growth in Shujaaz FM's audience of readers and listeners has been phenomenal. Recent independent research revealed over 50 per cent of 18-24 year olds in Kenya were aware of the programme, with 6 million copies of the magazine now in circulation. With a monthly print run of 600,000 copies, available free from Safaricom 'm-pesa' (mobile-based money transfer agents) and as an insert in the Nation newspaper, the Shujaaz FM comic is already Kenya's most widely distributed publication.

Comic inspiration

Around a third of readers report sharing ideas from the comic with their friends (© RIU)
Around a third of readers report sharing ideas from the comic with their friends
© RIU

Drawn by young Kenyan artists, the Shujaaz comic portrays the lives and adventures of four 'ordinary' young people. 'Shujaaz' means 'heroes' in Sheng - Kenyan slang widely spoken by the youth, and used within the comic strip. Empowering young people to be heroes in their own communities is at the heart of the project, and surveys suggest that the Shujaaz characters have already become inspirational for many. Around a third of readers report sharing ideas from the comic with their friends - something the magazine promotes strongly - and it's estimated that each copy is read by as many as 20 people.

Generally younger readers, from 11-18, are the most likely to act on what they read. Agricultural technologies are popular, especially when they are seen to be new and relatively easy to apply. Partner organisations FIPS-Africa and the DFID Research into Use (RIU) programme have supported the Shujaaz team to suggest simple and accessible technologies with countrywide relevance. Early editions of the magazine included stories about painting chicks pink to stop them being taken by predators, growing kale in sacks, and soaking seed before planting.

Building bridges and businesses

Early editions of the magazine included stories about painting chicks pink to stop them being taken by predators (© Shujaaz FM)
Early editions of the magazine included stories about painting chicks pink to stop them being taken by predators
© Shujaaz FM

Storylines for both comic-strip and radio programmes are closely linked, and offer a careful balance of entertainment and education. Tolerance and citizenship have been key themes, particularly in the run-up to polling on the new Kenyan constitution, when three special editions of the magazine were written in collaboration with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. Surveyed readers have high aspirations, particularly in business, so stories that contain advice on obtaining loans or writing a business plan have been well-received.

In admiring DJB's integrity, social skills and good advice, listeners are sending over 1,000 texts a week to his radio show. In addition, a personal Facebook page created for Boyie, quickly reached the limit of 5,000 friends, and so Shujaaz now has an unlimited 'fan-site' page. DJB's popularity and example, and that of the other characters, has encouraged young people to feel more confident and to explore new options presented in Shujaaz. Standing up against tribalism, speaking more effectively to authorities and working on a business plan are all commonly cited by readers as ways the magazine had prompted them to take action.

Managing and maintaining success

Younger readers, from 11-18, are the most likely to act on what they read (© RIU)
Younger readers, from 11-18, are the most likely to act on what they read
© RIU

At times, the popularity of Shujaaz has raised expectations too high. In one edition, football-mad Charlie Pele, who lives in a camp for displaced people, tries to impress a local girl. Nothing works, until he decides to grow some new varieties of sweet potato - the taste of which wins her over. According to Keith Sones, head of communications for RIU, readers in 86 districts subsequently contacted Shujaaz to get information about the new varieties, but could only be referred to a handful of sources of planting material. To avoid similar disappointment, a planned storyline on a new cassava variety has been delayed until sufficient planting material is available to meet the anticipated demand.

Despite this, Rob Burnet, the social-entrepreneur behind Well Told Story, is hugely excited by Shujaaz's progress and keen to see it working more with the private sector, to balance commercial and development interests. At a meeting in September to celebrate the 5 millionth copy of the magazine, 150 Kenyan business and development leaders were invited to consider sponsoring the project, in return for either advertising or product placement. "To ensure Shujaaz FM can survive into the future, we want to see the balance of our income shift from 60 per cent donor funding to 60 per cent corporate funding," explains Burnet. The next step, he hopes, will be to have animated versions of the comic, already available on the Shujaaz website, sponsored for television broadcast.

Date published: January 2011

 

Have your say

Shujaaz, it would be cool if we knew how to pronounce the wo... (posted by: Sophia)

Very nice and insperative Blog. keep continue. The best char... (posted by: Dr J KNigam)

 

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