Community Media/ROOTS FM/Sustainability

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Sustainability Workshop, Experts Consultative Meeting, Paris, January 2009

The following presentation on sustainability practices was put together by a small group of participants at the Experts Consultative Meeting in Paris in January 2009. We thought the info might be useful on the wiki. We also have some pictures that are below: Representatives were academics, practitioners and educators from Nepal, South Africa, Turkey, Bolivia, El Salvador, Senegal, Canada, Sri Lanka, Australia, The Philippines and Jamaica.

Hope you find this presentation and the ideas herein useful. -- Rosamond Brown, ROOTS-FM, Jamaica

Sustainability Presentation




Sources of Revenue

Financial sustainability is broken down into 2 main Areas;

  1. Income Generation
  2. Expenses

Depending on the terms of the license under which the station operates, income may be generated from:

  • Advertising Sales: (care must be taken to ensure that such advertising does not compromise the values of the station or allow the advertiser to exert influence over content aired)
  • Public Service Announcements: The station may charge for production, air-time or campaign development
  • Sponsorship: Public and private sector agencies may be asked to sponsor public education/learning programmes which fall within their ambit
  • Death, birth and marriage announcements may be aired for small fees
  • Nominal Membership Fees paid by community listeners


  • Donations: Some CR’s reach out to locals outside the communities for donations
  • Public funding: Appeals are made to governments to view CR as a social infrastructure supporting community/national development and therefore worthy of public funding
  • Subsidies: Systems for redistribution of commercial funds?
  • Donors: International donor agencies will place public “calls” via various media for proposals in support of country plans in development e.g. HIV/AIDS; child protection; environmental awareness etc.

Innovative Resource Mobilisation

In addition to revenues in support of programming activities CR’s engage in varied forms of innovative fundraising e.g. Community concerts; cake and garage sales Enterprise/business: rearing and selling chickens, rental of public address equipment; making videos of special events (weddings, graduations etc.), charging cell phones and batteries; desktop publishing (fliers, posters), internet access points etc. Selling programmes aired to community members on request Selling radio sets


Many CR’s exist through barter arrangements. For example a mobile phone combine may provide free access in return for advertising. The same for electricity, stationery and other services. The key is to be innovative and follow-up doggedly past initial resistance.

  • In "Sales" - you can expect to follow-up 5-7x before receiving a response and/or confirmation.


  • Part of financial sustainability is keeping costs down, e.g. using volunteers (coop radio budget goes from $100K to $1000K)
  • Institutional volunteers (CSO groups that produce programmes)
  • Donated and use of public infrastructure from governments (buildings, tower space);
  • Local gov’t pay electricity bills (without interfering)
  • Telecom provides low cost service
    • For barter
    • On principle


Institutional sustainability relates to the ability to maintain organized and effective internal systems particularly as it relates to: governance, Strategic planning, human resource management and training and technical capacity building.

  • Balancing available resources and scale of operations is important. Stations must “live within their means”, for example start with four hour b/casts daily if a 24 hr operation is not sustainable
  • PARTICIPATION in all aspects: “ownership” / control, governance, programming, financial, staffing and management
  • Procedure/Policy manuals are important for all the understand the raison d’etre of the operation
  • Institutional resources including content/materials, e.g. UNESCO tool kits and WikiEducator training assistance are important resources for building content, marketing strategies and technical support. They are also good ways of networking with other CR’s
  • Exchange Programmes – resource sharing


Institutional sustainability is also about strengthening relationships with the community i.e. ensuring a truly participatory framework for content building and delivering the “voice of the people”

  • Technical sustainability
  • Equipment is often a challenge both in affordability and replacement
  • Mainstream stations will sometimes donate out of use items that still have utility
  • Some public responsibility/obligation for infrastructure
    • UNESCO is a source of assistance in technical capability; WikiEducator also suggests affordable options compatible with open source materials



  • Mechanisms to deal with volunteer turnover (volunteers expect jobs and get frustrated) – consider training bonds; volunteer understudies; offering stipends or other in kind compensation
  • Unclear volunteer (HR) policy lead to problems – preparing procedural/policy manuals can mitigate this

Human Resources / Legal Issues

  • In Nepal: the working journalist act prohibits “engaging” volunteers without pay - journalist licensing can be a trade for training interns;
    • In Mozambique: volunteers cannot be journalists,they must be paid.
Conflict Resolution
  • Improving communication between internal staff/volunteers and between the station and the community-building listening, critical thinking and problem solving skills. This can be done by inviting the help of local experts to provide training or organizations such as Commonwealth of Learning (COL).
Government Policies / Regulation
  • Low (nominal) fees for spectrum, licenses
  • Special concessions for community media
  • Cross subsidization
  • Cost reductions for antenna, tower etc
  • Innovative resource mobilization or keeping costs down
  • Bartering