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Capital: Do tell us what YEGNA is; what it stands for?
Selome Tadesse: YEGNA is a product; it is a brand name; at least that is what we want it to be in the future. YEGNA is a radio program that consists of music, drama and a talk show. These three programs focus on five young girls who came from different walks of life. One thing these girls have in common is that they all have a passion for music.
These girls, even though they have a very different background, music brings them together and turns them into an all-girl band.
The story of these girls will inspire young girls in Ethiopia. It is to show that having friends who you trust and can count on is very important for young girls. It is also to show what the lives of girls in different situations looks like. YEGNA tries to send the message that regardless of what your lifestyle is, through friendship and support you will be able to do what you want to do.
Each week, the 30-minute drama will be followed by a talk show – ‘Yegna Sa’at’ – [Our Time] specifically designed for a more general audience – to discuss the themes of the drama. The talk show aims to begin a conversation which is then continued in millions of households, and will provide dynamic ways for the audience to interact with the show – via Facebook, call-in numbers, and free text messaging.
Moreover YEGNA is all about bringing education and entertainment together. Our programs are 70 percent entertainment while 30 percent educational. Most of the time programs that aim to educate societies focus more on the education part and not on the fun side. We believe that entertainment should be prior to model a person’s or society’s behavior. We don’t want people to tune into our program just because it is educational; we want them to listen to it because it is cutting edge, cool and hip. It is that kind of thing that will stay in people’s minds and hearts.
So basically we are trying to create a product that will appeal not to the head but to the heart, because once you appeal to the heart, it is easier to appeal to the head, it is a paradigm shift. This is the logic behind it.
For instance our signature song “YEGNA” has already been released via You Tube and different radio stations and we got an overwhelming response. Each season of the series will have 13 episodes. For each episode we will be doing a song. Capital: How did the idea of YEGNA become a reality?
Selome: Nike, the company that produces sportswear has a foundation called the Nike Foundation, and their motto is “The girl effect” meaning that they see girls as a leverage point in investment. It is not about the issue of equality, it is about if you invest on a girl a country benefits. There would be a lot of economical benefits for a country if it invests on girls.
And then there are people like us who are involved in the project. All of us have previously been involved in some projects that aimed at helping young girls and we are very passionate about it. When I worked with young girls one thing I have learned is that they just want to be heard. They don’t want to be taught or told, they just want to be heard. They know their strength and they know their challenges, and what was so interesting about them was that they also have a solution for their problems.
Another thing we have to realize as women is that we are not a problem or a burden. We are whole on our own. Young girls are not a problem that needs to be solved rather they are a potential to be unleashed.
So this project is about changing the way we see women and young girls. In saying this we also have to look at boys and young men, they are not problems either, they are not people who are against us, but rather they are people who need to see and understand the benefit in supporting girls. Anybody who wishes to live in a healthy country, in a rich country in a developed country needs to understand this.
Those of us involved in this project came together to establish YEGNA BET, a consortium made up of different companies. Nike Foundation also helped us with regards to branding our program.
Capital: What would be the ultimate response?
Selome: My wish is that it will become very popular, many people will listen to it, girls all over the country will become virtual friends with the characters of the drama. Through these programs girls will have trust in their friends and support each other.
My wish is that so many people will listen to it, not just young people but everyone and be inspired.
Capital: How was the five young girl’s recruiting process?
Selome: We had a drama and music experts working with around 90 girls. It wasn’t just an audition where they came and sang and put on a show, it was more like an interaction. We were looking for a unique talent, someone who can sing and act.
Capital: How long will the show run and how is it funded?
Selome: The project has a life span of three years. The fund we got which is 5.4 million pound sterling is for three years. Right now there is some amount that has been already released for us, I am not exactly sure how much it is though. Every six month there will be an evaluation and a review on how the project is being implemented, if everything is in order then some more money from the fund will be released. That is how it will go on for the next three years. It took us two years to come up with the final show including, research, planning and all the other elements.
Capital: Other than the music, the drama and the talk show, what else are you planning to do?
Selome: If you ask me, right now we have so much to do already; as we speak, we have around 600 ambassadors for the project who are here to be trained. These people after being trained will go to their communities and become our eyes and ears so that we will be able to get feedback on how well the programs are being received.
Again, we have 220 listeners groups who will collect data on how the program is received in different communities.
There is one thing we are working on. It is called “YEGNA in a box”. It is a game that is played by five people at a time. This game we hope will help audiences tie more with the characters of the drama and it can also become a fun way for girls to spend time with their friends.
We have gaming experts from London working on this project, they have been to the countryside to understand what gaming looks like in Ethiopia. For the first season we have distributed the games in 30 different places as a pilot project. We want to see how well it will be received. We made the games to be easily duplicated so others can also have the chance to participate.
Capital: Do you plan to work with more artists in the future?
Selome: Yes of course, that is why it is called YEGNA, it is for everybody; we want all to be involved. Like I said before, we want YEGNA to be listened by all age groups. For this to happen it will be very good to have other artists involved. I can say that our focus is not only girls, it is the whole community, but we put girls at the center.
Capital: How much promotion work have you done so far?
Selome: There have been some promotional works done, through different radio stations, bus wraps and posters. We have had around a hundred buses that go to the countryside wrapped already, and a few more in the city. We strongly believe that it will promote itself, we put up a video on You Tube and we had around 80,000 hits in just a couple of days.
Helping young girls is really my passion and I mean it, and passion is like a virus, it is contagious for that I believe the program will be successful.