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WWU / Fairhaven College of Interdiscipinary Studies

The Connection: March 2009 Alumni Newsletter

What is the Role of Media in Social Transformation?

This Summer Fairhaven Students will Explore the Possibilities


This summer at Fairhaven, students will get the chance to examine a simple question with a very complex answer: what is the role of media in social transformation?

The course, entitled Media in Social Transformation, is about making media that makes a difference. It covers the practical aspects of designing and producing film and radio programs from concept development to script and proposal writing, budgets and financing to production, and distribution and evaluation.

"I use what we call an "enter-education" approach, which taps into the strengths of conventional entertainment media (feature films, television programs, radio dramas and even comic books) to deliver educational content and messages to communicate to the public at large," explained John Riber, course instructor and filmmaker, radio and music producer. "Our work generally applies to broader public health or social justice issues such as AIDS prevention, women's rights, reproductive health, adult literacy and environment themes, as opposed to curriculum based education topics."


photo of John Riber taken by his son, Sterling Riber.John, who is currently a resident of Tanzania, has established production houses in Asia and Africa that harness the power of entertainment as a tool for behavioral change, social transformation and global justice. Born and raised by American parents in India, John completed an undergraduate program in film studies in the United States in 1977 and immediately set off for Asia where he spent the next ten years making independent films in Bangladesh and India. After a move to Zimbabwe in 1987, he established Media for Development Trust (MFD), a distributor and producer of African social-message / edutainment videos. Since 2004, John has been living in Tanzania where he runs a branch office of MFD in the city of Dar es Salaam. During his career he has worked as a film lab technician, cameraman, editor, scriptwriter and most notably producer for the award winning African feature films Neria, More Time, Everyone's Child, and Director of Yellow Card and the feature documentary Shanda.


John notes that in his experience, public health issues are much more complex and difficult to deal with when compared to personal health issues. There is simply no prescription for delivering a message on topics like AIDS prevention, access to clean water, and managing natural resources involving complex social and cultural norms. At best, communication is designed to provoke healthy discussion and debate around these complex issues - social transformation is a process that begins with this dialogue.


"I'll talk a lot about 'behavior change communication,' which operates on the premise that knowledge and information is not enough to change risk behavior," said Riber. "A good example is smoking. Why do people continue to smoke even when they know it's killing them? There has been a lot of research around the complexities of risk behavior and we apply the same research based principles in addressing risk perception in HIV/AIDS prevention when promoting safe sex, partner reduction and women's empowerment."


"I want to encourage Fairhaven students, and in fact all WWU students, to consider pursuing career opportunities in the field of development communication in poor countries. There are so many opportunities to "do well, doing good." We are even planning to offer the students of this course the opportunity for short internships with our organization in Tanzania."

Written by Jeremy Mauck


Find out more

For more information surrounding Media for Development International visit

For more in depth details about John's current activities in Africa visit

Go to the Fairhaven College homepage for additional class details.