The issues surrounding humanity's overpopulation challenge are vast and discouraging, but one organization is taking a creative approach - and it just may be working.
The United Nation's estimates for changes in world populations over 50-year periods are grim. At the high end, there is a staggering growth in world population of 8 billion people - and at the low end, there is a loss of nearly 2 billion people. These estimates are measured in 50-year increments from 1950 to 2300.
While it is tempting to think that we would be able to add an additional 8 billion of us to the planet - or that we would even want that many of us around - serious questions exist currently on sustainability and population control.
A number of organizations are attempting to tackle the overpopulation challenge, delving into the obstacles - from social, religious, cultural, economic, and political perspectives - to best understand the underlying composition of the problem. But with population figures still booming, it is difficult to discern the success metrics of the organizations that operate on this frontier.
Katie Elmore, director of communications at Population Media Center, explained her group's creative approach.
"Population Media Center uses long-running dramas on radio and television to educate people about various social and health issues," Elmore said. "We're most interested in promoting the status of women and encouraging the use of family planning - and really giving people the tools to make healthy decisions for their own lives and to make knowledgeable decisions."
The actions of the characters portrayed in these dramas present role-models that the viewers learn from - and can witness more positive outcomes that can later be replicated in their own lives. Population Media Center does not attempt to tell young child-bearing females what to do - but strives instead to showcase a number of outcomes through serialized character development that allows the target viewer to develop an emotional bond and trust.
The opportunity for comparison is real.
"So, if you show what it looks like for a girl - say from Northern Nigeria - to go to school, get an education...and start her own small business and what her life might look like," Elmore said. "Or to be married off at 12 years old and start giving birth and the challenges of pregnancy at that age on her own body and some of the challenges of trying to provide for a very large family."
The two starkly different outcomes provide an educational experience that is arrived at by the viewer independently - and the decisions made are those of the viewer and not those of an outside instructor.
But the obstacles Population Media Center face are notable. There are numerous reasons cited as to why contraceptives are not used among countries where overpopulation is an issue - and Ms. Elmore described the most frequently cited reasons as male opposition, cultural questions, fear of side effects from contraceptives, and fatalistic or societal directives.
Given these obstacles to the broader implementation of simple contraceptives - and given also the visible mathematics reflected in census releases globally, how does an organization like Population Media Center measure success?
In a progress report dated November 6, 2010 - and submitted by Ms. Elmore for my review, the following picture emerges from Population Media Center's work in Ethiopia:
"In just two and a half years of nationwide broadcasting, the following changes were recorded:
• Listeners were 5 times more likely than non-listeners to know 3 or more family planning methods.
• Among married women in the Amhara region who were listeners, there was a 55 percentage point increase in those who had ever used family planning methods, while among non-listeners, the change was only 24 percentage points. A similar increase occurred among male listeners in the Amhara region.
• Male listeners sought HIV tests at four times the rate of non-listeners, and female listeners sought tests at three times the rate of non-listeners.
• The fertility rate in Amhara (the most populous region) fell from 5.4 to 4.3 children per woman.
• Demand for contraceptives increased 157%.
• Spousal communication about family planning issues among married women climbed from 33% to 68%.
• There was a 50% increase in communication between mothers and their children about sexuality issues.
• There was a 16% increase among men in recognizing the importance of girls’ education.
• There was a 38% increase among men in the belief that women are fit to hold public office."
And these results reflected the work they are doing in just one of the many countries in which they operate. The Population Media Center's report went on to detail numerous similar achievements in work on several continents.
"What we've found is that a huge number of new people seeking family planning have cited our program as the main motivating factor for coming to seek services," Ms. Elmore said.