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University chosen for USAID global communication project

Nov 1, 2007

University chosen for USAID global communication project

Ohio University has been named a partner in a multimillion-dollar effort that will affect the way agencies, media and citizens use communication to improve health and development worldwide.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently announced that the university was selected as one of seven North American partners in the new Partnership for Health and Development Communication to be led by the Academy for Educational Development (AED). The program will work throughout the developing world, with a major focus on Africa.

The three-year partnership will focus on challenges in health communication, including family planning and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS prevention, maternal and child health, tuberculosis, malaria and avian influenza. It also will address issues involving the environment, civil society, and democracy and governance. The partnership, which has a funding ceiling of $175 million, may extend an additional two years.

"This is not just about USAID funding public-education campaigns," said Margaret Parlato, senior vice president and director of the AED Global Health, Population, and Nutrition Group. "Our task is to help countries incorporate very powerful communication approaches into the way they fight some of their most difficult battles -- whether it is HIV/AIDS, rapid population growth, pollution or conflict between different ethnic groups."

The program will build capacities in local media, advertising and research firms, universities and nongovernmental organizations. It also will work with government agencies to strengthen relations with the media and improve the effective use of strategic communication to influence change and improve practices at a population level. As the primary university partner, Ohio University will work with universities, government ministries and development agencies to provide training and skills in health and development communication.

Other North American partners include CARE International, Internews, the University of Washington's HIV/AIDS Unit, the Communication for Social Change Consortium, the Communication Initiative, and the research and design firm IDEO. Overseas partners include Soul City and Social Surveys in South Africa, Straight Talk in Uganda, and the Center for Media Studies and New Concept Information Systems, both in India.

"As the university and capacity-building partner of this consortium, we expect to play a substantial role," said David Mould, associate dean for research and graduate studies. "Ohio University has a great network of partnerships with universities in the developing world and alumni in many countries. We hope to work with many of them in the projects we'll be undertaking."

Most of the funding for projects will come from USAID country missions, so Ohio University's tasks will depend on individual country needs. One of the goals of the project is to effect positive change even after the project ends.

"Capacity-building activities will focus on the development of technical competencies within government institutions, local organizations, and university and training institutions in an effort to ensure that technical capacities will be sustained beyond the life of the project," said Rafael Obregon, director of the Communication and Development Studies Program in the Center for International Studies. "This also will require advocacy efforts to engage policy- and decision-makers to support project activities."

Faculty from the Scripps College of Communication and the Center for International Studies will contribute. Mould said faculty from other colleges may be called upon as additional needs are identified.

"Programs in the Scripps College of Communication have long been known for the ways in which they serve local, national and international communities," said Scripps College of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd. "Our service to others and our research and creative activity for others distinguishes us from other programs. This grant is, in part, recognition of our expertise and reputation in this regard.

"It also fits well with the longstanding mission of Ohio University to serve the underserved, from rural Appalachia to Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia," Shepherd said.

Ohio University so far has received $20,000 to cover project start-up costs.