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When a large number of community members rapidly and dramatically change their attitudes and behaviors, we can say that community has experienced a social norm change.

Population Media Center, a U.S. based non-profit producer of entertainment programming designed to advance human rights and environmental sustainability, is reaching out to supporters and volunteers concerned with global sustainability with the #GETREEL campaign.

Running through October 24th, #GETREEL aims to raise $200,000 USD in unrestricted donations in support of Population Media Center (PMC). Donors can register their support through PMC’s secure on-line giving portal, through text messaging, or via check.

PMC uses the power of entertainment and local story-tellers to advance sustainability, human-rights and environmental conservation around the world. Founded in 1998, PMC’s programs have impacted over 500 million people in 50 countries.

Weeks one and two of the campaign have raised over $77,500 from 88 backers. The theme for week three is “Power In Numbers”.

The natural world is filled with tipping points. Also called “threshold effects” or “critical transitions,” a tipping point is when a natural system experiences a shift to a dramatically new state.

Tipping points can also occur in human communities, especially around social norms. When a large number of community members rapidly and dramatically change their attitudes and behavior – by either adopting a once rare practice or abstaining from a previously common one – we can say that community has experienced a social norm change. Importantly, when social norms change the individual behavior change becomes long-lasting. The change becomes self-perpetuating; it’s held in place and continually encouraged by reciprocal expectations between community members.

Population Media Center is focused on catalyzing tipping points in the communities where we air entertaining dramas. On supremely sensitive issues, like early and forced marriage, taboos around modern contraception, and gender based social discrimination, our patient and determined approach can act like the spring rains. Rather than awkward billboards, ignored public service announcements, or door-to-door campaigns with many slammed doors, our highly entertaining programs are welcomed by community members. As ever more numbers of people emotionally bond with leading characters in our stories, and see these characters role-modeling pro-social behaviors, momentum builds toward a dramatic change in social norms.

In the Oromiya Region of Ethiopia, PMC’s hugely successful radio drama Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”) catalyzed a tipping point on the issue of marriage by abduction. Below is an excerpt of one of the over 15,000 listener letters PMC’s Ethiopia office received while the drama was broadcast; it is from a mother of two daughters who lives in southern Ethiopia:

“The story of Wubalem in your radio drama reflects clearly to the general public the harmful traditional practices in our country such as abduction and sexual violence… Our first child was married at the age of 14 after she was abducted [on her way to school]. We were worrying for years as we thought that our second child would face a similar fate. At present, however, the radio drama focusing on abduction and sexual violence that you have presented to the public, and the discussions conducted on these topics, have aroused considerable popular indignation. The people have now strongly condemned such inhuman traditional practices… Unlike in the past, special punitive measures have been taken by community people against offenders involved in such crimes. As a result, we have no worry in sending our girls to school. Our children go to school safely and return unharmed. Please keep the program on the air.”

In this case, PMC’s fictional story, broadcast to an entire region of Ethiopia, ignited community discussions on the issue of marriage by abduction. More and more people reflected on the practice and realized the great harm being done to innocent girls. Suddenly, a social tipping point was passed. The power in numbers – the critical mass of people rejecting marriage by abduction – changed what was normal for that society. PMC’s fictional drama was the catalyst for their actions

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