Entertainment Education

Weki’s teammates find his HIV medicines in his locker. Their parents ask the coach to expel Weki from the team.

Weki’s teammates find his HIV medicines in his locker. Their parents ask the coach to expel Weki from the team. Photo © MTV Shuga, MTV Staying Alive Foundation

Changing Perceptions and the World

Edutainment (short for “entertainment-education”) is the use of entertainment media with educational and development objectives. Edutainment can take the form of movies, television shows, documentaries, social media campaigns, music, and games.

Today’s development, security, and environmental crises are affecting billions of people, with emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) experiencing dramatic retreats in their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Entertainment media reaches and influences global audiences and their communities. Worldwide, there are 5.4 billion television viewers, over 5 billion smartphone users, and 1.6 billion Facebook daily active users. Stories that go viral can trigger and sustain crises, as recently shown by the COVID-19 misinformation infodemic. Systematic reviews of traditional social and behavior change communications (SBCC), such as public-service announcements, billboards, and leaflets, consistently show little or no effect on behavior change, from promoting safer sexual behaviors to handwashing.

With the internet and mobile revolutions rapidly increasing media access across the globe, there is an unprecedented opportunity to positively impact the lives of billions of people. Edutainment can be a game changer in development effectiveness. Unlike traditional media campaigns that convey abstract concepts and can become repetitive quickly, edutainment can consistently capture the eyeballs and attention of millions each week. World Bank research shows that emotional connection with characters and program immersion are effective mechanisms for triggering attitudinal and behavioral change. Relatable characters and celebrities have the power to be role models, inspire audiences to engage in new thinking about “what is possible,” and change perceptions of what is “normal” and socially acceptable behavior. While social influencers can effectively promote short-term behaviors, gamified apps can complement SBCC for long-term impacts.

Global Partnerships for Research and Policy Impact  

Founded in 2016, the World Bank DIME Narrating Behavior Change program (DIME-NBC) is a collaboration between researchers and practitioners from governments, the World Bank, development agencies, and media firms. The program has two goals: (i) to strengthen the evidence base of edutainment across multiple development sectors (it has active projects in the areas of health, education, gender equality, environment, social cohesion, COVID-19, and financial and digital literacies); and (ii) through capacity building and dissemination forums, to inform and facilitate the effective scale up of edutainment in development investments.   

The potential of high-quality edutainment cannot be overstated. For example, DIME experimental research shows that exposure to the television drama MTV Shuga (broadcast in all Sub-Saharan African countries and that included in its early seasons Golden Globe and Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o) doubled HIV testing and halved sexually transmitted infections and gender-based violence among urban viewers. Or a five-day parental intervention that combined edutainment screenings with the provision of preloaded smartphones was among the most cost-effective ways to increase children’s school attendance and learning outcomes among rural households. 

Girl learning by playing app games

Learning by playing app games.

The quality of content and delivery matters too. Programming that is not properly designed, tested, and adjusted to target audiences can have adverse effects. Moreover, as a nascent experimental field (communications research to date has been mainly observational, qualitative, or with small samples), important gaps remain on how to best design, adapt, and distribute entertainment media to maximize its impacts on audiences and their communities.

The DIME-NBC program is experimentally testing the effectiveness of soap operas, documentaries, social media campaigns, and gamified apps in the entertainment hubs of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. It works with leading think tanks and media firms from the “Hollywoods of the world,” including the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, Impact(Ed) International (formerly Discovery Learning Alliance), Meta (formerly Facebook), the Population Foundation of India, BBC Media Action, Cinepolis, IN2, Curious Learning, and the Hollywood Health & Society program at the University of Southern California.

To maximize the policy impact of its research and partnerships, the DIME-NBC program has conducted in-person and online impact evaluation workshops and forums in Washington, DC, and in the entertainment capitals of Lagos, Mexico City, and New Delhi. See blogs and event recordings for the three most recent forums: Using Entertainment Media to Reach the SDGs (2019), Using social media to change norms and behaviors at scale (2020), and Mobile-based solutions can strengthen human capital gains disrupted by COVID-19 in developing countries (2021).

These events have brought together over 800 development policy makers, researchers, social influencers, and entertainment executives from over 30 countries to design and evaluate the next generation of edutainment and complementary mobile-based solutions. Superstar celebrities from Nollywood (Desmon Elliot, Otomola Ekehinde, and Bukola Oladipupo), Bollywood (Farhan Akhtar), and academia (Professor Abhijit Banerjee, DIME co-author and 2019 Nobel Laureate in Economics) have supported such events.    

Going Forward

To expand partnerships with the Los Angeles entertainment industry and its celebrities, in 2022, the World Bank is partnering with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association—the group that organizes the Golden Globe Awards—in a series of high-level global forums. While previous World Bank forums have focused on publicly funded productions for audiences in developing countries, the new HFPA-WB forums will explore the challenges and opportunities for public-private partnerships to systematically scale up investments in edutainment in both developed and developing countries. The rapid expansion of streaming services in EMDEs is diversifying and enriching the stories the world hears and opening new opportunities for edutainment to reach the SDGs by positively changing the hearts, minds, and behaviors of billions.

DIME-NBC research and partnerships are made possible by funding from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the German Corporation for International Cooperation, the European Commission, and the World Bank.


Victor Hugo Orozco-Olvera

Senior Economist, Development Impact (DIME),