In just four years, Jessie Puwapuwa has transformed the Voice of Livingstonia(VOL) Radio to a household name among radio lovers in the city of Mzuzu, Mzimba, Likoma, Rumphi and Nkhata Bay.
VOL started in 2013 with Puwapuwa as its Station Manager.
Under her leadership, VOL has managed to clinch deals with Tilitonse, Farm Radio, National Democratic Institute among others aimed at empowering communities in taking duty bearers accountable.
While the station started with a lean staff of 13 mostly volunteers, it has now grown to about 30.
“I am so grateful to others that joined VOL as volunteers and these have been doing much of the work.
However, it was a challenge for me to see people working and contributing a lot for free.
“As a leader, I believe in sharing even the smallest cake, although till now there are still a couple of them that just get upkeep. We have been employing permanent staff through external adverts and converting performing volunteers,” explains Puwapuwa.
Under her service, VOL Radio has also grown in listenership as witnessed by the number of institutions that it is partnering with in reaching out to the masses.
Some of these institutions conduct independent listener surveys to determine the radio stations to partner with so that they do not miss on their target audience.
According to Puwapuwa, some of the institutions conducted their own listener surveys before partnering with the station which discovered that a lot of people in areas where the radio’s signal is present indicated that that they mostly listen to VOL.
“For some, we entered into partnership through networking and others by responding to their calls for expression of interest,” Puwapuwa says.
The radio hosts programmes such as Kasi Mukumanya, Tikonkhoske and Pamtandasanya which have been effective because by building the capacity of communities on various issues.
For example, Puwapuwa says people in the communities now follow issues regarding transparency and accountability in addition to being trained in public expenditure tracking.
She adds that the communities are also able to track developmental budgets, engage duty bearers and elected officials in issues that concern them.
“We have seen people confronting relevant authorities on particular issues as a way forward. Gender is also an important component in our interventions which has seen women incorporated in various committees at community level and their priorities included in development agenda. This to us is worth cherishing as these programmes continue to leave a mark,” she says.
As evidence of the radio’s impact, the station manager notes that currently, some of the many projects that stalled mostly in Mzimba North under Local Development Fund (LDF) have now been completed.
These include teacher’s houses at Engucwini and school blocks.
Completion of most of these projects failed due to mismanagement of public funds and politicisation of development projects.
“We have also seen various development committees being instituted in this area. In the area of health, mismanagement of drugs and theft has been an issue across the country. To combat such mishaps and also to enhance transparency and accountability, it is a requirement to have health advisory committees.
“VOL initiated the establishment of the committees in some areas and also re-instituted those committees that were dormant,” reveals Puwapuwa.
Under her leadership, VOL has been instrumental in advocating signing of social contracts between aspirants and the electorate.
Elected officials have been making promises which were never fulfilled as a result of lack of engagement between the citizenry and the elected officials, but with the contracts, things have changed.
VOL introduced the social contracts in collaboration with Phunzirani Development Organisation and the Church and Society of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia.
Once the contract is signed, it becomes easier for communities to hold the elected officials accountable and this enhances development.
“For example, in Mzuzu City, most of the development priorities are being fulfilled. There is collaboration between the councillors, the Member of Parliament, the communities and all the parties have been very responsive to the social contracts they signed. This is a very remarkable achievement. As much as we know that a lot can still be done,” she says.
Puwapuwa urges other institutions to support the radio in its interventions as such initiatives require huge support for VOL to continue making an impact in the country.
But what has been the most challenging part to be a woman leader in a radio station that was just starting?
“VOL started with a diverse group of people. Some had been employees somewhere before joining this radio station while others were new graduates. So mostly, those that had work experience came to the institution with high expectations which were not being met by the station.
“One thing that destroys institutions is backbiting and wanting to buy favours. It is always important to have a spirit of discernment and to handle every situation in a professional manner,” says Puwapuwa.
She encourages fellow women that whenever they are in any position, they need to have confidence, trust God and be professional..
Puwapuwa is a second born in a family of 10 born to Jacob and Beatrice Banda from Kuwirwi, Traditional Authority (T/A) Zilakoma in Nkhata Bay. She has just completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Entrepreneurship from Malawi College of Accountancy.
She possesses an advanced diploma in Business Management attained at the Polytechand and a diploma in Journalism from Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ).
Puwapuwa’s journey in media industry dates back to 2002 when she worked with the Trans World Radio until 2010.
She then worked for Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission as the communications officer till March 2013.
From there, she joined VOL Radio and is one of its pioneers. The station did its test transmission from January to March and Puwapuwa joined the radio together with the first employees in April, 2013 to date.
As a leader, Puwapuwa believes that wisdom comes from above and has always asked God for guidance.
On top of that, she holds high the Synod of Livingstonia’s approach of maintaining professionals with diverse background in the board’s composition who provide policy direction.
“In addition, I owe it to my team because every time we get feedback from a listener, especially in areas where we may need improvement, we are quick and very creative,” she says.
Puwapuwa is married to Chimwemwe Puwapuwa and this year they will be celebrating their 10th anniversary.
The two are blessed with a son, Peace.
According to her, managing family and work is not easy. However, she says time management is key so that nothing suffers.
“As I have said, being a pioneer of an institution which is also in a competitive industry is quite challenging. But I try as much as possible that I plan my time so that my family life is not compromised.
She also advises girls to be disciplined, determined and dedicated.
“Never let poverty hold you back. Have a vision and go for it. I did and although am not yet there, you can make it,” she concludes.