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Noah Samara and the power of information

I’ve followed the work of Noah Samara with Worldspace satellite radio for almost a decade. I’d heard he was a passionate man, but I hadn’t realized how passionate until I had long discussion with him two nights ago – he got down on his knees to make a point to me, a point I’d already happily conceded. He’s one of the most charming and inspiring men I’ve met in recent years.

Samara tells us that he was “born in Africa to African parents in the mid-50s, amidst the decolonization” of the continent. He was six when leaders like
Nyerere, Kaunda, Nkrumah would come to Addis Ababa “to inaugurate a new age for Africa.” There was a palpable hope to the moment – “I was six, I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was happening.” Quoting Thabo Mbeki, he says, “It was a good day to be an African.”

This hope, over the past decades, has been “battered by wars, genocides, pandemics.” But there’s a “resiliency of hope” that survives and provides for a better possible future. Samara’s life was changed by reading an article about the impact of AIDS on Africa. He saw the way in which information – simple information about HIV – could play a role in slowing the disease. He was amazed, “how so many people could die from the want of information, information that was so easily accessible,” and wondered why the World Bank and other development agencies.

And so he decided to do it himself, building a network that could broadcast radio to the entire African continent. It was a major technical issue – it required 100 countries to allocate radio frequencies, and to build a geostationary satellite that could talk to radio receivers. “I needed a little bit of cash – hundreds of millions of dollars – and was short a little – hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Remarkably, he was able to raise the funds, and launch the first satellite dedicated specifically to Africa. He notes that it was the first time a new technology debuted in Africa before making it to the US. Worldspace now covers five billion people with two satellites, broadcasting exclusively to the developing world.

In founding the company, he also established a foundation, “First Voice International”, which focuses on creating programming that uses information for social change. This includes early-warning weather systems, information on HIV, soap operas on reproductive health and child trafficking in indigenous languages. This programming is rebroadcast by community radio stations, reaching a much wider audience. Remarkably, 90% of the information comes out of Africa. “It’s locked in citadels of learning” – First Voice tries to take this information and spread it around.

15 million teachers in Africa require remedial training to meet basic international standards, and 45 million students don’t see school at all. Can we do something about it? All William from Malawi needed to build a windmill was a book to show him how. We can put information, language libraries, remedial information into schools today, providing area-specific information. Samara sees his work as an infrastructure that allows us to continue spreading information that’s worth spreading, that can transform countries and lives.

8 thoughts on “Noah Samara and the power of information”

  1. I admire Noah’s passion. But there is a lot of hype in there too which isn’t happening. Yes, they may put a signal over 4 billion heads, but the number of receivers out there are in the hundreds of thousands, at a point where the first satellite is going into the last phase of its life. I agree that access to information is the key. The problem is that worldspace has never made a good epg, so it may have interesting content (a lot behind a subscription now) but it is very frustrating to access. I bought one of the first receivers in south Africa in 1995. I see too many broken receivers on my travels because the little dishes are not robust enough against rain and UV in Central Africa. Worldspace is a narrow pipe solution feeding audio, when the continent is starting to ask for on-demand data access (which may include some audio). It is a pity, but I can’t see any channel on Worldspace with a sustainable business model.

  2. I am an independent documentary filmmaker who has spent the last four years on a history of pop music in Addis, particularly in the Sixties and Seventies. I’d like to interview Noah Samora; would you be able to suggest a better way to contact him than through his corporate press person
    at Worldspace?

    Thank you very much.


    Kyle Stone
    Producer/director, “The Days All Start At Midnight: Swinging Addis And Its Music,”
    608 Crawford Street
    Toronto, Canada M6G 3K2

  3. WorldSpace has new receivers which are sturdy and they are holding up well even in Irag and Afghanistan. There are data services available that are used for emergency alert notification in Sri Lanka, Distance Learning classes, e- libraries etc. It is painful to read the writings of the uniformed. Do more research before you put your biased opinions on the web.

  4. Well- It is good to see Mr Samara did very well and sucseeded bout is mr samara did anything for his native land Ethiopia?

  5. I wonder why he bought back his equipment for 28 Million dollars. MKS A lot of companies are down right now and present an interesting opportunity. MKZ Samara has something planned to move forward with providing content. MKT

  6. I helped Noah to get his first satellite broadcast license in Trinidad – Carib Space. Unfortunately, I didn’t advise him properly regarding his managing director in Trinidad, who not only spent money imprudently, but did not do what was necessary to get the license renewed when it expired.

    In 2001, shortly after the World Trade Center bombing, Noah made Asia Star and Afri Star satellites available to broadcast Radio Sai Global Harmony, teaching Sathya Sai Baba’s universal message of truth, love, peace, righteousness and non-violence.

    I have just been informed that World Space declared bankruptcy in 2008, and that the new buyer wants to shut down World Space India so that this vital programming of unity, purity and divinity among mankind is being threatened to be shut down in India. World Space India uplinked all the channels it controlled from Singapore, which we understand is being shut down. However, since the programming is considered religious, Radio Sai Global Harmony is uplinked from Melbourne. We are informed that only the Singapore uplink is being shutdown by the new buyer. Could you PLEASE inform us about the fate of the Melbourne uplink and whether it will survive in the sale of World Space? This is a very urgent request for information clarification. Positive answers can be directed to my email address – felipemnoguera@gmail.com Blessings on anyone able to assist with this exigent need.

    Thank you,
    Felipe Noguera

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