By Katherine Walraven
Doug Ward has dedicated much of his life to ensuring that radio truly serves the needs of listeners, first in Canada through a trailblazing career with the CBC and now in Africa as chair of the Ottawa-based charity Farm Radio International (FRI). His role as a radio pioneer was recognized in late December when Ward received one of the country’s highest civilian honours, an appointment to the Order of Canada.
The Order of Canada was established in 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation in all sectors of Canadian society. Ward’s appointment to the Order comes as no surprise to those who know him and his unbridled passions for people-centred radio and community building.
Ward worked to revolutionize Canadian public radio in his 30 years with the CBC. He co-authored the English Radio Report in 1970, which ushered in changes that helped make CBC Radio what it is today. It resulted in the creation of separate networks for information (CBC Radio One) and performance (CBC Radio 2), the complete elimination of commercials, increased support for local programs, and greater emphasis on Canadian stories and content.
Ward was on the team that created the popular and enduring program As It Happens. And, as director of the CBC Northern Service, he promoted the hiring and training of native northerners to create radio programs that reflected their unique cultures, voices and concerns.
Ward retired from the CBC 20 years ago and he has slowed down — not in the slightest! Ward was recruited shortly after his retirement by former CBC colleague George Atkins to join the board of directors of Farm Radio International (FRI), www.farmradio.org, a not-for-profit organization that he established to help the world’s poorest farmers gain access to much-needed agricultural information. Ward joined FRI’s board in 2000 and soon became its chair, a position that he has held ever since.
Ward’s passion and vision for audience-centred radio helped to transform the organization. FRI focused its work under his leadership on sub-Saharan Africa, where it now has more than 600 radio partners across 39 countries, and began placing more emphasis on creating radio that provides key information that also reflects farmers’ voices. Ward created a weekly electronic news service for broadcasters and a set of standards for farmer programs.
He made several trips to Africa to visit rural radio stations and train their broadcasters and managers. He also developed online training courses to reach more broadcasters more cost effectively. In essence, Ward helped FRI grow into an organization with multiple African field offices and a reputation for delivering impressive, measurable and lasting development outcomes.
FRI has received numerous awards recognizing its innovative use of other information and communication technologies to support and enhance the already mighty power of radio.
Now 77, Ward still pours an incredible amount of time and energy into his work for FRI, treating his role as chair as a full-time job. He often starts his day as early as 4:30 a.m. to connect with colleagues in Africa over Skype from his home in the Glebe. His first-hand understanding of what radio can achieve when it features the voices of ordinary citizens drives him. “Radio can help people name their concerns and aspirations, and then speak together and speak to power to influence change,” said Ward.
Ward is quick to point out that he shares the honour of being appointed to the Order of Canada with all of the creative people in the CBC and across Africa who are dedicated to making radio work for the people.
While much of Ward’s volunteer work in recent decades has been international in focus, he has somehow always found time for projects in his city and neighbourhood. He served on the boards of the Canadian Club of Ottawa and the Ottawa Choral Society in the 1980s. He developed a business plan for the renovated Glebe Community Centre, and for three years organized Taste of the Glebe as a fundraiser for the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group in the 1990s.
Ward was also heavily involved in the Friends of Lansdowne movement from 2009 to 2012 as both a fundraiser and spokesperson in an effort to promote the appropriate development of Lansdowne Park. He is proud to have been a resident of the Glebe for the past 40 years and the Glebe is equally proud of him. Congratulations Doug Ward on this incredible honour!
Katherine Walraven is a communications associate with Farm Radio International in Ottawa.