Summit Speaker Highlight: Have you met Georgia Arnold?

In this guest blog, we’re pleased to feature Georgia Arnold, Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility at Viacom International Media Networks and the Executive Director of MTV Staying Alive Foundation. Georgia will be joining us at the #FCAASummit to talk about the role of storytelling in the HIV response. In this post, she shares more about MTV Shuga, its impact on the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, and what she’ll be talking about at the Summit. 


Can you tell us about MTV Staying Alive Foundation and MTV Shuga? What are their origins?

MTV Staying Alive Foundation (SAF) is a media movement which uses storytelling to save lives. We produce game changing content for young people in emerging countries. MTV Shuga is our key driver in this. Centered around an award-winning TV drama, it’s a multi-platform campaign that’s been proven to effect positive behavior change in sexual health and HIV. Something that sets MTV Shuga apart is how it engages young people in  all stages of its development – from formative research, to scriptwriting – to working on set.  Because of this, we’ve created something which tells their stories, in their world.

MTV Shuga Naija hotmix

MTV SAF stems from a 1998 documentary we made at MTV. HIV and AIDS stood out as the issue disproportionately affecting young people – and we wanted to do something about it. As our documentary strand developed, so did our vision – and we created MTV SAF as a registered charity in 2005. With vital in-kind support from Viacom, our tiny team added the funding of grassroots youth-led HIV prevention projects to our remit. In 2009 we produced our first MTV Shuga series in Kenya. It’s amazing to see how it’s grown in ten years – we’re just wrapping production in our fifth country, having produced ten campaigns in the last decade.

What has data revealed about the reach and effectiveness of MTV Shuga?
MTV Shuga has reached 720 million homes in 72 countries, and we’ve got data to show it has real impact. The randomized controlled trial done by the World Bank in Nigeria found that within six months of watching MTV Shuga, HIV testing doubled, concurrent sexual partnerships halved for men, and STIs halved for women.

We can also show that MTV Shuga is a cost effective way to change the world. The World Bank has estimated that for every $1 invested in MTV Shuga, $150 are returned in health and social benefits.

How has Shuga informed MTV Staying Alive Foundation’s grantmaking?
The huge success of MTV Shuga’s impact on behaviour change has driven us to adapt our grant making. We want to use MTV Shuga as a model for how to do things really well. SAF has always funded peer-to-peer education programmes, but going forward all the teaching materials our young people use will be MTV Shuga-branded and MTV Shuga-created (or “MTV Nishedh” as our new campaign in India is called). This ensures gold-standard health messaging is maintained in everything SAF does. I’m really excited about this new change in direction – I think it will propel our peer-to-peer programmes like never before.

With the funding and policy landscape rapidly changing, how do you define what it means to be an AIDS funder in our current environment?
We’ve got to be more strategic in everything we do. Targeting our funding in a smart way helps us to be cost-effective and efficient. For MTV SAF, our focus is young people – and involving them at each stage of our campaign is integral to what we do. Another important focus in today’s environment is on the underlying issues helping to fuel HIV and AIDS. With MTV Shuga, storylines about gender-based violence, reproductive rights, and income inequality put sexual health and HIV into the wider context.

As a media company, MTV is very sophisticated about its interactions with other news media. What advice can you offer for funders in terms of using media as a channel for furthering their work?
Being affiliated with MTV definitely comes with advantages, but today’s media landscape offers so much opportunity for organisations and individuals to leverage media really effectively. A great digital presence is really important. How are you standing out? What content are you putting out there which shows you’re a ‘thought leader’? Can you be a go-to resource for critical information and accurate facts? And can you weave your expertise into stories that are in the news agenda? Investing in your media presence is the most cost-effective and efficient way to get eyeballs on what you’re doing. One thing we do to maximise our reach is to distribute MTV Shuga rights-free to broadcasters and on-demand platforms around the world.

You will be joining us at the 2019 AIDS Philanthropy Summit later this month. What are you planning to talk about, and what do you hope to achieve at this convening? Why is this convening valuable to organizations like yours?
I’m excited to talk about the impact of MTV Shuga. Not just in terms of messaging, but in terms of the cost benefit of investing in MTV Shuga and media campaigns. We want to show that funders need to ensure they have a 360 view on the projects that they fund – so that behaviour change and demand creation becomes as much of a priority as service providers. Why is it valuable? Because we all get to discover different ways of looking at the world of HIV funding – what’s working, what’s not, and where we should be investing our all-too precious resources.