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I’m a bit obsessed with male circumcision (mc) now – it was an interesting conference that I attended last week by invitation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it got me speaking to a lot of men that I know about mc.

I get a lot of people tweeting me or commenting on the blog whenever I write about circumcision – it’s a really controversial subject – so I want to be clear here, I don’t have a stand on circumcision. As I’m not the one who has to have a piece of their body snipped off, I only have an interest in further the debate and understanding more so that I can be informed when talking to the men in my life.

One of the issues that someone observed in this 3 day conference was not to focus solely more communication channels, and indeed more communication programmes to educate men (and women alike) on the importance of mc, but about the quality of that content. I don’t think he meant in terms of good quality productions or visuals on posters – though this does help too, but the quality of the message – what exactly are you saying?

When I spoke to men – both circumcised and not – I asked them if they’d ever consider it, and why not if they weren’t already circumcised or if they were thinking hell no to being circumcised. Quite frankly, they never understood the point in it. If we look on the HIV prevention side, circumcision reduces your risk of infection by as much as 60% BUT you still have to use a condom. Eh? So why not save yourself the bother (and the 6 week recuperation with no sex!) and just use a condom? And in the case of a man I know who does not slip, he uses condoms like they’re going out of fashion, why would circumcision ever cross his mind?

The one guy I spoke to who voluntarily got circumcised said all the right reasons – he did it because it’s hygienic, reduces risk of STIs (including HIV), reduces the risk of cervical cancer for his partner. I was getting quite impressed that here was a guy who really responded to the messages! He then went on to say that the added bonus (his words not mine) was that acquiring a few milli-inches (hmmm and he put this out on twitter! lol) and that the fellow looks more handsome! I’m not sure how he got a few more mili-inches – I don’t know how this happened as I’m not a surgeon or anything.

Ok so MC was tooted as an effective way to reduce the spread of HIV. But problem is that, try as we might, not enough men are getting circumcised and there’s a reason for this, linked back to HIV. Despite HIV having been around for like 25+ years (isn’t it over 30 now?), there is still a huge stigma attached to it. And people at the conference were talking about how people needed a cover story to get circumcised. There were also stories about women scared that if their husband’s got circumcised, then they would most likely end up being unfaithful. Erm circumcision will make a man cheat? Honey, if your man is a cheat, he’ll cheat whether he is circumcised or not.

So the next conversation was about changing the key benefit of getting circumcised, so that’s it’s not so closely linked to HIV. Hygiene for example. It is a long-term benefit after all. It’s much easier to clean a penis without a foreskin – no pulling back to clean within! This makes sense… not that I know men who don’t clean their penis’… but you never know.

I’m not a fan of changing the key benefit, reducing your chances of getting HIV is a big benefit, realistically no one knowingly wants to get HIV. But it’s got to be a no-brianer to make sex – I’m not sure 60% is good enough. Chances are still better off with a condom. Or better still no sex at all! Ok, I know, calm down, that’s not an option for many.

I think I got lost in my thoughts again – I told you I’m fascinated by this conversation about MC… oh yes, quality of content. I think I mentioned Ram in my last post. Ram is the co-founder of Final Mile (they’re behaviour architects – love that!), and he basically talked about positioning risk and rewards. Looking at the rewards of circumcision he said, and I’ll paraphrase on the issue that mc (I must stress this is medical male circumcision as opposed to traditional circumcision) may reduce risk of infection of HIV by 60%’- to which he said for ordinary people all that means is that it’s better than 50%! Which when you think about it… what does that mean? 40% is still a big risk if you ask me…

Then other rewards (that is benefits) include can reduce risk of cervical cancer, can aide in hygiene – as discussed above. After a brief pause he read out the risks! Ok – I’ll leave that for you to google.

Basically, I think when it comes to promoting medical male circumcision, if you want more men to get circumcised we need to understand what is stoping them from moving from motivation to action, and deal with that in the messaging. Yeah that was an obvious one, I know… but you’ll be surprised how few messages deal with this, probably because programme managers can be scared of what happens when you deal with the unknown, but that’s what life is about isn’t it – sometimes we have to take a calculated risk to reap the benefits – hey that could be a circumcision slogan right there!

Today has been one of those days, where everything just seems to be working against me. Ok the start might have been me being too sensitive – we’re women, these things happen – but when I asked my office to send a driver to pick me up from my house (my car is in the shop), no one bothered to inform me that there wasn’t a driver around to pick me up… Until I called back 30 minutes later. So the lack of communication cheesed me off – it was one of my co-directors, that’s all I’m saying.

Then I finally get into the office to find my key staff out of the office when we have client deliverables to meet, and with most of our clients we only get paid when we deliver, and I’m not happy when cash is not coming in – why run a business just to spend money?

And as the day progressed it just all snowballed. Then suddenly just after lunch, it was like everything was well in the world again. I was starting to feel at ease and ready to start promoting episode 2 of Love Games for tomorrow’s broadcast.

censure

Then my phone starts ringing from the client, despite not knowing what she could possibly want – I like to have an idea of what a client will want before answering the call, so I’m prepared lol – but this time, I had no clue, we are on top of everything that needs to be done.

She hits me with the national broadcaster, ZNBC, won’t air episode 2 in the way it currently it is, because of a kissing scene they think goes on too long.

Erm, is that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard?

I call ZNBC to find out what they’re on about and I get this explanation about broadcast boards, viewer comments etc. So would I be willing to go to them to supervise the edit? It’s not like I have a choice right?

As I hung up – feeling beaten yet again – I realised how fundamentally flawed this country is. Every day in the papers is a case of gender based violence, of a clergy man having an affair, of young girls being defiled, and then the not so public stories of Ministers and their extra-marital affairs, of women using their body for material gain and all sorts.

And this makes me angry. Nationally we have an HIV prevalence rate of about 14%, but new trends suggest HIV can be on the rise again. And what is driving our epidemic is things like multiple and concurrent sexual partners, and low and inconsistent condom use. Further more evidence suggests that HIV education and prevention works!

But we don’t want to call a spade a spade. If a kiss is shown on national TV – after 8pm – that is considered pornographic and corrupting the morals of our youth! Are you kidding me?

Do these same people read the papers? Walk through the townships to see babies having babies?

When are we going to stop being ashamed of sex and our sexuality and embrace it for what it can be, a positive part of who we are?

And in the case of HIV, how can we address prevention if we can’t openly and honestly talk about sex? ZNBC is the gateway to the masses. It is the only broadcaster that reaches the majority of Zambians, across socio-economic barriers and yet their own self-censure is what is a barrier to addressing some very real issues.

You won’t really feel my pain until you watch episode 2 (will put it online tomorrow night) and see what they want to censor, but right now, I had to have my say.

Time for me to end this day and hope for a better one tomorrow.

One Love

I was shocked the other day when a client said that we couldn’t use a particular word in our communications campaign because they thought it was offensive – not that the intended audience would find it offensive, but people in their office would.

As if that wasn’t enough to annoy me, another client called me into their office for me to assure them that we would deliver a creative product for their campaign.  This in itself doesn’t seem bad (though as a creative agency, it’s a bit offensive to be asked if you know how to deliver a creative product), but later that same day, I saw some other products they produced with another agency which was truly atrocious!  And then my fear set in, if that’s what they thought was creative, would they approve the products we’re producing?  

I also got into a little bit of a twitter rage when someone I follow retweeted something someone they follow (I assume) that basically said promotion of condoms promoted promiscuity and that’s why HIV is still spreading.  I obviously said what a joke that statement was and the response that I got was that sex before marriage is dirty and immoral.  Yep in 2012 someone said that to me.  My response was demonizing sex is what is the problem and encouraging the spread of HIV, if you have a positive towards sex, you’re more likely to talk about it and know your options to keep your safe right?  Nope, instead I was met with the morality police – when I mentioned that multiple sexual relationships, especially in marriage is a huge driving factor, there was no real response from the morality police.  I guess marriage is too sacred to poo poo on.

I have been working in this industry for a long time, which is probably why my tolerance levels are getting to an all time low.  I think not being completely honest and giving people the correct information in the language they understand is doing a disservice.  But I guess the scary reality is that if the HIV crisis was solved today, too many people would be out of a job right?

This is one of the reasons that I want my company to focus on producing our own campaigns (kind of like the same reason why I think developing nations need to stop taking aid with strings attached) is so that we can control the messages we want to put out and deliver it in the way we know will work – because we are more of the audience than the clients are.

As far as I’m concerned a radical and different approach is needed, and it’s time that we’re all honest.  This is why I’m so excited for That Shuga Moment show to air where a bunch of young people talk openly about issues such as transactional sex (some believing it’s ok if it’s for an investment benefit – i.e. college degree), or women carrying condoms (women saying honestly they don’t because they don’t want the promiscuous label attached to them) and so many things that public health people would prefer people don’t talk about.

I really hope that this new campaign we’re working on will give us that creative and editorial freedom, and hopefully we’ll see some impact – watch this space….

*I refer to programme managers, meaning public health professionals

Sometimes I feel stuck in the middle. I sort of fell into what I do because I felt we (young people, my sisters etc) could make a difference in the lives of other young people – specifically young women who were getting pregnant and kicked out of school – that archaic rule that said pregnant girls could not stay in school (despite only having sex ed in the 12th grade!). So my sisters and I coupled that desire to help educate our peers with our passion for writing – or perhaps we’d watched too much Press Gang! – and formed Youth Media, soon followed up by our first publication Trendsetters.

Soon after I learnt about the enter-educate approach – using entertainment to educate your audience. It makes sense – who doesn’t love watching an entertaining programme, or reading an interesting magazine, if you can use those channels to educate people then even better. And when you think about it, they’ve been doing this for years! I learnt a lot of what I know from TV! Law and Order has taught me loads about the legal system (even if not all of it is relevant to Zambia, but you’d be surprised how much is).

Trendsetters was set up in that way. It was a magazine that appealed to young people, dealt with their issues, but also weaved in sexual and reproductive health messages into the different articles. But it wasn’t that simple, there were other factors that made young people make the risky decisions they were making. Yes education was a large part of it, but like all people, young people take many emotional, physical, spiritual and other considerations when making a decision. A huge part that we found played a roll in the harmful decisions young people made was the lack of self-esteem. The mission of Trendsetters became to empower young people to become responsible citizens that made healthy decisions in all aspects of their life.

Trendsetters became a definitive guide for being a young person in Zambia. Since we stopped publishing it (for reasons not worth mentioning here), there has been no publication that has met the needs of young people.

I eventually moved on to work for MTV – creating TV programmes to reach young people globally with HIV prevention messages. In my eight years there we produced a TV film, a couple of drama series, talk shows, documentaries, forums etc.

It was amazing to work with some of the most creative and talented people in the world. I loved every minute of it and learnt so much from them. But what frustrated me, and to some extent the creatives as well, was the clients thinking they were the creatives and telling the producers, directors, writers etc how to do their jobs.

Funnily enough, it never happened the other way. The creatives were pretty grounded with knowing they knew what they knew but were in no way experts at developing an HIV project for young people in rural towns (as an example). I soon realised that I needed to take the middleman role – understanding both sides of the coin – unfortunately it did mean I had to sacrifice what I thought was my passion and instead manage relationships and expectations.

It does get a bit frustrating. On one hand, I do understand why the HIV programme managers wanted to ensure that all the messages were delivered correctly, there has been enough examples of mass media gone wrong. But it also kind of disrespects the creatives. They need to be left alone to do their craft and what they’re good at – creating TV programs to appeal to audiences and keep them engaged and tuned in regularly.

If you put too much of the social good stuff to a script and lose the drama, no one wants to watch a pro-social drama series. But give me ER, Law and Order, Girlfriends, Grey’s Anatomy – all popular shows that have managed to weave in social health messages. It’s about finding the balance. What I’ve seen that works is creating the stories first and then slotting in the sexual health messages. Because let’s face it, sexual health is very much a part of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not.

There is a place for the SRH programme managers and that’s as consultants. But they are not yet producers, scriptwriters or directors, so should give those experts the opportunity to do what they do, after all, they wouldn’t like it if someone less qualified that them told them what to do would they?

Until then the middlemen like myself will continue to exist, people who understand both sides of the table and ensure everyone gets what they need without frustrating the other. Or there is another way.

At Media 365 we have a process we follow to try to avoid these problems – called Blueprint 365. This is the process we follow to ensure that we know exactly what the clients what before we go and produce anything and based on what the clients tell us – so even as clients, they really need to know what they’re trying to achieve – and we develop it the best way we know how. This is why I believe in starting with the end in mind. What is it that you’re trying to do? You keep asking yourself this question at every stage of the project or programme development to make sure it’s all tying in to the end goal. The inception report that we develop outlines exactly what the key messages are, and what the process is for developing storylines, characters etc. Once these processes are signed off, we can go ahead and create the programme, giving the clients milestone moments for approval – but they also know they only have a certain number of times for feedback or they are charged for additional hours and of course we no longer guarantee the deadline will be met. The reality is that when you don’t plan properly, it is easy to change the goalposts and ultimately someone has to pay for that.

Another organisation that I admire and who definitely keeps the creatives and the programme managers separate is Hollywood Health and Society. They get all the information they need from the programme managers, or might even get in the programme managers to debrief the script writers of some of Hollywood’s biggest shows – like the ones I mentioned above – once the brief is over, the scriptwriters do their thing. The result of the debrief is only seen when the show airs. Of course this is slightly different because the development agency puts no money into the production of the show, when they are paying the production costs they do want to ensure it delivers on all the messages they paid for. But if you remember what I said in the beginning, it’s not that simple. The issues as well as humans, are much more complex than what can be told in a 44 minute programme.

Seeing the holistic picture is much more important. There is only so much a TV show is going to do, and then what? This is really where the programme managers expertise should be focused on. How do we ensure that the information learned from the TV show translates into action? What are the services to support this? If we’re telling people to get tested, where can they get tested? Are the service providers aware that there is a campaign that will push them to get tested? Is there a mechanism for the audience to find more information etc. These are not questions or issues that the scriptwriter or producer will concern themselves with – they are focussed on creating an compelling story that will make the audience think and hopefully reconsider preconceived notions. But programme managers should be thinking about these additional elements if they want their programme to be successful – and not whether the adults (who aren’t even the target audience) think that a love scene is too sexy and if a character could give a (unnatural) public service announcement in their script!

There is a way programme managers and creatives can work together in harmony and that’s by respecting each others roles and working together on the big picture. I look forward to hopefully seeing this work in 2012!

I’ve been gone awhile because I’ve been crazy busy at work and trying to not life go past me. But the other day I heard a story about one of the families we employ and it moved me so much I had to share my thoughts.

About two years ago this man’s daughter was raped – by their landlord no less. She went and got tested for HIV at the recommended times and she was found negative. This past weekend she had another test, as an organisation was doing HIV testing in their neighbourhood, her results came back positive. She’s 19 years old.

The father, visibly upset, told me that he’d told her off for all the men she was ‘moving around with’ (a random Zambian phrase that I’ve never totally understood), and that if she continued to do this she will definitely throw her life away because look at where she is now.

The man wasn’t at all stigmatising his daughter, or at least he didn’t think he was, but did blame her behaviour on her now positive status.

I asked him if his daughter ever had counselling after she was raped and he said a couple of times but then she stopped. I kind of had an aha moment and advised him to get his daughter back into counselling, even if it’s just for the girl to learn how to stay positive with her status.

My aha moment was really as a result of a conversation I’d had with this professor at the University of Western Cape when we talked about how to integrate message on violence against women in relation to HIV. Someone at the time wanted to do a storyline in a show around a woman who gets raped and is infected. While that does happen, it’s actually not the rape that puts a woman at risk of infection, it’s what happens next.

In the movies and TV shows, you usually see the woman who has been raped as the demure, quiet woman who is scared to be touched by a man and shuns sex altogether. Of course the other end of that pendulum is the woman who goes on to become a commercial sex worker (to use a pc term that no one other than in the development world uses) – and clearly sex workers are at risk of contracting HIV. But there is that group in the middle that people don’t really talk about. The ones who aren’t commercial sex workers and aren’t not having sex, but in fact are having a lot of sex. The ones who are for all intents and purposes, promiscuous.

I use the term promiscuous because by definition it means undiscriminating casual sex with many different partners, but I’m not a fan of the term because of its moral connotations. You can’t label a person who has been violated with a term that is moralistic in definition.

I don’t think unless you’ve been through it you can imagine what it’s like to be raped. And while each case is different, and all ultimately result in a woman being violated, I could guess that there are different degrees of rape – none being ‘better’ than the other. But being raped by an acquaintance could bring out a different trauma than being raped by a stranger, and that’s why even each rape survivor is different and while they can relate to some similarities not each survivor can necessarily understand what the other is going through. But I digress.

My point is for those women who are raped and then deal with the aftermath of indiscriminate sexual experiences, they are the ones who are at a high risk for HIV infection. I don’t necessarily think that it’s indiscriminate sex, it’s more that the survivor is looking to gain back the control that they think they lost, and probably afraid to say no. Isn’t it easier to have sex, even if you don’t really want it, than risk being raped again? Though when you think about it, you’re pretty much being raped over and over again, you just think that you are more in control because you said yes rather than no and have it forced on you.

The problem is that society, certainly in Africa (ok Zambia), tends to sweep sexual abuse, rape even, under the carpet, rather than providing the support that victims need. I think that it’s possible for a rape survivor to lead a healthy sexual/relationship life without counselling, but I think it’s probably easier to do this with some counselling and a good support network. Yet we tend to brush counselling off as something only crazy people do. We also have a fear of the confidentiality aspect – not surprising, you hear so many cases of counsellors, doctors even, discussing patients cases it’s scary! But then again rape survivors have to realise that it’s not their fault. If we could move past this shame/blame thing then maybe it would be easier to not go through the indiscriminate sexual practices.

Anyway, my point is that this poor 19 year old girl has probably ended up infected because of unresolved issues as a result of her rape. And this is what we need to remember when dealing with sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, we can’t forget about the after-effects of rape, which a woman can deal with for years after the assault. Specifically in Africa we need to address this because sexual violence is way too common, whether it’s used as a weapon of war in conflict areas (I shudder when I think of the statistics in Congo) or as an every day risk in areas where women aren’t valued and thought of as second class citizens. And while I have used the case of women, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are male victims of rape too. We need to use our voices to speak for and support survivors and ensure this doesn’t continue to happen to other people.

Peace.

HIV has been an issue for 30 years now, it’s not some infection that we recently found out about, in fact many of us haven’t known a world without it, yet the stigma, and misinformation that continues to spread today is ridiculous.

The other day my mum was telling me how a church congregation were debating whether to continue to do communion for fear of people who were HIV positive in the church (knowingly or not) infecting other church goes. It get’s worse. One of the women in Church who is HIV+ agreed with this because her doctor told her that she could infect others with her saliva.

Yes really. It is true that there is HIV in all bodily fluids but a little bit of research (just on the internet too) would tell you the risk associated with this – pretty much none. So how is it possible to have people believe this nonsense? And spread it around?

I think there have to be so many different HIV campaigns running concurrently that deal with prevention, information, and stigma – because the messages still aren’t being heard. Possibly because people try to save money and roll it all into one campaign. It is funny how misinformation spreads faster than the truth…

Anyway, that was my latest shocker.

I’ve spent the last week in Nairobi listening to stats on HIV there during the day – women are up to 4 times more likely to be infected than their male peers and women in their 20s disproportionately affected etc – and at night, my Kenyan family and I are hitting the bars and clubs. Bend over Thursdays as it was known, thanks to the popular song of the same title – no longer exists but doesn’t mean you can’t go to a club on Thursday night (Thursdays are the new Fridays) and not hear Bend Over come on. As soon as it does, the young women in there go crazy and bend over, and thats when you see some all out daggery that leaves your mouth open.

I get it is a dance, a sexual dance no less, but it is just dancing. Though sometimes that dancing can go a bit far. I’m not a prude at all, but as I hear the stats, I can’t help but wonder how our sexuality plays into all of this.

My issue isn’t so much that here in Africa (or is it even many parts of the world?) we, as in black people, seem to be oversexed, my issue is that we’re made to think this is a bad thing. Cultural as a woman (in many African cultures) we are told to say no to sex, we must never be seen to want sex. But at the same time, women continue to be objectified as a sexual object. Is there any wonder than rape and sexual violence continues to occur? Sometimes women not even fully understanding that they have been raped as isn’t their role to serve a man? Or the misunderstanding that occurs when men believe the no to mean a yes?

Thankfully more and more men are choosing to err on the side of caution and accept no to mean no. But this still doesn’t empower women to say yes.

I look at the sexual health messages that are put out, all about the dangers of unprotected sex – which with our HIV rates is still necessary – but no one is talking about sex as a pleasurable act, not even in healthy relationships. So you have the guilt element coming into play. What is wrong with me if I like sex? Am I a slut? Does this make me a bad woman?

I’d like to say things are changing. In Kenya, I was shocked to hear about just how ’empowered’ women are. Women choosing to have sex when they want to and with whom, including being bisexual or bi-curious. This seems great, until I hit the clubs on Thursday night.

The sexual energy was intense – it would be if you’re dancing to Bend Over I guess – but was it a healthy one? These so-called empowered women, demanding the sex that they want are wearing outfits that made me wonder, are they really empowered or is this just a trend?

Let’s be honest, it’s one of men’s biggest fantasies to see two women at it, and who better than to feed that fantasy than women. Doesn’t it immediately make you more attractive to men if you entice them with that fantasy? So my questioning really became a matter of are women doing this because they want to and makes them happy – i.e. they are empowered – or are they doing it because it makes them more attractive to men?

Until we become absolutely confident in who we are as sexual beings and being comfortable with that, can we really, and honestly be sure about the sexual choices and decisions we make? And to support that level of security, we need the society to enable it, not by condemning sex as some moral issue, but embracing it as a healthy and positive experience, that can be enjoyed safely and responsibly.

I truly believe that once we can give young people healthy messages about sex can we then begin to see a change in our sexual behaviours – so that people aren’t hiding or feeling ashamed of their desires, but enjoying them safely. Yesterday I learnt that only 7% of young people in Zambia use condoms, there have been safe sex messages here for as long as I can remember (er over 15 years), so what isn’t working?

For now we’ll continue to see younger and younger girls doing daggery on the dancefloor and hope that’s where it stays.

The last week (oh it’s only wednesday) has been very interesting as I’m in the planning stages of a new production I’m working on (can’t wait to announce it), but after conversations with several people, I realise there are some very serious problems in prevention initiatives and no surprises that people are still getting infected.

Ok, I’m obviously simplifying the issues, but some of the things I see or hear really does make me think hmmmm.

I was looking at the messaging we’re focusing on for this show and it struck me that none of it is new. Not the messages of use a condom, or you can live long, healthy, productive lives if you test positive, or don’t have sex or don’t exchange sex for gifts blah blah blah. So my question to the people debriefing us was, why aren’t these messages working? I don’t want to flog a dead horse and make no impact by focussing on the same messages.

It made me think about the paper my sister wrote for her thesis (ok I didn’t read the whole paper – don’t hate me Tasha!), but I know it was along the lines of how our interpersonal relationships and emotions affect the risks we take. In other words, we know on a rational level the risks involved, but when you’re emotionally invested, you might do something stupid.

Yet rarely in HIV prevention campaigns do we talk about the emotional side of risk taking. I think there are other dynamics as well, such as low self-esteem, lack of personality personal identity and lack of a level of selfishness that puts ourselves first. Some of these are learnt as children and also developed as you mature (but usually post your early 20s). So if the foundation is weak, how can we try and rebuild from the middle of the structure?

And we can’t forget the environments we live in, if we can change the society then maybe we can find a way to get through these messages. But we also have to be honest and not judge people. For example, we need to be clear about the you can live a long and productive life if you test positive, as long as you take care of your health and have the healthcare infrastructure to support this, because let’s be honest, we’ve seen some people who have died within a few years of testing positive. Of course these can be explained, in most cases, but too often we want to gloss over any potentially uncomfortable or ‘sad’ information that might scare people or make them question what you’re telling them. But people aren’t stupid. If you give them all the information they can process it and make informed decisions or understand what happens when things don’t go as planned.

Or if you’re involved in multiple concurrent relationships, don’t tell people they are bad people for being in the relationship – make them safe, not ashamed.

If you tell them the nice, comfortable message and gloss over some of the facts, they don’t trust you – because it doesn’t add up. I’m losing my trail of thought here…

Anyway my point was that when it comes to HIV messaging, we’ve got to look beneath the layers and keep asking why until we get to the core. We need to stop jumping on the bandwagon of what the west powers that be in the HIV field say is the problem, or is the silver bullet. And there are some things that statistics can’t answer or capture – those are the issues of feelings and emotions that we need to learn to incorporate in everything we do. That is if we want to have impact and start making a difference in the HIV/AIDS response.

Time is something we never seem to have enough of. Recently I found out that a project that I have been working tirelessly on for the last 12 months is going to miss its deadline because some of the key players have spent time on what the finer points. Today I found out that my key artist for the project is going to be unavailable for the times we currently have to do that part of the project. I’m extremely frustrated that because nothing was done in a timely matter the whole timeline and project has been shot to hell. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

It’s interesting how the private sector works to a deadline but in the public sector the urgency isn’t quite there, it’s a wonder they get results. Luckily in this case because the project is so popular, I don’t think the time shift will be that big a deal, but I do think there’ll be a limitation on the impact.

This is why I’m not such a huge fan of the investment into evaluation. If the evaluation has already shown the success of a project and no additional funding comes for it, what was the point of the half a million dollar evaluation? Might as well have completely put that money into the project implementation.

At the end of the day, I’m just happy that the project is going to happen (fingers crossed, the contract isn’t yet signed). But I’m also looking into the future for the next project, if it takes this long to get it off the ground, better start working on funding for the next phase of the project. Oh wait, won’t they want the evaluation results first?

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations, both based on my own experience and experiences of some other companies I know, when it comes to working with what i’m now calling the new generation of development organisations. This new generation that likes to take private sector strategies to make them more effective and efficient (I’m guesisng that’s the thinking behind it). Generally speaking I think this could be good for them, as long as they are selective in the strategies they choose and don’t forget their core purpose. A company’s core goal is to make money, a non-profit or development organisation should be to benefit the lives of the communties they serve.

But, now I’m beginning to wonder if some of these development organisations have not lost sight of that with their branding strategies. There is the one organisation that have been given an opportunity to reach 60million viewers across Africa with their message on concurrency and HIV transmission and are on the verge of losing the opportunity merely because they want to direct how their logo should appear.

Another project I know of that has been almost at a standstill over how it will be branded for several months now, yet the core message of the project hasn’t even been discussed.

Am I the only one concerned by this trend?

I definitely understand the importance of these organisations wanting their recognition, especially if they put in the core funding for the project in the first place, but it can’t outweigh the benefits of reaching your intended audience with critical information. And if you invested $150,000 to reach 2-3million people, then isn’t this a massive win to reach an additonal 60 odd million?

Let’s be honest in today’s world anyway, the user has so many ways to find the source of anything – isn’t that exactly why the internet was invented? Well maybe not, but it does it anyway. So if a user sees something on tv, it’s only an internet search engine away to find out all there is about the product, including who is behind it.

And why is your brand so important to the consumer anyway? Exactly what service or product are you selling anyway? If you’re selling a condom for example, then yes, you want your brand name and/or logo all over the project. But if you’re selling the ability to make informed, responsible choices…? Not really sure how your brand comes to play in that. Though I guess you could say ‘because of the US government I have decided to use condom every time I have sex’. Hmmm, who actually says that?

On the other hand, if it’s for other donors where you get money from then why not just include it in your annual report? What are the chances that your donors will see the project in action, with your logo on it?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while brands are important and definitely getting your brand out there is important, must it come at the expense of the social, health, economic development message you’re working to achieve?