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I love what I do. I really do. The ability to use creativity and mass media to promote social issues is like having your cake and eating it too, well for me it is.

I like working on productions that involve using media, be it TV, print, digital and these days I’m kinda getting into radio (ok not really, but I can see potential in it) but I also like like being able to contribute to how people can positively develop themselves and their communities, whether that’s through HIV campaigns to educating people to vote.

In the last couple of months I’ve worked on two campaigns that I’m really proud of, one that I have worked on for the last 2 years – being the Shuga campaign for MTV – they’re on set filming right now in Kenya! And since I moved back to Zambia, I’ve been working – with the Media 365 team – on a campaign targeted at men which launched a couple of weeks ago. Very exciting stuff.

But doing all that doesn’t come without it’s challenges. I have new found respect for people who have more than one job – and do all of them well. Finding the energy and time to do a good job – because it is in my nature, I refuse to give less than 100% – that becomes really taxing on your soul and your spirit. I feel like I’ve been giving so much that sometimes I don’t know whether I’m coming on going.

That said when I see the pictures from the set, or the finished products from the Zambia campaign, I feel so excited and pumped and that keeps me going. There is nothing like seeing all your hardwork come together.

When it’s not a product you own, but you’re doing something on behalf of a paying client, that’s another challenge. You understand the medium you’re using, the client, not so much. So finding the middle ground between pleasing the client and delivering a really good product that resonates with the audience is always a challenge.

We sometimes joke in the office that we should have a wall of our favourite (and sometimes ridiculous things) clients say – to save them the embarrassment and to reduce our pain. Some of these are – and thankfully with these two clients I’ve worked with this year have not said any of the below (well I wouldn’t very well diss them on my blog anyway!):

Upon seeing the first version of a recorded TV product: ‘Can you make her say blah blah blah instead?’ erm… no because she didn’t say it, we’d have to re-shoot that.

‘So will they pick the question out of a box?’ in response to giving client the reference of who wants to be a millionaire for a quiz format programme

Actually, I’ll leave the rest just in case I do decide to have that wall just for the fun of it!

You never quite do what you really want to do when you’re not paying for the product and sometimes clients don’t want to take the necessary risks to enhance the product. And that’s the price you pay when you are the supplier and not the owner.

Another challenge I’ve found – but then this has always been in my career so far, but maybe more enhanced as I am constantly being pushed – is managing different personalities. It’s not always that you get to work with people who are on the same page with you or have the same personalities that you have. And really you wouldn’t want to – that’s the beauty of diversity, it allows you to learn more about yourself as well as grow as a person, as long as you’re willing to listen and be open to acknowledging your own flaws and faults.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you feel that people are constantly picking at your flaws so you need to know when to listen and do something about it, or when to realise that sometimes people project their own issues on to you, and keep your mouth shut instead of react.

Building an empire is hard, but who said anything worth anything was easy to get? (except maybe in the relationship sense!)

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.

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?

I just came back from Lagos, Nigeria. I was out there to support MTV’s Africa Award (MAMA) show which was amazing. I also went to Lagos to try to leverage resources for the production and campaign of Shuga 2, both through non-profit and commercial organisations, which led me to UNICEF.

Having a great global relationship with UNICEF, thought it would be good to meet with UNICEF in Lagos and give them first option to buy into Shuga. It was such an insightful meeting – maybe not necessarily for Shuga, but more insight of how HIV/AIDS is impacting people in Nigeria.

Like many places with low prevalence rates but large populations, Nigeria is still not taking HIV/AIDS as seriously as they should. Vulnerable people such as street children are significantly hard to reach – not only because they move around, but because programmes aren’t created for them with them. Policy papers and briefing notes aren’t truly capturing what these kids are going through, it’s the same issues that you read about but not really reflective of what is going on.

Sara, the head of UNICEF out there in Lagos, said she was not prepared for what she heard when she talked to street kids. Having previously served in Nepal, she was used to hearing shocking stories from the streets, but being told about kids selling kids for sex and their casual discussion of drug use, still upset her.

I can’t lie, it upset me too, and I wasn’t hearing it first hand. We talked about how to make sure that whatever we did was sustainable – these kids left home for a reason, we couldn’t be another group to let them down.

It’s not an easy project at all and one that will cost significant resources to undertake. I do get when Gates and others are saying that we’ve got to find cheaper solutions that are effective but I think the problem is everyone is now looking at the $ sign and not the actual project or innovative solution. Also I don’t get the idea of evidence base – evidence shows that peer education doesn’t work that well but people are still putting money into it. Evidence shows that media campaigns can and do work, but no one is investing in the right media initiatives. So… what’s really going on?

I think we could do something really good and rewarding, and informative for street kids and maybe even manage to create some sort of economic solution for them, but can we find the money for it? I hope so, I hope between UNICEF and MTV we have enough clout to make this project work, at least for the sake of those kids. Who knows, if it works in Nigeria, we could roll it out across other regions.

On the other side, the MAMAs were amazing – African music is set to take over the world. They have been in the shadows too long, but they are ready. The eclectic mix of artists from all over the continent – the best of the best – coupled with Eve, Rick Ross and T-Pain and the legendary Public Enemy gave an explosive experience that shows why MTV still is the best at what they do.

So nice to see something positive coming out of Africa again. When you live in the West, it’s easy to forget how much positive stuff is going on in Africa as all you ever hear about here is poverty, pain, civil strife, corruption and a host of other negative stories. If I for a moment wasn’t proud to be African, the MAMAs reminds me of everything that is right about Africa and makes me hold my head up just that much higher.

With the International AIDS Conference just over a month away, we’ve decided our focus for the conference is going to be on leadership – yeah, we know the theme is rights, but hey, leadership is equally important.

And it got me thinking, leadership in the fight against HIV is crucial, it just is, but then again leadership in general is just as important. And i mean this in our every day life, yet few people are willing to take up that leadership position and I wonder why?

I don’t mean leadership in the sense of ruling over the masses, but much more about taking control of your life and responsibility for your actions and the decisions we make. I find this too often in the work place, people are generally afraid to make decisions. I would understand this predicament if they weren’t empowered to do so, though that begs the question of who is not empowering them to do so?

Maybe I’ve never worked for a controlling, tyranny of a boss (because that would be me), so I’ve always had a sense of getting on with the job and making decisions. It helps to have strong convictions that you’re right!

I don’t always get it right, but I learn, dust myself off and move on. I’m not sitting around waiting to be told, I just get on with it, freeing up time for my line manager who doesn’t need to micromanage me. I don’t understand why other people can’t do this. I believe when you are given responsibility for something, a project, an event, a business unit, or even just a title, you have been empowered to take the leadership role for that initiative. There isn’t any excuse not to be a leader.

Now leadership in my personal life? Ok, that one I’m still trying to figure out, in that case I’m much more of a reluctant leader – I find it easier to make a decision on a $1million project, than what I should eat for dinner (the healthy option or the one I really want to eat despite the pounds it will add to my waistline). My conviction in my sense of self isn’t quite as strong I suppose.

Focusing on personal leadership and responsibility is so important. We can’t expect the so called leaders to solve all our collective problems, and sitting around moaning about it isn’t going to help either, but personal responsibility and personal leadership might just tip the scales in our favour. Just saying…

I’m back in London and feeling quite energised after my trip to LA – not only because of the refreshing weather (which obviously did help), but because of the research agenda conference. I was quite hasty in my judgment of the ‘research’ people not being able to think outside the box, because by the end of the two days they had proved me wrong, with some really insightful approaches. It’s given me the desire to want to do something new.

The research stuff was also interesting – I was worried that they’d use jargon that I’d have no idea what they were talking about, but a lot of it was in layman’s terms. They also did a lot of stuff on social networking that was really interesting. One of the most interesting presentations revolved around the idea of social networks being associated with behaviour – ultimately people associate with others like themselves.

It seems obvious enough – and actually if you’ve ever been to any school with the cliques (or even in workplace settings coming to think of it), you’ll know how important the influences in these networks can be, and even the importance of your social networks. Such thinking helps you to target your efforts – think about it, the diffusers of change will be faster when led by popular opinion leaders (think Oprah).

Now I need to figure out how to identify the influencers for our audience… Though thinking about it, it’s probably the people we see in popular culture… hmmmm that might be a bit of a problem. Let me think about that one.

I’m really excited that next week I’ll be participating in the Hollywood Health and Society research conference in LA. And not only because I’ll be in LA and getting away from this lovely British weather!
The conference aims to bring together top researchers to discuss the challenges and limitations and way forward with research on entertainment education and global health policy. Ok written down it does seem quite boring.
It is fascinating though. For some of us who have been doing entertainment education for well over 10 years (scary but true), this really is interesting. Instinctively you know it works (entertainment education that is), and you can do focus groups, and survey people on intentions/actions as a result of the programme or track feedback, calls to helplines, traffic to sites etc, but is that enough?
So what is the research you need to be doing and if its self-reported, how do you know its true? Other limitations are the obvious ones with focus groups – how do you know participants aren’t telling you what you want to hear? I’m not a researcher so those are the thoughts that come to my mind but I’m sure a good, qualified researcher knows how to combat this… I guess.

But when you work in a global environment where people are different, they receive and respond to messages differently, and indeed even the message delivery is different, how do you measure it in order to do effective comparisons? These are the questions I ask myself whenever we air a show globally. Is it ineffective if people in one part of the world didn’t like it, or if it didn’t move them to act or engage? Or is it all good as long as someone somewhere in the world got it?
The more I work in this sector – of entertainment education – the more I want to make sure we’re getting it right, so I’m excited to go to this conference, just at the thought of learning something that might positively impact my work – that and the fact that I’ll be near the beach!

Reverand Al Sharpton was the guest speaker at an event hosted by Operation Black Vote, while he spoke specifically about racisim and social injustice, his words moved to me think about the fight against AIDS. One of the things he spoke about was being relevant, about standing up and being counted.
That’s what we need to think about in our individual role in the global response to HIV/AIDS. We need to ask ourselves, are we doing all we can do? Or are we accepting the status quo?
The epidemic does seem insurmountable but the reality is, all battles that need to be won seem that way, but we battle on if we want to see a change. And each and every one of us has to play a role. We can make excuses that it’s a problem over there, that all things are equal and people should be able to access life-saving treatment, or that there are a lot of people already working on the issue, will one more person make a difference. Or whatever excuse you tell yourself to not get involved. But if you’re not engaged, you’re irrelevant – well that’s what the Reverand says and honestly, it makes sense.
And it’s not just about AIDS, its about all the other social ills in our society and the injustice that surrounds us, like what’s going on in Haiti. Haiti is poor for many reasons and one of the reasons is because of the economic injustice that engulfs it. Funningly enough, some people are now saying that that’s actually lucky for them because the poor structures of the buildings might just be what has saved lots of people. Hmmmmm…
But I’m going off on a tangent. My point is, be relevant, however you chose to be, just be relevant.

People, especially in the health sector, claim that scare-mongering doesn’t work when trying to communicate prevention messages. I’m not so sure I agree with this. Time and time again the ad that people, certainly in the UK, remember regarding HIV is the Tombstone PSA. You watch it today and think it’s just plain ridiculous – the grim reaper killing people like it’s a bowling game! But something about it worked.
Then today, you read about the woman in Detroit who created the hoax video about how she had slept with 500 men and infected them all – people’s boyfriends and husbands, just to drive home the message that you could be the partner of one of these men. People called it in, fear of a public health scare. But the testing clinic in Detroit saw its numbers jump significantly after over 17,000 viewed the spot. Surely that’s done more for HIV than some other more pc campaigns have done?
I do think people respond to basic emotions and fear is one of them. Yes you have to be careful not to preach the HIV+ = Death message, but the reality is, unfortunately, that if you have HIV you are going to die. Having lost relatives and still have relatives afflicted with this virus, I hate to say that, but we’ve got to be realistic. This isn’t a nice virus we’re dealing with, when it’s bad, it’s bad.
I think you need to use different tactics/messages to reach different people and some people do respond to fear, we can’t get away from that.
Messaging is really hard to deal with, but I think I’d focus more on longer formats, like documentaries and films or drama series, because then you can focus on the complex nature and issues that surround the virus. Maybe there’s a way you can tell people that if they get HIV they will die (eventually) without telling that that they will die and putting the fear into them.