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A year ago I tried everything to get out of going to the AIDS conference. I’ve been to every AIDS Conference since Durban (2000) bar Bangkok and I’ve just been feeling the AIDS fatigue bug myself. So when it was decided that I was leading our initiatives at this year’s conference in Vienna, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy.

Technically I should have been. I knew before we even saw the results, that we’d be announcing the impact evaluation results from our multi-country study of the Ignite project – which I led – and there was the Viacom initiatives as part of the HIV/AIDS sub-committe that I co-chair, so technically it made sense that I should lead our involvement. I still wasn’t jumping for joy.

The results from our programming are worth going to Vienna for. And in true MTV style we’ve made it a bit of an event (on a budget). Viacom isn’t scaling back either, we’re having our biggest booth, therefore presence, than ever before, and we’re aiming to top our Mexico party (hard to do, but I’m feeling our leadership in action theme). Today I saw the remaining artwork for the signage and I’m actually excited about going to Vienna.

I’m excited because we’re showing that we do care. As a company we could just pay lip-service, but with the presence of the senior executives attending as well as our investment in these events, I think we are saying, we care, we matter, and we want to keep being involved.

And somewhere along the line I hope to learn a lot, but not get information overload. I was actually looking at the new UNAIDS report and was glad to see that it was in an easy to digest format, and with a decent number of pages that didn’t make me have to put aside too much time to go through it. I like the fact that UNAIDS is prioritising youth leadership – as I’ve always had a problem with tokenism but also with youth thinking they’re entitled to Lord knows what – but to have them meaningfully engaged, that’s what matters. As long as they know that they too have to put the work in. Leadership is a huge responsibility. As I say, great leaders are born, but anyone can learn to be a leader, as long as they take up the challenge themselves.

But I’ll also be glad when the conference is over – so I can get some sleep. Going to bed at 2am two nights in a row is no fun. Today, I had to give in and attempt to go to bed early – I should hit my usual 11ish bed time. Though when I get back from Vienna, I’m in London for like two days before I jet off to Joburg for a planning meeting with the base Africa team. Happy days.

Anyway look out for my blogs while in Vienna, I’ll keep you posted.

I’m tired. I’m working hard and long hours, all in the run up to the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, in a couple of weeks. But I’m excited too. Yes in the past Staying Alive has done major events at the conference – The Bill Clinton Forum in 2002, 48 Fest Toronto in 2006, Sex Uncovered in 2008 (though that wasn’t too major), but I actually feel like this is a major year for us. We announce the results of our multi-country evaluation (Trinidad & Tobago, Kenya and Zambia) for the Ignite campaign. I’ve heard them so I’m pretty stoked and can’t wait to make them public!

We’re having a massive booth where we’ll be doing some pretty cool stuff – can’t say what yet – not that it’s top secretive but the woman responsible for it, likes to think it is. And then there’s is the Viacom Leadership in Action party – can’t wait for that either! I don’t know how we can top the 2008 party in Mexico, which was held on the roof of a stunning boutique hotel – but hey, it was Mexico, can you really compete? We will have top leaders like Michel Sidebe and my girl Marvelyn Brown share their thoughts on leadership in the response to HIV/AIDS.

Because I’ve made it a personal challenge to make HIV more accessible to young people, I worked closely with Ben (a coordinator in the team), who I’ve made responsible for community engagement, to come up with a theme for our online space to bring the theme of the conference to our audience. So last Monday, we kicked off a campaign called ‘The Right to Be Me’, it’s a series of empowering articles from ordinary people who’ve overcome adversity. The idea is to formulate what rights mean to each person, but also to encourage, inspire and empower our audience as we campaign for universal access to prevention. Check out the site to see what’s up there. We’ll also be putting up celebrity interviews on their perspective of their right to be themselves.

So it’s busy times over at staying alive HQ but I’m really excited, as I’m leading the efforts on our presence at Vienna and so far it’s been good, even if there are a lot of late nights and stress – is it weird that I enjoy the pressure? Well it’s because I know it will be worth it in the end.

Though I have to admit, I’m very curious to see the impact of our evaluation – for years people have talked about the importance of result proven strategies (though I’m very much of the school of trust your instincts, as long as you know your audience), so let’s see how this will be received. I’m excited – who needs sleep?!

last night i went to a panel discussion on how you can measure the success of digital projects. of course this was of interest to me because with us living in such a ‘digital word’, it’s important that our sexual health campaigns have a strong component that uses digital properties, such as websites, twitter, facebook, youtube etc.
while this adds to our multi-platform offering, there’s also a struggle to figure out what is success – in a meaningful way other than just x thousands/millions of people visited the site over a period of time. and let’s be honest those figures can be subjective too. what they were saying last night, and i really felt was spot on, it’s got to be about engagement. how are users engaging with the campaign, with the brand?
this could be measured by anything from the amount of time they spend on the site – if they’re spending time on the site they’re engaged by something – to things like how they’re commenting, what they’re commenting on – basically it’s got to be about the user experience. Ultimately if we seek to identify the actual human interaction on the site – or whatever the digital offering is – then we can see a level of ‘customer satisfaction’.
it was based on commerical projects and tv programmes, but i thought this was interesting for HIV/AIDS projects that use digital media as well. after doing a google search i found there weren’t that many sites for the user on HIV/AIDS anyway – the user being young people that is. the other day i really struggled to find a site for young people that explained MCP in a way that was relevant to them.
this led me to thinking – how can we do educational campaigns without having this information readily available for young people in a language and a medium that’s accessible for them? yeah you have unaids and avert, but really, are these sites young people want to go to?
and that was another thing that they said on the panel – don’t focus on bringing the people to your branded site, instead take the content to where they already are. and make it easy to find.
i think at staying alive we are using digital in a good way, we have some really strong online properties, but we also have the challenge of figuring out how to capture that new audience – so that we’re not preaching to the choir – and engaging with them.
so far we’ve seen some success with our blogs, but definitely with facebook and twitter. i have to admit, i’m not on twitter – i just don’t get it (from an personal perspective) – but it works, it’s a great tool to keep people updated and even sending them to our various websites.
where i think we’re falling short is the information we give out. yes, our strength is not in the actual information, but i think we have a real opportunity where young people trust us as a credible and cool source that we should be giving them more of the hard information. to be fair we are doing this a bit better with our blogs for our ignite project. they’re written by young people themselves and they talk about various topics relating to sexual health, which i think this is a good thing. they talk about relationships, one night stands, getting circumcised etc, stuff that we want them to know about about, putting across information while entertaining the user.
we still have the challenge of getting those users to leave comments, so that we know that we’re doing something right or what we’re doing wrong.
so i do believe that now, more than ever, whether you’re addressing young people in Africa or young people in Europe, you need digital components to your projects. you just need to figure out how to make sure its the user experience in mind – and not about your brand – whether you’re an NGO or a UN agency or a company with a CSR agenda. and there’s nothing wrong with going to someone with more experience – like us!