This World AIDS Day marked our 20th anniversary. To celebrate, here’s a list of 20 of some of our top moments from over the years. And seeing as we’ve been a pioneering charity reaching over 3.2 million young people around the world with the power of the MTV brand and talent behind us (*and breathe*), there’ve been a lot of highlights.
1. when we started with george michael
In 1998 pop icon George Michael hosted our very first documentary ‘Staying Alive’ which followed young people who were brave enough to speak out about their experiences with HIV and AIDS (it was a scarier and more taboo topic back then). It won an Emmy, and triggered the creation of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation.
We saw that young people were not only being hugely affected by HIV but that they were the key to tackling it, and we’ve spent every day since investing in them.
2. when nelson mandela appeared in a staying alive special
It was a pretty big deal. In 2003 Nelson Mandela told his life story to five young people on camera, and one of them was Henry Hudson who was from Uganda and HIV-positive. He had lost his family to AIDS, and was an amazing activist. He’s been with us since and is now the Vice Chair of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation Board.
P.S. this MTV Staying Alive special was hosted by none other than Beyoncé Knowles. Can we say we made her famous? That’s probably too far…
3. when mtv shuga was born
In 2009, our first season of MTV Shuga aired in Kenya. MTV Shuga is our big media campaign (it’s reached 180 broadcasters globally), and at the centre of it is our coming-of-age drama series that explores all things sex and relationships, and tackles all the taboo issues that many people, particularly in places like sub-Saharan Africa, don’t feel they can talk about.
Huge in parts of Africa, especially the places it’s been set in (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), it’s an addictive entertainment with important messaging, and it’s actually been proven to change the behaviours of people watching it. Turns out that watching a character you like struggle through discovering they have HIV is more likely to push you to get tested than being told to in a classroom. Makes sense when you think about it.
4. when we gave out our first grant
In 2005, MTV Staying Alive gave out its first grant to young leaders trying to wipe out HIV around the world. Over our 20 years, we’ve supported 217 youth-led initiatives and given out more than $6 million to our grantees.
It really has become a movement – the young people we’ve supported have helped us test 270,000 young people for HIV, and distribute 9.7 million condoms. So many condoms.
5. when we discovered lupita nyong’o
Before Lupita became a global star and, ya know, an Academy Award winner, she starred in our very own MTV Shuga.
We always support local talent and discover amazing new cast members through open auditions in each country the seasons are set in. So far we’ve been to Kenya (where we found Lupita), Nigeria and South Africa. But keep an eye out as we may soon be venturing elsewhere…
6. when mtv re:define became a reality
In 2011, we did our first MTV RE:DEFINE, our (now annual) charity art exhibition and auction in partnership with the Goss-Michael Foundation. We’ve had some incredible art created especially for us and worked with some of the biggest artists in the industry. It’s raised over $11 million for MTV Staying Alive to date.
7. when kelly rowland nailed it as our ambassador
Kelly travelled with us to South Africa and met some of the young people we work with there. She then went on to perform at a local concert and spoke to the crowd about how important it is to look after yourself and practice safe sex. It. Was. Awesome.
8. when we partnered with the body shop
We collab-ed with The Body Shop for years. In 2007 we had a classy co-branded fragrance out called Rougeberry Eau de Toilette to raise money for MTV Staying Alive. In 2009 they created a limited edition lip butter to raise money again, and the campaign spanned 44 countries and reached millions of under-25s.
9. when we created these hilarious videos to raise awareness
They show that when it comes to campaigning for safe sex, a little humour goes a long way!
10. when we partnered with h&m
H&M clothing got a fun re-imagining when their Fashion Against AIDS collection was designed by artists and illustrators from many different countries, adding a cultural and more global feel to H&Ms usual style. Whether buying African-inspired blouses or Inuit inspired T-shirts from Greenland, the idea was that global tribes were all uniting together to raise money for lots of international HIV/AIDS charities, including us!
We also did a campaign with Nasty Girl recently where we got influencers talking about safe sex and female pleasure, and made our own amazing attitude-y tees, which you can buy here.
11. when we partnered with durex
One of our fave recent moments was when we partnered with Durex for our World AIDS Day campaign centred around emojis. We made our own sexy emoji keyboard and encouraged everyone to make sex a threesome (by adding a condom, obviously!) The video was pretty fun to make…
12. when we started partnering with kiehl’s
Since 2015 we’ve been partnering with Kiehl’s which means every year our celebrity ambassadors have been able to design their very own limited edition Kiehl’s products to raise money for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. Among those to create various body butters are Leona Lewis, Laura Mvula, Tinie Tempah, and Ella Eyre.
13. when tinie tempah worked with us
Tinie Tempah was an amazing ambassador for us back in 2015. He helped us to raise awareness about the spread of HIV in loads of different ways, and it became clear how passionate he was about the cause when he did this interview with Becca Dudley all about the partnership…
14. when we won loads of awards
Over the years we’ve won loads of awards for our work, and each win meant a lot. Our first one was for our second MTV Shuga series – an Edutainment Africa Award in 2010. Over the following seasons we’ve won lots more, including at the Third Sector Awards, World Media Festival Gold, and SAFTA.
15. dick the dog
Dick The Dog was a PSA we made a couple of years ago. It tells the story of a (cartoon) dog that has an uncanny resemblance to a particular male body part jumping into various holes and whatnot. But his owner put a protective covering (basically a condom) covering around him beforehand. We love a good euphemism.
16. when damien hirst painted for us
This incredible original was created for MTV:REDEFINE to raise money for MTV Staying Alive, and it completely blew us away.
17. when we did two tedtalks in a row
Co-founder of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation Georgia Arnold has done many, many speeches in her time. But this year has seen her do not one, but two TEDTalks around the UK all about safe sex and what MTV Staying Alive is all about. You can watch the first one here. Stay tuned for the second!
18. when ella eyre did our summer campaign video
Ella Eyre has been an amazing ambassador for us this year already. Not only did she design an amazing Pride-themed Kiehl’s product this year to help raise money and awareness for us, but she did an amazing job starring in our PSA with One Condoms all about staying safe and (of course) having fun, back in the summer.
19. when celebs at the emas talked safe sex
When we asked celebs last year at the EMAs about safe sex, it turned out they all felt pretty passionately about the topic. Lana Del Rey said she always feels happiest when she knows she’s protecting herself and told everyone to put their safety first, while Charlie XCX said she didn’t think it was an embarrassing topic but a very important one that we should be talking about more, calling safe sex is “crucial”.
20. when we turned 20
Turning 20 is a huge milestone, and we’re so happy that 20 years on, we’re helping to empower and protect more young people at risk of contracting HIV than ever. It’s amazing how far the fight against HIV has come and how much progress in treatments have been made but, rest assured, we’ll keep fighting until HIV is eliminated for good.