We are delighted to announce the appointment of Ben Plumley as the new Chair of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation.
Ben formally took up the post on 2nd September 2019. He is taking over from Bill Roedy, who stepped down as Chair in July, and is now the Chair Emeritus of the Foundation.
Born in the U.K., Ben is a California-based global health advocate and strategist. Ben became an AIDS advocate in his late teens, volunteering for the UK’s Terence Higgins Trust. He graduated from Churchill College, Cambridge University, and since then has worked for non-profits, and in both the public and private sector, including as the CEO of the global think tank, Pangea; director of the Executive Office at UNAIDS, and the first Executive Director of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.
He has wide Board experience, including the California Prevention Education Project in Oakland, The San Francisco Community Health Canter, AIDS Care China and from 2010 to 2017, and is a Board Member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition.
Read our Q&A with Ben on his new role:
What was your view of MTV SAF coming in as the new chair?
B: It was an honor, not only to join the Board, but to succeed Bill Roedy as Chair of MTV SAF. Staying Alive, under his mentorship, has grown to be one of the most impactful HIV and reproductive health information and education tools young people have across sub Saharan Africa. It combines narrative with real life experience, that is basically, very unique in the world of public health. Everyone I have worked with global health have asked how can we be more like MTV Staying Alive – and that’s true for AIDS, TB, Malaria, sexual health, ebola – the list is pretty endless, actually!
What do you see as the role of a chair?
B: I think the chair’s role is threefold – first and foremost to support Georgia Arnold and her incredible team who the hard work, day in day out. We need to explore new financial support for Staying Alive, we need to be ambassadors for the brand and the mission – and finally, making sure we do the the dull-as-dishwater but very important governance responsibilities of the Foundation – making sure our reports are filed the right authorities in the US and UK for our charitable status. And the Chair’s job is to make sure all this happens!
How has your previous experience prepared you for this role?
B: I have worked in pandemics preparation and response for nearly 25 years – from establishing workplace awareness and testing programs for AIDS, TB and Malaria, to helping companies and organizations develop rapid response programs for ebola. At the UN Program on AIDS, I made sure that controversial HIV prevention strategies for sex workers and people who inject drugs, got approved by the members of its Program Coordinating Board – despite acute political differences across different countries. I have also been fascinated about how media – terrestrial, satellite and internet broadcasting and increasing the new social network and digital media formats offer us an opportunity to expand awareness of disease prevention and treatment. Earlier this year I began my own podcast “A Shot In The Arm” to explore global health and human rights, and I have been amazed at how people with a wide range of interests and from an incredible diversity of locations can be brought together and think about what the right solutions are for them.
I have also been on many boards of international and local AIDS organizations over the last few years , and learned how important it is for Boards to support the work of staff – they are the front line workers that need advice, mentoring – and sometimes just a chance to natter.
Also, I know how important youth culture is – how invaluable it was for me in London in the early 1990s, as I began to find my soul and personality, my likes and dislikes. I understood then, how impactful youth culture could be – as the extent of risks posed by HIV revealed itself to the London LGBT community. We trusted people who knew us and could speak our language. I think that is a lesson that MTV SAF has at its heart. I will never forget a line from an early 1990s Pet Shop Boys track Young Offenders “I’ve been a teenager since before you were born.” It is a funny remark, but it so, so not true. What is brilliant about youth culture, and what MTV totally understands, is that youth culture is constantly reinventing itself. Health promotion has to follow that lead.
What has drawn you to MTV SAF’s work?
B: MTV SAF has been at the forefront of keeping HIV and reproductive health information relevant and fresh for new generations of young people for over 20 years. It is the leader in the field that we all of us working in global health aspire to.
With your experience and skillset, what changes would you make to the board?
B: Oh, MTV SAF has an amazing Board, and my first job is to learn. We also have some incredible new members, who recently joined like me, and I’m looking forward to working with them to ensure we add value to the important global work of MTV Staying Alive.
What will be the boards focus in the long run?
B: The MTV SAF Board has to do what the board does for every highly successful organization – help raise money, be ambassadors with important stakeholders, and make sure that the governance runs smoothly. I am very clear that my job is to continue and grow the legacy of Bill Roedy, MTV SAF’s previous Chair.
As new Chair, what do you hope to bring to the board?
B: I have worked in international health, pandemics preparation, reproductive health and community development for all my career. I hope I can offer MTV SAF access to my networks and share the lessons I have learned. I also hope that my dry English sense of humor will keep board meetings from running over or becoming boring – but knowing my other Board members, Georgia and her team, there is no chance of that anyway!
What is something you think SAF could do better?
B: I love what MTV SAF does. So I want to see more of the same: MTV Shuga is the most effective HIV promotion tool for young people in the world. And so if you were to push me to say what more we can do – I’d say, I would love to see us reach more communities – I am particularly thinking of young African Americans, straight and gay, in the USA.
(oh and obviously (and here is absolutely where the SAF team will be rolling its eyes) , I’d love for the Pet Shop Boys to do a charity concert for MTV Staying Alive…)