It was the year Google launched, the first Kyoto Protocol agreement for limiting greenhouse emissions signed, and Titanic won the Oscar for best film.1998 was also the year that WHO was about to declare HIV as the leading infectious cause of death globally and a one-off MTV “Staying Alive” documentary hosted by George Michael led to the establishment of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. As I prepare to leave as co-founder and Executive Director of the Foundation, naturally I’ve been reflecting on the past 25 years, and more importantly what the next 25 will bring.
From the beginning, MTV Staying Alive has led the way in storytelling with purpose and proven impact. Our diverse content, produced directly within the communities that we are working with, has been able to melt cultural barriers by telling authentic, local yet universal stories. We’ve been deliberate and thoughtful about who we work with, and what stories we’re telling. And we aimed to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. As we evolved we also broadened our focus from HIV prevention, to young people’s overall sexual health and reproductive rights, gender based violence, LGBTQ+ rights and mental health, reaching young people where they are consuming information, with content that they can relate to.
I’ve always tried to ensure that MTV Staying Alive “walks the talk”, so in recruiting for a new Executive Director, we intentionally looked to the global south, and held on to the idea of continuing as a women-led organisation.So I could not be more thrilled that Wame Jallow is now stepping into this role - her roots deeply in Southern Africa (where she’ll be based), paired with her years of experience, which I know will elevate the Foundation.She shares my belief that to truly make an impact and succeed in telling the stories of our communities, we must widen our lens to recognize the interconnectedness of economic, social, climate, rights and health justice.Because we know that these issues are inextricably linked, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives and those of young people – and we must continue to be brave and push against all the barriers that are placed in the way of young people (and in particular, girls and women, as well as the LGBTQ+ communities). It is in our hands to make a difference.
As I take my leave, I know that the Foundation has exciting times ahead. It will be broadening its work to take on the challenge of shifting social norms, particularly around gender equality, while it continues to create content around behavioural choices and demand-generation of new HIV and Family Planning products.
It goes without saying that none of the work over the past 25 years – and in the future – has been possible without a range of partners who’ve supported us as we have evolved.Our core partner, from day 1, has been Paramount Global, which will continue to support us as we evolve over the next few years.And there are a host of partners that have walked alongside us on our journey, whether they are the on-the-ground service providers, multilateral agencies or our donors. As the saying goes, success is best when its shared.
Finally, it was a huge honour to receive the special Leadership Award from UNAIDS – a UN programme that is determined to tackle the drivers of the epidemic, including the issues of poverty and inequality. This approach also underscores our own as we head into the next 25 years with even greater ambition and a focus on the changing realities and challenges facing young people today around the world. By normalising important, difficult topics and conversations for young people via entertaining, immersive and challenging content, our positive storytelling will continue to improve choices, and lives.
Being bold and brave has always been in the MTV Staying Alive Foundation’s DNA as we have looked beyond the statistics to the realities of young people’s lives. We can be rightly proud of the lasting, tangible impact we have made, combined with the determination to continue to support young people in all their diversity to take control of their lives and the choices they make. Our job is far from over, but we stride into the Foundation’s next life moment, deeply rooted in the global south and the realities of young people’s lives.