MTV Shuga shows that ‘edu-tainment’ changes lives.

By Kathi Hanifnia and Rachna Nag Chowdhuri

Nov 11, 2022

The MTV Staying Alive Foundation’s mission is to drive social change among youth. Fusing data-driven insights with pop culture is their modus operandi. The foundation is now scaling up its work in Africa and India, with the aim of mainstreaming gender equality.

Seeking to further extend the reach and impact of its taboo-defying ‘edu-tainment’ campaign, the MTV Staying Alive Foundation (SAF) has announced three upcoming campaigns. This is the first time the foundation will launch three consecutive campaigns in three geographic regions in an 18-month period – in Nigeria, using funds from GIF and others, and India.

MTV Shuga is a social-impact movement centred around a multi-award-winning television drama series. Based on formative research, the storytelling reflects the lives of the youth the series seeks to engage and highlights behavioural choices that encourage youth empowerment. In addition to the television drama series, the campaigns include approaches such as a graphic novel, a radio drama, social media, digital media, and a peer education programme designed for delivery in schools, community centres, and other safe spaces.

GIF’s involvement

GIF’s $675,000 grant, made in 2021, makes us one of a number of partners with the MTV Staying Alive Foundation who made this possible. Others included Unitaid, the Anglo American Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Paramount Global and Viacom 18.

At GIF, we decided to invest in The MTV Staying Alive Foundation based on existing strong evidence highlighting the impact of MTV Shuga productions on gender attitudes, behaviours, and gender-based violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. We invested based on the power of changing lives through storytelling, and also to support the MTV Staying Alive Foundation to cultivate local and female talent to generate gender transformative media and thereby nudge the media ecosystem to become more gender progressive in Nigeria. As part of this mission, the foundation recently announced a Talent Accelerator Program which will invest in female creatives within the Nigerian film industry in tandem with the release of its new series.

The MTV Shuga campaign has recorded significant behavioural changes and increased awareness in the countries where the series has aired. The MTV Staying Alive Foundation itself also conducted a randomised controlled trial in collaboration with the World Bank which showed that MTV Shuga doubled HIV testing, reduced sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and even reduced sexual violence amongst young audiences.

MTV Shuga campaigns have reached wide audiences across Kenya, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, India, and beyond. This includes a weekly 20% national audience share from a single broadcast platform in South Africa, and more than 30 million views on YouTube. Studies to see how viewers were affected found that those who watched the show were twice as likely to get tested for HIV, and male viewers were 21% less likely to justify violence.

According to Georgia Arnold, Executive Director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, if a young person has interacted with MTV Shuga, it has a positive impact on their behavioural choices and on their lives.

She said: “This has inspired us to scale up our campaigns and broaden our messaging to include social issues like gender equity and substance abuse, as well as health issues like Tuberculosis, Covid-19 and mental health. I’m excited that we’ll be able to reach even more young people, empowering them to make informed decisions about the social and health issues they encounter.”

The upcoming campaigns

With two decades of experience creating impactful HIV prevention and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) edutainment content, MTV Shuga will now embark on a journey to tackle other social issues faced by young people in Africa and India today.

Each of the MTV Shuga campaigns will focus on pressing issues relevant to the youth of the region in which they will be launched. The Nigerian campaign will continue to address HIV prevention and will encourage conversations around gender-based violence and gender equity. It will also raise awareness around the risks of Covid-19 and encourage vaccination. The South African campaign will focus on HIV prevention, tuberculosis, substance abuse, and comprehensive SRHR. The Indian campaign will also tackle tuberculosis and SRHR. All three campaigns will help to highlight issues that are often not discussed openly among family, partners, and friends.

“The upcoming MTV Shuga campaigns are poised to uplift and empower youth across the African continent and in India. Over 50% of youth globally reside in Africa and India, so the impact we are hoping to make is no small feat. Not only are we excited about the TV series, radio and digital content, but we are thrilled to be taking these messages directly to the youth on the ground through peer-education. By enlisting the youth to be a part of the change, we ensure that they are not just passively consuming our edutainment content but are included in the solution” said Monde Twala, Senior Vice President Paramount Africa, Peer Lead BET International, and MTV Staying Alive Board Member.

MTV Nishedh will premiere in 2022; MTV Shuga Naija and MTV Shuga Down South in 2023. All episodes of MTV Nishedh will be available on the free version of VOOT, and the Jio app post the airing on television. The MTV Shuga Naija and Down South series will premiere on Nigerian channels including MTV Base, BET and SABc, followed by YouTube and Facebook for international audiences. All MTV Shuga seasons will be available on Netflix and after broadcast on TV and will then air on national broadcasters within a few weeks of launching.