Game-changing ideas emerge to help turn the tide on HIV infections and enhance sexual and reproductive health in young women
Wits Business School (WBS), Reckitt Benckiser (RB) and its Durex brand, Gilead, and UNAIDS are pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural ‘Aspire, Higher’ sexual health innovation competition.
Three winning projects were chosen from five finalists at a live showcase event on 16 July 2020.
All five finalists were given a chance to answer questions posed by the judges, and to convince the panel why their idea deserved to go to the field trial stage. The winners were announced as:
- Imbokodao LaunchPad, developed by Jazman Simelane
- An out-of-school programme that seeks to change the prevalent negative mindset amongst youth in South Africa and includes creative, sports and adventure opportunities for young people and a business hub to assist women entrepreneurs transform their communities.
- Storm, proposed by Dinah Natto, Jane Rossouw and Theko Thamaga
- A movement that seeks to change attitudes and behaviours and empower women economically through online campaigns and site-based initiatives. The project uses cell phones to disseminate HIV prevention messages which is particularly relevant with the current Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. “Storm” will utilise social media and an SMS subscription service to provide effective sexual health education. The programme will be complemented by an in-school education service, community outreach and provision of sanitary protection and condoms via a social marketing campaign.
- The Gratitude Project, by Ditebogo Rametse, Letlhogonolo Tsoai and Lebogang Rametse
- This initiative uses technology to deliver wellness and leadership education using, among others, yoga for improved self-image. Using a WhatsApp Academy, the project will provide young women with the resources to make positive life choices. The project includes a digital leadership academy focused on starting and accelerating businesses through inspiring content and access to entrepreneurs; financial education to support both business and domestic budgeting, and sexual health and wellness education through yoga and daily affirmations.
The winning teams will each receive a share of £100 000 (R2.14-million) provided by RB and Durex, to conduct 12-month field trials. Taking this initiative even further, pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences has pledged a further £100 000 for the project that delivers the highest level of behaviour change during the trials, to scale up and implement their initiative.
Well-known journalist Redi Thlabi moderated, and the judges included HIV activist and YouTuber Saidy Brown; Director of UNAIDS (RST ESA) Aeneas Chuma; Chancellor of Wits University Dr Judy Dlamini; host of Sex Talk with Dr T, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng; Director of CAPSI at WBS Prof. Bheki Moyo; RB’s Global Category Director for Sexual Wellbeing, Ben Wilson, and Gilead’s Senior Vice President of Access Operations and Emerging Markets, Clifford Samuel.
‘Aspire, Higher’ was created to tackle the high number of new HIV infections in young South African women. It challenged WBS students and postgraduate students at Wits University to think about new ways of educating girls and young women so that they are empowered to take control of their sexual health and lives.
“We received 25 submissions, and the solutions the students came up with were truly mind-blowing. Women and girls carry the burden of HIV and STIs in sub-Saharan Africa. It has become urgent that we find new solutions, to invest in our young girls and provide them with the tools they need to do the work. These finalists have shown that we can achieve the Africa of our dreams,” said Tlhabi.
“Covid-19 has brought a new way of living, and a new way of approaching problems. This competition could not have come at a better time. No country can reach its developmental goals without empowering women,” commented Chuma.
All five finalists were united in their determination to change deep-seated attitudes towards condom use, to tackle the root causes of such attitudes and to engender a renewed sense of self-belief in young girls and women to ensure, ultimately, that they become economically independent.
“We want to see reduced teenage pregnancies and a reduction in HIV. We want young people to see what it looks like to succeed,” was how Mahlogonolo Mashile, one of the five finalists, put it.
Dr Dlamini noted that, although the goal of the ‘Aspire, Higher’ competition was to improve sexual education, the challenges go much further: “We have the pressing HIV issue now, but there are so many co-existing challenges – gender-based violence, femicide, patriarchy and toxic masculinity. It’s all in the same pot and that is why a complete change of mindset is needed for young women to take back control of their lives.
“Our winning students are bright, young people who are leaders in their communities. We recognise that it is our younger generation that needs to come up with solutions to sexual health issues and help the vulnerable to aspire to a better life.”