Background: YoungAfricaLive, launched on World Aids Day 2009, was a mobile community platform targeting young people through peer-to-peer interactivity and engagement around the issues of sex and relationships in the context of their social, cultural and economic situation. The platform reached over 1.85 million unique users through its services aimed at promoting healthy sexual behaviour. The project was first conceived and funded by Praekelt Foundation, and in partnership with Vodacom South Africa, the platform was hosted on Vodafone Live – providing a free service for users to access the website.
Target Population: Adolescents and Young People, Male and Female, All age range.
Technology: YoungAfricaLive was developed as a .mobi website. A .mobi website is one that is created to improve users web browsing experience on their mobile devices. Click here for full technical details.
Technology Use: YoungAfricaLive was developed after Praekelt Foundation discovered there was a lack of accessible HIV/AIDS information for youth in South Africa. Based on data from Statistics South Africa, for adolescents and adults aged 15–49 years, an estimated 16.6% of the population is HIV positive (StatsSA, 2015). The number of HIV infected persons in South Africa is greater than in any other country in the world.
The aim of the YoungAfricaLive was to provide information to youth across South Africa on sexual health, with a focus on HIV/AIDS, through the most accessible type of personal communication device at the time – basic feature phones. The service aimed to promote healthy sexual behaviour change through daily interactive engagements around topics affecting the lives of youth. According to a case study written by GSMA, this engagement was driven by the use of interactive social features, such as commenting and live chats (GSMA, 2016). The content of the .mobi site consisted of revolving content such regularly updated stories, live chats, and a series of permanent content pieces. The permanent content covered basic and essential facts about HIV and AIDS, as well as helpline/hotline numbers and linkages to referral organizations for timely support.
Articles on the platform were both informative and educational while giving users the chance to engage around the topic through adding their own comments. Local bloggers contributed to the daily articles which meant that the content on the platform as well as the users were both from the same target population. Occasional Live Group Chats allowed users to engage with experts as well as learn from the comments and questions posted by other community members. As the platform was hosted on Vodacom’s portal, the service was completely free for users.
In 2012, Praekelt Foundation and info4africa announced the integration of the info4africa HCT (HIV Counselling and Testing) database into the YoungAfricaLive platform. This service became an integral part of linkages to other services for users. The info4africa database (formerly HIVAN/HIV-911) was the most complete database of HCT (HIV Counselling and Testing) sites in South Africa at the time, allowing users to search for, and find their nearest HIV Counselling and Testing site anywhere in the country. info4africa specialised in data collection and referrals to over 12,000 health support services across the country.
Interviewed for this case study, Debbie Rogers, General Manager at Praekelt, explained “though the service has now been terminated, Praekelt Foundation along with the Ford Foundation and UNFPA have developed a new service, TuneMe, modeled off the success of YoungAfricaLive which is currently hosted on Facebook’s FreeBasics programme in 5 countries focusing on sexual and reproductive health. YoungAfricaLive has been re-branded to BeWise which is now being successfully run by the National Department of Health in South Africa.”
Organization and Partners: Praekelt Foundation uses open source technologies to deliver information services to more than 10 million people in over 40 countries. The organization partners with governments, NGOs and private companies to create programmes that provide target end users with information and access to improve their lives. The YoungAfricaLive was supported by funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Challenges and Lessons Learned: In terms of delivering this service, the Praekelt Foundation learned that free access drives regular user engagement and that placement of the service on the zero-rate MNO (Mobile-Network Operator, in this case, Vodacom South Africa) deck helped immensely to drive traffic. Rogers mentioned, “Driving traffic is just as important as content”.
Additionally, once a model has been proven, it is much easier to expand and improve based on the evidence presented to the MNO. MNO and content partners were critical to the success of Young Africa Live as Rogers explained, “It is important to develop the content along with partners as media budgets can run considerably high.” The Praekelt Foundation learnt that constant and consistent communication with MNOs about their own requirements had been critical to the success of the service. In terms of YoungAfricaLive’s design and operation, they learnt that simple functionality is often the most effective and that features based on interactivity and social engagement are key to promote the behaviour change they were hoping for (GSMA, 2016). Feedback from users is vital for constant iterations and improvement of the service. Also of importance to note is that such large-scale initiatives require large amounts of management for moderation of the community and provision of responses to maintain a positive and inclusive space for youth. Most importantly, Praekelt Foundation learned that there is high demand for such services amongst youth. They found that users were hungry for interaction and information. By 2014, the service had reached over 1.85 million users, had over 100million page views, and over 3 million comments from users.
Key challenges for scaling up of the YoungAfricaLive service included issues related to maintaining free access to the service in all regions of South Africa, finding affordable content and media partners, various operational and technical challenges, as well challenges around measuring the impact of the service on actual behavioural change amongst youth. Moderation and monitoring of a service with such a large user base is time and resource consuming, especially when considering a topic such as sexual health. Automation and community moderation can be a great help in this area moving forward, however, organizations wishing to launch such programmes must keep the time and budgetary requirements in mind.
A critical challenge arises in terms of measuring the social impact of the service as Rogers re-iterated “it is important to build up to topics around HIV/AIDS, rather than just jumping straight in. This can be a minefield from a monitoring and evaluation perspective”. Praekelt avoided branding the site as an AIDS portal to avoid stigma. From this perspective, monitoring and evaluation can prove to be challenging in measuring anticipated results and impact. While the service’s reach could be easily measured, it was much harder to measure its effect on behaviour change.
The YoungAfricaLive programme is no longer running, and the website no longer exists. To view information on the last Sex Poll conducted in 2013 under the YoungAfricaLive programme, visit http://www.youngafricalive.com/
This case study was compiled with interviews and information kindly provided by Praekelt Foundation:
- Mid-year population estimates 2015. Retrieved from https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0302/P03022015.pdf. Accessed on 20 March 2017.
- YoungAfricaLive. Retrieved from http://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Case_Study_-YoungAfricaLive.pdf. Accessed on 20 March 2017.