MTV Shuga is a 360-degree TV drama campaign, which uses the MTV Brand and pop culture to deliver relatable storylines that mirror the lives of young people.
The drama series has also produced several spectacular acting talents, especially Nigeria’s Timini Egbuson and Lupita Nyongo, a Kenyan actor, who has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
In this interview, Anita Aiyudu-Adesiyan, country manager, MTV Staying Alive Foundation, Nigeria, and producers of the drama series, speaks to Obinna Emelike on the impact of the platform on talent discovery, improving health with storylines, the past sessions, what the new seasons holds for viewers, among others. Excerpt.
What is unique about MTV Shuga Naija?
MTV Shuga Naija is a gold standard model for behavior change and is put together by the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. We are global experts in the creation of social and behavior change content for young people, while spearheading demand generation content through our story telling.
Our story telling is driven by young people’s experiences. What makes us unique is that we harness the power of the MTV Brand and pop culture to deliver relatable storylines that mirror the lives of young people, while fostering key partnerships with government and private health agencies to provide health services for our audience who require counselling or treatment after watching our content. Our approach has always been to align with funders and partners on the messaging for each region before we go ahead to get technical information that identify the different barriers to change. We facilitate on the ground research through focus group discussions and surveys in the identified regions. The data gathered is what shapes the campaign narrative.
We have a great track record of proven impact across sub–Saharan Africa through independent evaluations that have been carried out on different campaigns launched and this has set us apart as thought leaders in delivering social change. Through our strategic partnerships with MTV Base, BET Africa and other third-party broadcast partners, we have been able to effectively reach over 720 million households across Africa. MTV Shuga Naija has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Unitaid, Global Innovation Fund (GIF) and Paramount Global. Our funders understand how powerful our campaigns are among young people and are confident that MTV Shuga provides the necessary multimedia content, which will support service delivery for their overall interventions.
MTV Shuga Naija is regarded as a behavior change TV drama, why and has it fulfilled this objective?
We have different elements that make up MTV Shuga but at the core of our campaign is the TV drama series, where we integrate health messaging with relatable storylines and characters that reflect the lives and experiences of young people. This provides us the opportunity to change behaviors and attitudes that drive behavior change using storytelling. Interwoven into the fabric of the story for MTV Shuga Naija, are themes related to HIV/AIDs, family planning and modern contraception, gender-based violence (GBV), Covid 19, gender and mental health, while exploring community outreach activities for health interventions on the ground.
For Nigeria, we have had two major evaluation studies carried out by the World Bank Dime Team and Tulane University. A randomized controlled trial by the World Bank’s DIME team, which looked at MTV Shuga Naija season 1 and 2, results show that MTV Shuga Naija led to behavior change on the primary goals of HIV testing and reducing risky sexual behaviors. The evaluation found that individuals who watched MTV Shuga were 35 percent more likely to report getting tested in the last six months, and it showed a 58 percent decrease in chlamydia among the young women who took part in the evaluation. A cost analysis carried out by Professor Banerjee of the World Bank identified that for every $1 invested in MTV Shuga, $150 is returned in health and welfare benefits.
Tulane University, which carried out an evaluation for seasons 3 and 4 also found that there was an 84 percent increase in confidence to use condoms among females in Lagos. The use of any method of modern contraception was 32 percent higher among MTV Shuga viewers. Our campaign also influenced attitudes towards GBV and empowered young people to acknowledge it and talk to a parent about an experience.
With these results, our campaigns have shown proven impact, which we are very proud of. We are also constantly moving with trends and are open to taking learnings from each campaign and implementing them in future productions.
With the fifth season already running, what has been the success story so far?
The new season has been very successful since we premiered the TV drama in April. This season showcases new storylines, new characters, plot twists and a medley of current contemporary music that youths can relate with. The quality of cast members for the new season are also thought leaders in their own communities and this has availed us the opportunity to directly reach millions of young people using the TV drama and exciting complementary content. So far, we have received cumulatively over 1.1 million views and counting on our Youtube page for the new season.
Alongside identifying and placing a spotlight on new talents like Kanaga JNR Eme and Chioma Edak, who debuted as lead actors for the season, our impact was scaled to more than just the on-screen messages, as we launched a campaign that will seek to bridge the gender gap in the Nigerian creative industry. Through our Talent Accelerator Program, we aimed to promote gender participation in the creative industry through internship and mentorship programs during the production of MTV Shuga Naija season 5. We ran a campaign on social media, calling for female creatives who were looking for an opportunity to work in the Nigerian TV & film industry, and we received many applications from brilliant young women. From this competition, we selected 11 interns who worked in the different departments on set. To further drive the gender objective, we worked with two of Nigeria’s youngest showrunners, Isioma Osaje and Temidayo Makanjuola who lead 1pod Pictures. I am also proud to say that the entire crew for the new Shuga Naija season comprised 80 percent women. We strongly believe that by investing in female creatives in the TV & film industry in Nigeria, we can create a more inclusive and diverse industry that reflects the stories and experiences of all Nigerians.
Which of the seasons has been the most spectacular?
All the seasons of MTV Shuga Naija have been impactful in their different ways. Each season is unique with its delivery, varying from the different health messaging in its storylines and on the ground interventions, which each season has implemented. Not only have we changed behaviors and attitudes of young people using our content, we have also birthed superstars who have gone ahead to excel immensely in their acting careers.
Our campaigns have also carried out public screenings, university tours and peer education interventions in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Oyo, Ogun and Plateau states where we reached over 54,000 young people in different rural communities in Nigeria.
For those who have not seen the fifth season, what is spectacular about it?
The fifth season of MTV Shuga Naija is definitely one to watch! Not only is the show entertaining and informative, it also provides you with the necessary health information one may need should they require counseling or treatment. With a focus on teens and young adults, this season introduces new characters into the Shuga universe, as they try to find their place in an increasingly hostile world. Season 5 places the spotlight on a young girl, Moh (Played by Gbubemi Ejeye) who is being forced into an arranged marriage with an older man and her family’s benefactor. Her younger siblings, Nanya (played by Susan Pwajok) and Kachi (played by Kanaga JNR Eme) also grapple with issues surrounding gender such as feminism and toxic masculinity as well as friendship, love, and sex.
This season, the world of Shuga Naija is also centered around a newly reopened youth community center, Y-Hub, under the administration of returning character Sheila, played by Adesua Etomi-Wellington.
In the Y-Hub, there are complex characters who are dealing with personal issues like gender-based violence, HIV self-testing among partners, dealing with the loss of a loved one to Covid-19 during the pandemic, strained relationships among other storylines that young people can relate with and also take learnings where needed. This season promises to leave viewers spellbound and on the edge of their seats.
Why the focus on youths in the drama series?
MTV Staying Alive Foundation is very youth focused and likes to tell stories through the eyes of young people. Our core target is between 16 and 24 and to ensure we reach the desired audience; we ensure that our productions are supported by formative research within the region to guide our campaign narrative while using pop culture and music to pull the youths in.
At MTV Staying Alive Foundation, we believe that edutainment platforms like Shuga Naija are necessary to scale awareness and impact on these sensitive issues that are rarely addressed in the society. Gender-based violence remains a pervasive issue in Nigeria, with over 31 percent of women and girls experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Furthermore, Nigeria has the second-largest HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 1.9 million people living with HIV. Through MTV Shuga Naija, we know we can raise awareness of these issues and provide young people with the information and resources they need to protect themselves and their communities.
What is the relationship between MTV Shuga Naija and MTV Staying Alive Foundation in Nigeria?
MTV Shuga is a 360-degree campaign, which is put together by the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. We are world leaders in delivering social and behavior change content that enables learning, behavior change and support to young people across Africa.
MTV Staying Alive Foundation has over two decades of experience in mass-media behavior change campaigns across sub–Saharan Africa. Since 2009, we have launched award-winning campaigns in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cote d’ivoire, India, a digital series on COVID-19 (Alone Together) and most recently, we announced the MTV Shuga launch in America.
How do you go about securing and sealing partnerships on behalf of the foundation?
We carry out research on every funder we engage, to ensure that our objectives align with the funder’s overall objectives. This helps us develop strategies that would effectively support the implementation activities in the region. We also have strong partnerships with local government and private health agencies which avails us the opportunity to reach smaller communities within the region using our content and direct our audience to local health centers closest to them, where they can get counseling, or the necessary treatment needed.
This puts us in a strong position when we approach funders as we have covered the majority of the groundwork and collaborations needed to implement in the country. Some of our local partners include; Federal Ministry of Health, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Hello Lagos, The National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA), Lagos State Aids Control Agency (LSACA), The Society for Family Health (SFH) to mention a few.
Who are the talents discovered or empowered so far under the MTV Shuga Naija platform?
MTV Shuga has produced several spectacular acting talents through the TV drama. One of our biggest successes is Kenyan actor, Lupita Nyongo who has now gone on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. In Nigeria, some of the superstars who emerged from MTV Shuga Naija; include Emmanuel Ikubese, Timini Egbuson, Dorcas Shola-Fapson, Jemima Osunde, among other talents, who have also gone ahead to become Nollywood’s top rated actors.