June 20, 2008

MYMsta launches!!

It’s been a LONG six months, but today the product I’ve been working on has launched! We had a press conference yesterday, and I was so crazy nervous that the press would be bad, but so far, pretty good. (knock on wood!) The product is designed for young South Africans, but if you’re curious and want to check it out, go to www.mymsta.mobi on the web browser on your cell phone. It’s a social network designed for your phone, but more importantly, its designed to give South African youth access to knowledge, skills, opportunities and each other – which will hopefully give them a million reasons to protect themselves from HIV.

But rather than me going on and on, much easier to post the press release. =) Here it is:

MYMsta is making his Move – Make YOUR Move!

This week, loveLife - South Africa’s national HIV prevention programme for young people, launches an international first: MYMsta - the world’s first mobile-based social network dedicated to the empowerment of young people and the prevention of HIV.

MYMsta goes far beyond text-messaging, providing functionality typically found on Internet-based social networks. Young people will be able to maintain their own profiles, join chat groups, access information about bursaries and scholarships, and much more.

MYMsta stems from loveLife’s belief that it is the circumstances of young people – and not their disregard for the message of HIV prevention - that continues to drive the epidemic. Many young people who leave school face an uncertain future and feel excluded from opportunity. Not surprisingly, half the lifetime risk of HIV infection among young women is crammed into just five years after leaving school.

loveLife’s call to young people to “Make Your Move” seeks to build their personal initiative, strengthen their ability to negotiate day-to-day pressures and expectations and find new links to opportunity. Given the extensive ownership of cell phones by South African youth (75% of 15-24 year olds have one), cell phone-based technology opens up new possibilities for HIV prevention.

“Young people are much more likely to protect themselves if they have a strong sense of identity, belonging and purpose in life,” says Dr. David Harrison, CEO of loveLife. “A mobile social network will never replace face-to-face interaction, but it offers young people a new way of defining themselves and connecting to each other. It also gives them instant links to information which makes them feel that they can go places in life.”

In partnership with CellSmart Technologies (a mobile marketing agency and Wireless Application Service Provider), loveLife has built an inexpensive and easily accessible mobile platform called MYMsta (Make Your Move – social network). Strategically this WAP site was not only the answer to accessibility, but also the most effective use of technology for two key reasons:

1) Over 75% of all South African youth own mobile phones (71% of youth in informal settlements and 67% in rural areas), and although Internet access via computers is very low at 6%, mobile internet usage via WAP in South Africa is one of the highest in the world.

2) Social networking behaviour plays directly into the three key triggers to behavior change – sense of identity, belonging, and purpose. Users define their identity by creating personal profiles with photos, video, and text. They develop belonging & community by connecting to like-minded individuals through forums, groups, and messaging. And MYMsta is designed with a sense of purpose.

By combining these two factors, MYMsta will empower individuals, build solidarity amongst South African youth, serve as an organizing tool amongst and for young people, and facilitate content distribution and data collection.

Integrated into loveLife’s already extensive on-the-ground and media programmes, MYMsta will bring together South Africa’s youth; encourage self-expression and dialogue; connect young people to each other and with key leaders; and will share important information on opportunities, jobs, skills development, advice, and motivational success stories for only a few cents in airtime. Data rates for the WAP site have been minimized such that MYMsta is only 2-5c per page on average, and less than 25c for downloading specific information about educational and other opportunities.

MYMsta will serve as a platform to enable the loveLife generation to work together for a better collective future for themselves and for South Africa. It will be live on 20 June and will be available at www.mymsta.mobi on WAP-enabled phones.

June 2, 2008

The Month of May: Xenophobia

The closer I get to the launch of the loveLife Mobile product, the worse I get about blogging…. Time and sleep also seem to be running away from me. But many thanks to everyone who has been checking in. The big issue that happened in the month of May was the xenophobic attacks. They’ve certainly given me a lot to think about….

Many of you saw the headline “Foreigners Attacked in Johannesburg” and sent me very kind & concerned notes. To all I had to reply some derivation of: “Don’t worry. I’m fine. Technically I’m not a foreigner in South Africa. See I’m not Black nor from another African country. So I’m actually welcome here.”

The more I wrote those lines (or tried to explain the phenomenon to my very concerned mother), the more frustrated I became. For one, in my day-to-day existence, living & working in Sandton, the horrific violence could have just as easily have been happening on the other side of the world, even though it was actually happening only a few miles away. Second, everyone knows that the root cause of the violence isn’t hatred of immigrants. The root cause is the lack of opportunity and the festering of unfulfilled post-apartheid promises. Yet in my opinion, no one in the SA government wants to directly address it or do something about it.

On the first point, everyday I read in the paper or heard on the radio about another gross & inhumane act (including the lighting of a man on fire), I became more and more uncomfortable with my “suburban” bubble. I know from a safety perspective, I need to be where I am. But suddenly it became abundantly clear to me how so many White people were able to feign ignorance during apartheid. The way the apartheid government set it up privileged members of society can go about their daily life completely unaffected, while 10 minutes away angry mobs veer towards genocide.

The question of why this is happening in South Africa is a bigger issue with a very simple answer but seemingly no concrete solution for the foreseeable future.

“White people hire the foreigners because they work hard and they do it for less money,” Mr. Booysen said. “A South African demands his rights and will go on strike. Foreigners are afraid.” NYT

I could easily replace the word foreigners with Mexican and South African with American and it would seem like the same tired immigration story. But here in South Africa, that’s actually not the case – simply the only way the media can wrap its head around such a complicated situation. In truth, Zimbabweans and Nigerians have been living side-by-side with South Africans for decades. The issue now is not fear of immigration and unemployment (which already stands at nearly 40%); the real issue is misdirected anger. Deep-seated anger very directly related to the aftermath of apartheid. And in turn, the oppressed are trying to overpower the further oppressed…

According to the media, the violence has begun to subside. Actors have come on TV denouncing xenophobia. The government declares South Africans must love all Africans. And magically, angry mobs have supposedly disappeared. I’m not so convinced the violence is gone. Given ever so slight an excuse (perhaps the pending water crisis in Jo’burg…), I think we’ll see it again. It won’t be until the South African government makes a real commitment to education, skills development, and broad-based economic growth that this country will see true post-apartheid change.