#GBCtalksCSR Interview Series – MTV Staying Alive Foundation

Georgia Arnold
Senior Vice President, Social Responsibility, Viacom International Media Networks Executive Director, Staying Alive Foundation

In this high-level interview series, we speak to a handful of corporate leaders to probe how they plan and execute CSR programs and how they are utilizing their core business skills and resources to impact individuals and communities.


1. How do you think your CSR policies reflect the principles and values of your brand?

An important way in which the MTV Staying Alive Foundation reflects the principles and values of our brand is by delivering our messaging in an audience-facing manner. As such, we drop the ‘c’ from corporate social responsibility, and focus more on the issues faced by our young target audience in their everyday lives. We operate amongst a socially conscious, millennial generation that are more passionate than ever to engage in pro-social topics.

We run a plethora of initiatives throughout the year, designed to desensitise our audience to issues that are often riddled with stigma, and make a positive impact on the prevailing mind-set of young individuals. This is evidenced through our campaigns around prominent days in the calendar year, such as the International Day of Disability, that will be promoted on MTV’s social media platforms and in particular ‘Snapchat’, which has an average viewership of tens of millions of people per day.

Similarly, our concerted efforts around the 16 Days of Activism, World AIDS Day, a global campaign titled ‘Out in 60’ addressing the concerns of LGBTQI community and other prominent projects, constantly seek to challenge prevailing norms and initiate positive changes in young people’s perspectives.

We reflect the principles and values of our brand by staying true to its underlying ethos: putting young people at the centre of everything we do and providing them with a platform to have their voices heard and make positive changes in their lives.

2. Do you see a real future for private sector involvement in international development beyond CSR and, if so, what does that future look like in the SDG era?

The only way to achieve tangible, long-lasting progress is by including all sectors of society, whether that be private sector organisations, government departments or local stakeholders and NGOs. This appreciation for a holistic, cooperative venture has been seen more frequently in the development sphere of late.  Companies are becoming increasingly aware of their impact on the environments in which they operate, and by extension, must take a more active approach to sustainable development.

For example, the Family Planning 2020 summit in London on the 11th July 2017 brought together concerned stakeholders from across the professional world. This summit highlighted the need for greater cooperation between the private and public sectors, where companies such as ours (VIACOM) and the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, were brought together with government representatives from across the world, as well as international foundations and charities.

Looking forward, this level of cooperation must be maintained and enhanced. The MTV Staying Alive Foundation has a proven track record of working closely with state departments and NGOs in the countries in which we operate. This can be seen through our youth-led HIV grants programmes across the world, or our award-winning 360 mass media entertainment programme, MTV Shuga, which develops a wide base of international and local partners to deliver the most effective outcomes.

3. What are some obstacles the private sector faces when trying to become a leader in development and how do you see your company breaking down these barriers?

As for any organisation, private or public, there are various obstacles that need to be overcome when tackling matters related to development.

Whether it be a lack of knowledge, the prevalence of stigma or deep-seated norms, new and innovative approaches are constantly needed to instigate meaningful change.

Other than societal and educational factors, a key concern that all individuals must take into account when it comes to development is the idea of respect. Respecting the context in which we work in is imperative when trying to affect significant change, and that means taking into account all of the concerns and priorities of local actors.

We try to circumnavigate this issue by providing a platform for young people to voice their day-to-day issues. That can be seen through our script development for MTV Shuga which canvasses the opinions of adolescents, the involvement of local production companies and acting talent when producing the series, our youth-led HIV grants programmes which equips young people with the tools they need to make a positive impact on their local communities. Our wide-ranging partnerships with in-country organisations and government departments ensure that our programmes are tailored to the audience in question, and executed in a manner that will resonate with them.

4. As a media company, how do you leverage your unique ability to connect with people to promote life-changing messages?

Leveraging the MTV brand to access an already-established, worldwide audience is a massive contributor to our success. By positioning ourselves amongst a universally-known, international organisation, we are able to increase the scope of our work immeasurably. This allows us to reach an audience that may otherwise be resistant to important social, health and reproductive messaging, and stimulate discussions around critical matters.

By focusing on key issues, such as: HIV messaging, gender based violence, transactional sex, family planning and contraception, under the umbrella of MTV, we are able to connect with our audience on their level. This approach allows us to incorporate the latest trends and connect to youth in a way that they can relate to.

Media has the unique ability to transcend boundaries in a way that most organisations cannot. By positioning ourselves across multiple media platforms, i.e. online and digital media, television, radio broadcast and graphic novels, we are able to reach millennials where they are and increase the ease in which they can access important information about their personal well-being.

Our award-winning drama series, MTV Shuga, has been proven to have a positive impact on the sexual and reproductive health of young individuals. Steeped in the most up-to-date trends surrounding music, fashion and language, the show features hard-hitting storylines, fused with important sexual and reproductive health messaging. A study carried out by the World Bank found that nearly double the number of viewers who watched MTV Shuga got tested for HIV in the six to nine months following the show; and that there were significant improvements in knowledge towards HIV and risky sexual behaviour; and there was a 55% reduction in Chlamydia amongst female viewers.

About the interviewee:

Georgia Arnold is Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility at Viacom International Media Networks and is responsible for developing social initiatives for the company’s portfolio of over two hundred TV channels and websites. Ms Arnold has initiated unprecedented partnerships and campaigns for MTV on HIV and AIDS awareness and for Nickelodeon on children’s rights.

Ms. Arnold has been overseeing The Staying Alive campaign since its launch in 1998.
Staying Alive is forged upon partnerships including; UNAIDS, UNICEF, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PEPFAR and Kaiser Family Foundation. The campaign has delivered award-winning HIV and AIDS awareness programming, concerts, events and public service messages involving high profile individuals such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Mary J Blige.

Building on the success of the Staying Alive campaign, Ms. Arnold was instrumental in establishing the MTV Staying Alive Foundation in 2005, and was appointed Executive Director in October 2007. The MTV SAF is a global charitable body that provides grants to grassroots, youth-led organisations to set up HIV and AIDS awareness campaigns in their communities, and has distributed 588 grants in 68 countries since 2005, totaling over $5.5million.

A particular highlight of Ms. Arnold’s career is her involvement with the multi award-winning MTV Shuga – a 360 degree mass-media HIV prevention campaign. Now entering its fifth season, it reaches over 720 million people worldwide and discovered the Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o. MTV Shuga boldly addresses sexual health topics head-on; bravely confronting taboo topics such as gender based violence, and transactional sex, told through the lives of characters and emotional situations drawn from real life. MTV Shuga’s compelling storylines have been broadcast on TV and radio stations around the world.

In 2013, MTV Breaks was born – Ms. Arnold’s latest international initiative to inspire and give real life opportunities to the next generation of creative talent around the world.

Ms. Arnold also oversees the Viacom UK apprenticeship scheme, which offers four young people a 12-month paid placement, giving extensive work experience across the business’s headline brands (MTV, Nickelodeon & Comedy Central).

Alyssa Govindan#GBCtalksCSR Interview Series – MTV Staying Alive Foundation