The Elton John AIDS Foundation is committed to empowering youth to make better, safer choices by providing them with accessible and relevant information that truly resonates. As part of our efforts, we’re proud to announce the launch of a ground-breaking new digital platform developed by our grantee, Reach Digital, in collaboration with the South African National Department of Health and health digital communications expert, Avert.
Introducing the Young Africa Live Smart Bot
The Young Africa Live (YAL) smart bot is a free WhatsApp platform designed to help young people in South Africa (15 – 24) tackle the complex questions that arise during adolescence around love, sexuality, mental health, STIs, and overall wellbeing – all in a private and safe space that puts the answers at their fingertips.
According to Reach Digital’s Youth Sex Survey, a whopping 60% (17,000) of South African adolescents shared they would not ask their parents about sex. These results indicate that talking about awkward, yet highly important topics is still considered “taboo,” limiting young people’s ability to acquire key pieces of information that allow them to make smart choices. The YAL platform is a solution to this damaging dynamic, putting the power back in the hands of young people and giving them the space they need to discover the answers themselves, without fear of judgement or reprisal.
On the YAL platform, youth can ask any question, no matter how awkward or strange they might think it is, and receive a reassuring, informative and accurate response. Users can chat in private via WhatsApp, and if there is a topic they want to discuss with their friends, they can jump across to the B-Wise Facebook or B-Wise Instagram pages to see what others have to say. This allows the platform to establish common topics across key geographies and age groups and adapt the content on both public Facebook pages and on the private WhatsApp platform.
“Many young people feel too embarrassed or awkward to ask parents or carers questions about their sexuality or their feelings,” says Debbie Rogers, CEO, Reach Digital, developers of YAL. “Now, with this platform, youth sit at the very heart of these conversations. We understand the challenges they are facing when it comes to depression, sexual literacy, and gender attitudes and, through the platform, B-Wise can deliver targeted interventions for each user so they can get the right information from the correct sources.”
Why this matters for young people living with or at risk of HIV
- The platform is designed to ensure young people have a voice in their care, to help them feel more confident in finding out about the topics that concern them.
- It provides a private and non-judgemental space for them to search for services nearby, ask questions, or request a call from a qualified counsellor.
- YAL empowers youth to access accurate and relatable information during a critical time in their life where they are experiencing physical, social and emotional change.
This will lead to reduced HIV infection and improved health outcomes for themselves and their peers.
“Young people both want and need engaging and accurate information on topics that most resonate in their life including sex, sexuality, navigating relationships and gender dynamics, HIV and mental health. However, they face significant hurdles to accessing such information, ranging from economic constraints to societal stigma,” said Dr. Lindsay Hayden, who leads the young people portfolio at Elton John AIDS Foundation. “Young Africa Live is a tool that aims to overcome these barriers by bringing information directly into the hands of young people through platforms they already use en mass – namely WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. YAL ensures that each young person’s journey towards better sexual, reproductive, and mental health is tailored to his or her specific needs, providing a safe space for young people to explore sensitive topics in a privacy-protected and judgement-free environment.”
What’s next for Young Africa Live?
The South African-based WhatsApp platform is the first to be launched under the YAL umbrella. In collaboration with partners in the region, YAL now aims to expand its offering across the continent.
Partnering with governments and likeminded organisations is key to the initiative’s success, as it’s essential that solutions do not compete for the attention of the youth – instead, capitalise on existing platforms that are successfully reaching and engaging youth.
How Young Africa Live works
The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to understand questions and replies automatically with the most relevant answers. This functionality is designed to learn and improve the more it’s used and will rapidly evolve to interpret the many ways in which young people ask for information.
The insights, support, and information will be provided by trained experts at B-Wise who are accessible through the platform or on Facebook and Instagram.