South Africa's trailblazing HIV youth development initiative launches a world first: a revolutionary digital programme that uses incentives to change behaviour and ultimately addresses the HIV/Aids pandemic.

It’s called iloveLife.mobi.

Designed purely for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, iloveLife.mobi is an interactive digital platform that encourages leadership to drive behaviour change and promote sexual and reproductive health.

“Over the last 16 years we have done innovative work with young people in order to bring down HIV infections, but we need to work hard to remain relevant, we need to find new ways of doings things. And the opportunity to create that change is here,” says loveLife CEO Grace Matlhape.

That opportunity is mobile technology. Cellphones are everywhere. More people have internet access than ever before, and more people engage on more digital platforms, more of the time. Here in South Africa, 80% of people on the net are on their mobile devices. And it’s not just the affluent South Africans who are plugged into technology. According to research by Durham University, already over 50% of young people in low income communities have their own mobile devices. And the numbers are growing.

The launch of iloveLife.mobi, which has been funded by the German Government through its state-owned Development Bank KfW, means that now loveLife can make its support structure and its wealth of knowledge accessible to millions more young people in our country.

Matlhape says, “With mobile technology, we literally hold the future in our hands. A safe, healthy, and inclusive future powered by the energy and idealism of young people.”

The iloveLife.mobi development team, led by Matlhape, loveLife Strategist Scott Burnett and Head of Digital Jade Archer made sure that nobody would be excluded. You don’t have to have a smartphone to access the site. It’s been designed as a web-based software programme for all mobile devices – and that includes basic cellphones.

Users with access to the internet just need to log onto iloveLife.mobi to create a profile, while cellphone users in remote areas dial *120*2121# and follow the easy prompts. Just by signing up and creating a profile earns points. And that’s where the path to greatness begins.

On the iloveLife.mobi journey, young people are rewarded for life affirming, empowering, and healthy behaviour. Everything they do on the site scores points – points which can win them desirable prizes like clothing store shopping vouchers.

One way to earn points is to take a “Me to Me” self-assessment to help young people learn more about themselves. In an assessment about preferred study methods for example, the results would reveal personality type and match the most suitable learning technique. The site tackles all teen-life topics from relationships to life transitions through assessments, quizzes, videos, and articles. Sharing these articles or videos on social media also scores points.

Other ways to earn points on the mobi site include taking polls, referring friends, and linking to Facebook. But it’s not all about the virtual world. iloveLife takes it all into the real world too with “Keeping it Real” activities. Attending loveLife events, festivals, and taking preventative tests regularly scores more valuable points.

iloveLife even makes getting tested easier. Apart from helping users understand why knowing their HIV status is so important, the mobi site also pinpoints their nearest youth friendly clinics, and gives users the opportunity to rate the services once they’ve been – for more points, of course.

And what happens with all these points? iloveLife.mobi always has plenty of competitions on the go. With enough points, users can enter these competitions to win rewards. Clothing, connectivity, and entertainment – these are some of the things iloveLife fans can win. They’re things that make young people feel good about themselves, and are very often psychological proxies for the self-esteem and affirmation they search for in sexual partners. By offering a home to young South Africans that rewards them directly, iloveLife becomes a healthier option to the negative forces that can drag young people into risk and HIV infection.

Incentives and conditional rewards programmes have been successfully applied worldwide across education, social welfare, and health care. Recently, during a two-year experiment in Southern Malawi, girls between 13 and 22 were rewarded for staying in school. The staggering results revealed a 38% reduction in sexual activity, a 30% reduction in teenage pregnancy, and a 40% reduction in early marriage. Furthermore, HIV prevalence in the incentivised group was more than half that of the control group.

The overwhelming success of incentive programmes together with loveLife’s deep insights into young South Africans is stirring up a lot of optimism for the potential of iloveLife.

iloveLife is looking at attracting 1 million young people in the first 2 years with 160 000 actively engaged users earning points. loveLife will also be tracking the number of HIV tests that can be attributed to the site with an aim to have 500 000 young people take HIV tests by June 2017.

While iloveLife’s ultimate aim is to reduce risky sexual behaviour and the associated high HIV prevalence among young people, it’s so much more than that.

iloveLife is a holistic youth development programme that equips young people with the skills, knowledge, insights and advice they need to navigate all aspects of life in South Africa. With help buttons scattered throughout the site, users can get one-on-one help anytime they need it. Just clicking on it once sends an immediate ‘Please Call Me’ to trained counsellors at loveLife’s dedicated youth line.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before,” says Matlhape. “And it’s all about you. iloveLife.mobi is about your leadership development journey to help you become great, it’s about giving you real rewards for taking action in the real world… it’s about making your life better.”