The Power of Stories and Pro Bono

Long time readers of The PBEye might remember a blog post from 2014: Television and Pro Bono: An Innovative Approach. The post detailed how Viacom Inc.**, one of the world’s premier entertainment brands, combined the medium of television with the unique skills of its legal department and production staff to engage in pro bono. To increase public awareness of gender-based violence and the implications of Kenya’s 2006 Sexual Offences Act, Viacom worked with the producers of its television program, Shuga: Love, Sex, Money, to incorporate important legal information into the storyline and leverage the program to educate the Kenyan community and viewers around the world.

The television show, which is shown on stations worldwide, is produced by MTV Networks Africa, The MTV Staying Alive Foundation, and several other partners, and is part of a large multimedia campaign with a goal of achieving a generation free of HIV. During the show’s pre-production phase, Viacom worked with Shearman & Sterling*† and Lawyers Without Borders to research and analyze Kenyan case law so that they could consult with the production team to structure a plotline regarding rape and draft materials for a public legal education campaign.

So where is Shuga now? So glad you asked! NPR recently released an article entitled Watch the MTV Soap Opera That Is Secretly Teaching Sex Ed detailing the project’s progress. Shuga launched its fifth season this spring, and TV channels and radio stations in 42 African countries have signed up to broadcast the latest season. According to MTV, the show has reached 719 million people through local entertainment networks and online sources.

Not only has the show grown in popularity, but there is evidence that the messaging is sinking in as well. The World Bank published a study last month that showed young viewers were twice as likely to get tested for HIV after watching the show for six months. The study also found that the number of chlamydia infections among women who watched was 58 percent lower than among those who did not watch.

“The results confirm the research on how young people learn,” reported NPR, “Stories are a safe, accessible way to get information out to adolescents who might otherwise tune out important messages about sexual health.”

Congratulations to Viacom, Shearman & Sterling, and Lawyers Without Borders!

denotes Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory