Reducing stigma around mental-health activations and creating easier access for young African leaders through human-centred Design.

Context

Umuzi’s core vision is to empower their students with the technical and digital skills that will lead to long term sustainable careers. 

Their students would come from all across South Africa and more recently, across the entire African continent to engage in training. 

Unique Backgrounds. Coming from a broad range of backgrounds, and with a goal to learn and develop – for many this was their first time in a professional environment, in a city or tackling challenging projects.

Many of those students would come from background where topics of mental wellness and care were stigmatized as weak. 

Goals. We wanted our students to thrive not only professionally but personally – and to create a space where they could not only grow in their career but be equipped for a lifetime of success.

We engaged with a human-centered approach to explore a way to support these students that took into care their backgrounds, their access and various other care modalities. 

Approach

The core approach was to be as human-centred, agile as possible at budget zero.

Empathize. To do this began by engaging in interviews one-on-one with recruits around various topics and challenges they face around the subject.

We equally gauged mental wellbeing upon students joining the organization through voluntary psychometric tests to help guide our insights. 

Define. We defined a few key areas of focus which determined our success metrics behind any activations.  Most notably, we needed to ensure easy and private access to locally contextualized information, that both gave basic information around mental wellbeing ( such as “What is Depression” ). 

Ideate + Prototype. 
We opted to ideate around 3 – 5 activations to rapidly iterate and test to provide a north-star for future iteration. Most notably, an online wellness archive, created and curated by internal staff, young leaders themselves and professional support workers provided the holistic blend of information that the young leaders required. 

Test.

Results were noticeable in real-time with the young leader’s attendance, engagement and overall performance in our learning environment. 

Insights

  • In traditional context and home environments – communicating about mental wellbeing was seen as a negative or weak aspect. 
  • Equally engaging in support was seen as a “failure” of the family thus deeply frowned upon.
  • Providing access in “public spaces” would not be engaged with due to the “visibility of someone reading a poster and thus being seen as someone needing it”
  • Most active times for our participants were after-hours where they were able to access more privacy. 

How might we help young people access mental health support, to enable maximum immediate relief and long term success? 

Final Product

Ultimately, 3 key activations took root as part of the permanent solution. 

  1. Wellness Archive: An online, free and private platform was created known as the Umuzi Wellness Archive which enabled our students to engage with wellness education and support activations.
  2. In-Person Activation: We partnered with various counsellors to provide deeper activations as required.
  3. YL Support Groups: Various young-leader led support groups were created run by the young leaders themselves, with the support of the platform and either internal staff, or external support workers. 

Results

We noted a radical increase in student engagement, positive increases in their overall demeanour, performance and attendance.  Overall our students reported greater clarity around the experiences they were undertaking and greater abilities to activate where needed. 

The platform was due to be picked up by Simunye Trust as part of a greater rollout to the local area, and South Africa. 

In surveying, students found their primary support network in their lives to be Umuzi. (68% vs 20% friends and close connections and 12% family ) 

By creating an online, privately accessible and free platform – with educational information about mental wellbeing, challenges and activations, we cultivated a more positive experience in the lives of our students that serve to this day.