Mikaela Hildebrand is the social media officer at UNAIDS, and manages the CrowdOutAIDS project.

When Iceland crowdsourced its new constitution to increase the transparency and legitimacy of government process, it inspired a group of people working at the UNAIDS Secretariat to explore a similar approach to its work with young people.

The concept of crowdsourcing at first felt quite radical. The United Nations had used it before—primarily for emergency response and crisis mapping—but tapping online tools for collaborative strategy development was a first.

Yet to openly invite young people from across the world, reaching a broad group to collaborate for new ideas, new energy and new partnerships was attractive, given the size of the challenge.

While there have been many successes in the AIDS response, 30 years into the epidemic awareness about HIV is still very low in many places. Only 24% of young women and 36% of young men in low-and middle-income countries have adequate knowledge about HIV and how to prevent it. An estimated 5 million young people are living with HIV today. Many lack access to lifesaving treatment.

In response, policies are made and programmes put in place “for” young people. But young people don’t always have a say. CrowdOutAIDS.org, UNAIDS new crowdsourcing project, turns that model on its head: it’s an online collaboration to rebuild the organization’s approach to HIV and young people from the bottom up. Through it, we want to find new ways to work with young people, across borders, for a shift on AIDS.

To develop UNAIDS’ new approach to youth and HIV we’ve put together a transparent four step process. First, we know that there are some amazing young people out there working on HIV, from large youth networks and young people living with HIV, to the young woman who talks to her friends about safer sex. We want to connect this community of knowledge.

Step two is about setting the agenda; we are engaging the community in dialogue and based on the discussion, a survey will be developed to prioritize key issues.  Third, an application will be launched where young people can submit ideas and actions to solve the challenges defined by the community in step two.

Finally, a document summarizing the key outcomes of the CrowdOutAIDS process will be drafted, in public, through Google docs allowing for collaborative real-time online debates and discussions as the document comes to life.

In its first weeks, CrowdOutAIDS.org connected more than 4000 young people from 150 countries, through mailing lists, Twitter and eight Open Forums in six languages on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Renren and Vkontakte!

CrowdOutAIDS is also pulling together a network of volunteers to organize face-to-face forums to reach young people unable to join the online conversation – some 100 young people have already signed up fromZambia,IndonesiatoCanada, theUKandBolivia!

Through CrowdOutAIDS we hope to establish a network of youth organizations and young people—students, artists, activists, public health professionals—to come together to write a new narrative on HIV and young people.

CrowdOutAIDS has one ultimate goal: that young people across the world ensure the ambitious commitments made by UN Member States in the 2011 UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS—such as halving new HIV infections and ensuring 15 million people have access to treatment by 2015—are met.

Visit CrowdOutAIDS to find out how you can get involved in this groundbreaking initiative!  

CrowdOutAIDS on Twitter