In honor of March being Women’s History Month we decided to shine the spotlight on women who are game changers in our home state. It was my honor to interview Dr. Allison Mathews, the director of 2BeatHIV and founder and CEO of Community Expert Solutions, LLC. Her work has been featured on “Left of Black,” TEDxDurham, The Lux Blog NC, and ExitEvent.com. She earned her BA in Sociology from Howard University, and her MA and PhD in Sociology from UNC Chapel Hill. She works as a researcher at UNC Chapel Hill in the Department of Social Medicine and the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease.
READ OUR INTERVIEW BELOW
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Dr. Allison Mathews. I work at UNC Chapel Hill in the Department of Social Medicine and the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease and I started the 2BeatHIV Project which uses crowdsourcing contests as a way to engage the community in different topics around HIV, like HIV cure clinical trials and now moving into HIV testing and trying to design a campaign around HIV testing from the crowdsourcing contest.
- What is 2BeatHIV? What led to the creation of 2BeatHIV?
The project started in December 2015 and it’s kind of like a hybrid between outreach and research. We’re trying to access whether crowdsourcing is a feasible and effective intervention for engaging the public in difficult discussions or critical dialogue about the ethics of HIV cure clinical trials. Now we have funding to see if crowdsourcing is an effective way to get ideas from the community to develop a campaign to reduce the stigma on HIV testing. A lot of times we find that just telling people to get tested is not enough. You need to have some kind of messaging. What we’re finding from the focus groups is that a lot of people know that you need to get tested and where to get tested. It’s not hard to find a place to get tested, but it’s the stigma and the fear of the result. So we’re trying to use a crowdsourcing contest to get ideas from the community on ways to reduce that anxiety and that fear and that stigma.
- Speaking of “crowdsourcing,” I’ve heard the term quite a bit, could you tell me more about that?
Some examples are Kickstarter campaigns and Wikipedia. A lot of times people confuse “crowdsourcing” with “crowd funding” — which crowd funding is a type of crowdsourcing. With crowdsourcing wee are more so looking for ideas rather than money, although I may look into raising money for HIV cure research! Right now we’re just trying to get ideas from the community. The idea is that instead of just relying on just one expert or researcher to design some type of program from the top down, we are using a bottom up approach to get ideas from the community because we believe they are the experts in what they need and want. So this is actually a pilot project that’s now being implemented in South Africa and China. This project is part of a larger grant called “searchHIV” and so we have colleagues in China and in South Africa and with those colleagues, we coordinate efforts and compare the differences between crowdsourcing here and crowdsourcing there and people’s concerns about HIV cure clinical trials in all three sites. The crowdsourcing happens both in person and online. They can either come to our website and submit their ideas or at our events, we try to provide opportunities for people to submit their ideas, art, music, or whatever is related to that particular topic we have posed for that contest. Crowdsourcing is more popular in the private sector, like with companies that are trying to design a new medical device, program, or marketing campaign. They’ve even used crowdsourcing to identify HIV DNA sequencing through gaming systems and where thousands of people are playing the same game. Because they’re all doing it at the same time, they’re able to work together and find sequencing that it would probably take one person twenty years to find.
- What are some of the goals of 2BeatHIV?
Moving forward, we’re planning on doing another crowdsourcing contest and that one is going to be focused on designing a campaign that reduces stigma around HIV, but we really want to make it a larger contest. The first one that we did was really local and it was our first time doing it, so we didn’t get a lot of participation, only about forty people. Over the past year, we’ve built up our name, people know about us, and want to be involved so we think this time it’ll be easier to do a larger scale contest. We’re trying to get involvement from all of the universities – North Carolina Central University, Duke, UNC, NC State. Also, all of the athletic departments, if we could get them involved in participating in the contest and encouraging their friends, other people at universities, and maybe even having a competition between the universities. So that’s kind of the future direction that I see with 2BeatHIV.
On top of that, I’ve started my own consulting company because what I’ve seen is people come up with these great ideas, but they don’t have a lot of resources to turn those ideas into reality. So I developed a consulting company called Community Expert Solutions that works with some of the best ideas that come out of these contests and my engagement with the community to turn them into revenue generated projects. I’m excited about that! Right now we’re working on a project called RightQuick™ (developed in collaboration with Alexandria Anderson and Marcus Hawley). It’s an online platform that automatically determines people’s eligibility for subsidized health services like Medicaid, ADAP, PrEP, or any kind of transportation, housing, etc. We would automatically determine their eligibility and then plug them into those services by either filling out the applications or connecting them to those resources. That’s in development and we have some people who are interested in funding it, and we’re planning to do some crowdfunding to raise start up funds.
- What has been your most rewarding experience thus far?
Honestly, even though all of this hype for the project is great, I think the biggest thing that reminds me of what I do is working with people who are living with HIV and the fact that they can call me and feel comfortable calling me, and know that there is someone out there who is an advocate for them and supports them. Here’s the ultimate test: I had a man who reached out to us who had been diagnosed with HIV two years ago and had not been on medication. He learned about our project, saw my face and saw Kimberly’s face on Facebook, and reached out to us to get plugged in and get on treatment. That to me was the most rewarding part. That is what this is all about – it’s not about speaking engagements, money, or anything like that, it’s about making an impact.
- Last year you made history with the city of Durham by proclaiming December 14thHIV Cure Research Day. Can you tell me about that process, how that idea came about, and other community members you may have worked with to achieve this milestone?
Well December 14th marked the first day of the first event that we did with the 2BeatHIV project. When we first started, we did a hip hop concert at Beyu Café and then the year later, we marked December 14th as HIV Cure Research Day. The idea isn’t necessarily mine, there are HIV Days for a lot of things and it actually wasn’t that difficult. All we had to do was submit a paragraph to say this is what we’re doing and they were like “Yesss!”. So it wasn’t that hard, but I think the fact that nobody had done it before was surprising to me. I was more surprised that nobody had tried to create a HIV Cure Research Day. There was a large community effort that was on board for the day. We had Beyu Café, Walgreens, Greater Than AIDS, and Mati Drinks as corporate sponsors. Dasan Ahanu, a Nasir Jones Harvard Hip Hop Fellow and Adjunct Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, performed original poetry and songs. Dasan had actually participated in a previous contest and submitted a poem called “I Spit for a Cure” and he turned that poem into a song that he performed at the event. He surprised us with that; we didn’t know he had turned it into a song. We had a couple of people who are living with HIV that we met along the way who agreed to come share how they got infected and their experiences living with it. We had a lot of representation from community partners who we worked with throughout the year so it was a pretty big effort to showcase that we can work together to do this. Ultimately, the point of the HIV Cure Research Day was to make it a goal for Durham to be one of the first places to eradicate the spread of the virus and I think we can do it. We have the resources here – we have universities, clinical trials going on, the hospitals, we have I don’t know how many HIV related organizations in this area – we have the resources here to do it, we just need to coordinate efforts.
- Where would you like to see 2BeatHIV within the next year? Also, where would you like to see Community Expert Solutions in the next year?
Within the next year, I would like to see 2BeatHIV expand to the whole state, if not to other states. I want to be able to replicate this process in multiple cities across the country and across the world. So within the first year, let’s say within the state. But realistically, we’re already doing it across the world by replicating in China and South Africa. I’m from Dallas so I’ve been talking to people in Dallas and Houston, so that might be my next site. I know a lot of people in DC, I lived in DC and went to Howard, so that might be another site, and then Atlanta. We also want to expand to some rural areas. We did some focus groups in Wilson and we’re going to do some in Rocky Mount, so we’re trying to expand out to those areas because the rates are higher there than they are in Durham. Figuring out the challenges in rural areas and how we can try to address those and get people on board is a part of the big plan as well.
With Community Expert Solutions moving forward in the next year, we plan to get that platform, if not fully developed and launched, getting it Beta tested. The other aspect of the company is that we consult with organizations and individuals who have great ideas, but don’t know where to start. Especially trying to focus on Black women, but anybody who’s interested in working with me. I’ve had a couple people reach out to me already so just trying to start consulting with them to help them launch their businesses as well because not is this about promoting HIV, but also promoting health equity, entrepreneurship and wealth building within our communities. We have these amazing ideas and if anything, the running joke is that you’ve got “street entrepreneurs.” We have people and we’re at the dinner table during Christmas talking about “What they need to do is…And I’m doing my hustle,” but how do we formalize that, how do we create wealth from that, how do we make sure that it helps solve problems in our communities? That’s the goal of the consulting company; it’s to focus on growing those ideas into revenue-generated projects.
- Is there anything else you would like our followers to know?
We are going to be featured speakers at Women’s Empowerment. That is going to be April 22nd and we’ll be speaking at 11:30 am.
Follow her on social media at:
Instagram: @_allisonmathews / @2beathiv