Skip to content
  1. Latest News

Penn Proposal Advances to Top 100 in MacArthur Foundation’s $100 Million Grant Competition

top100 for 100andchange

Team seeks to shut down HIV transmission in South Africa

A proposal spearheaded by the University of Pennsylvania has been named in the Top 100 in the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change competition, which offers a single $100 million grant to help solve one of the world’s most critical social challenges.

The collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives & Behavioral Economics (CHIBE), the Ezintsha unit of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and Discovery Vitality (part of South Africa’s largest private insurance company) seeks to implement interventions that will help to end South Africa’s HIV epidemic. Specifically, their Top 100 proposal will implement proven behavioral interventions that will increase individuals’ utilization of highly effective, widely available HIV services and shut down HIV transmission.

South Africa HIV graphic

“Our team brings together behavioral scientists and clinicians as well as public and private sector implementation specialists. Together we seek to implement compelling, low-cost behavioral interventions that will motivate people to seek the highly-effective health services that are so vital to ending the HIV epidemic.” said Harsha Thirumurthy, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and an Associate Director of CHIBE. “This is a “last mile” challenge that can be addressed with behavioral insights.”

Dr. Thirumurthy leads the collaboration at Penn along with Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and also a CHIBE Associate Director.

Francois Venter, MD, PhD, the lead collaborator at Ezintsha in South Africa and a prominent HIV treatment and prevention specialist, noted, “This will change the world. We can use proven behavioral approaches in an amazing public-private partnership to contain the HIV epidemic in South Africa. Lessons and experiences here can be scaled across the region and affect millions of lives here, and regionally. Eliminating HIV transmission is the dream of anyone working in HIV – and this approach can finally get us towards that goal.”

“To curb HIV transmission in South Africa through behavioral change would be a manifestation, at scale, of Discovery’s core purpose which is to make people healthier and enhance their lives,” said Dr. Mosima Mabunda, Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality. “This is an initiative we would be proud to be involved in and endorse. As the world’s largest behavior-change platform linked to insurance, Discovery Vitality has a track record of encouraging people to make better choices toward improved health outcomes. By combining smart tech, data, incentives, and behavioral science, together we can harness a powerful vision to create healthier societies.”

Find more information about this project on Lever for Change’s Bold Solutions Network website, which features the University of Pennsylvania collaboration as one of the Top 100 from 100&Change. Click here to view the team’s factsheet.

This competition launched in April 2019, and since then the team has advanced through administrative and peer-to-peer review and wise head and technical review to get to the Top 100. This spring, the MacArthur Board of Directors will select up to 10 finalists, and the award winner will be announced in fall 2020.

For questions related to the Penn team, please contact CHIBE Communication Manager Meghan Ross at For questions related to the Ezintsha unit, please contact Head of Strategic Development at Ezintsha Holly Fee at