First Annual Deb Levine Youth Innovator Award


YTH has achieved many things since it was founded by Deb Levine in 2001. Deb served as executive director for the first 12 years of the organization, which is now under the leadership of Bhupendra Sheoran. In recognition of her contributions to YTH and to the field of public health and technology, YTH will be presenting the first annual Deb Levine Youth Innovator Award to a young person who has shown exceptional leadership in tech health innovation. 

YAB member Anthony Sis will be introducing Deb Levine during an award ceremony at YTH Live. He recently interviewed Deb about the founding of YTH and her work over the years to advance the health of young people.

Anthony: What inspired you to get involved in the field of public health and technology?

Deb: I was working as a health educator at Columbia University back in the 90s, when I realized that students had these complex health questions about sensitive issues. They really had nowhere to turn to to discuss things considered to be shameful and embarrassing like recreational drug and prescription drug interactions, erections, eating disorders, and coming out in college. I went to the folks in the computer lab on campus and suggested the idea of an anonymous health question and answer service for students that would be answered by professionals from the Health Services in a conversational manner. That become Go Ask Alice! in 1996, when the World Wide Web became ubiquitous. The rest is history.

AStarting a non-profit organization is no easy task. What were some of the obstacles and challenges you initially faced when establishing YTH?

D: As a founder, you believe that the impossible is possible. You really don’t see any obstacles or challenges in your path because you are so passionate about the cause. Of course, I was lucky enough to have the support of Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, then Director of STD Prevention and Control at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. He had the data, I had the ideas on how to buck the trends. Dr. Klausner is a smart risk-taker, and together, we launched some of YTH’s first projects such as inSPOT, and SexINFO.

A: How has the organization changed since 2001?

D: Many things have changed over the years. In 2001, not many health or youth-serving organizations were using technology. YTH was able to be a leader in moving the field into the digital age by being a thought leader, hosting YTH Live (formerly Sex::Tech) and publishing the first report on young people’s sexual and reproductive health in the digital age (TECHSexUSA) with support from the Ford Foundation.

A: Every year, hundreds of people from all walks of life attend YTH Live. Why do you think the conference draws such a diverse audience?

D: I love YTH Live. It is one of the only conferences that breaks down silos in public health: Silos between topic areas (HIV, contraception and birth control, relationship violence) and generational silos (between youth and adults who serve youth) and across tech platforms (mobile, social media, native apps, etc.). We work all year with our heads down, trying to create the best programs for young people that we can. YTH Live is an opportunity for attendees to learn what others are doing and bring it back to their own work, set their tech agenda for the year.

A: As founder of YTH, what are your hopes and expectations for the future of the organization?

D: I am so happy and proud of Sheoran, YTH’s current Executive Director. He is so smart, even-keeled, and collegial. Together with the YTH advisors and the Board of Directors, I am sure that the organization will grow and thrive, in the US and around the world.

Meet Deb and other tech health innovators at YTH LiveRegister today and join us at Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco, California from April 26th-28th.

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