Elevating Youth Voices, Building Youth Skills for Health Design

By: Melissa Higbie, PSI’s Adolescents 360 Director, and Amy Uccello, PSI’s SR. ASRHR Technical Advisor

The statistics underscore the urgency.

Across sub-Saharan African, two in five girls still have an unmet need for modern contraception–despite decades of concerted efforts across the public health community to evolve and adapt how we approach adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (ASRHR) programming.

And we believe it’s, in part, because young people’s voices usually inform but have rarely meaningfully co-created the solutions that serve them.

Through PSI’s youth-powered programming, we’ve learned that by working with and for young people, to co-design alongside diverse experts, we can reimagine how adolescents and youth perceive and access modern contraception, and drive toward a future in which all young people can dare to dream.

That’s why PSI is pledging to identify, train and deploy a corps of 500 young people from around the world with the skills to co-design and implement ASRHR programs alongside technical experts—all by 2030.  These Youth Fellows will be employed as practitioners in programs within and beyond PSI, working as researchers, analysts, advocates and community-level champions who can counsel teams on how to apply meaningful youth engagement (MYE). And, through intergenerational and peer-to-peer mentorship, they will be supported to develop the confidence and skills needed to successfully influence and deliver public health programming. 

But it doesn’t end there. 

The pledge is part of our larger, cohesive global vision to work alongside cross-sectoral partners to establish quality standards for representative youth leadershipto determine how to track the impact of MYE and to create pathways to bring in youth at younger ages and provide them with opportunities that extend well beyond the fellowship, itself. 

Because to achieve a world in which every young person – every girl, and every boy – can access contraception, a shift requires us all – public health practitioners, donors and partners, alike – to get youth-powered, together.

A360 Tanzania Young Designer Rosemary Nazar announces PSI’s Commitment to Global, Meaningful Youth Leadership at ICPD25 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Young Leaders at the Helm

PSI works alongside 680+ young leaders to co-create and co-implement youth-powered programs across our global network. From the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation co-funded Adolescents 360 (A360), to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs-funded Project Ignite, our young PSIers allow us to step deep into our youngest consumers lives, to understand the diversity of their self-defined needs, and the holistic approach required to program in response.

It’s a shift from youth-centered to youth-powered.

With young people at the helm, we’ve made substantial inroads (and still know, we’ve got a long way to go) in what it takes to reframe modern contraception as relevant, valuable and accessible.

And through it, we’ve captured the learnings that you too can apply:

1. Start with Her Goal, Not Ours

PSI approaches contraception with a youth lens. We lead with young people’s self- defined dreams; we put power in their hands; and we meet young people where, when and how they say they need.

What does it really mean to listen to young people define their dreams? Watch this webinar hosted by PSI, Save the Children and FP2020.

2. Aim to Serve the Whole Girl – and Go Where that Leads Us 

Young people’s goals and aspirations fall within and beyond the realm of health, particularly toward livelihoods and education. We will continue to ensure the relevance and value of ASRHR services to young people’s lives by connecting services to young people’s aspirations, as they define for themselves. And we will partner for impact across sectors.

Explore how the KfW Development Bank and USAID-funded Project N’zatonse delivers combined health, income generation and social development activities for Malawi’s most vulnerable youth.

3. Adapt and Fail Forward

What got us here will not get us to where young people need us to go.

To deliver impact for young people, we must stay ahead of the curve, anticipating the current and emerging challenges young people face in accessing needed care.

And those challenges are only becoming more complex—particularly as climate change increasingly threatens the stability of the health systems and markets on which young people rely.

PSI remains unafraid to ask new and hard questions, learn in real-time, and adapt (and fail) forward. We do this in partnership with young people and local health systems, building lasting local capacity for adolescent-responsive programming.

In Tanzania, A360 engages youth “SWAT” teams, namely young people who serve as on-site “eyes” during A360 events.

Leveraging their own youth perspective, they tell us what’s working and flag what’s not – allowing us to make programmatic adjustments in real-time.

Here’s how.

4. Bringing Care Closer to Young People

A key part of youth-powered programming is understanding—and delivering—on young people’s self-expressed priorities.

Young people have traditionally been expected to meet health systems where they are. But at PSI, we’re flipping the script.

We meet young people where they say they are and how they say they need. PSI’s market-agnostic approach to diagnosis means that we stay open to leveraging and strengthening all service delivery channels that young people desire.

We approach our work with an unbridled curiosity – we, alongside young people, the influencers around them and the health systems that serve them, commit to innovating, whenever necessary, to bring care as close to young people’s door as possible, and in ways that are engaging, dignifying, and fun.

In Mozambique, Aquele Papo – a social behavior change campaign powered by PSI Mozambique’s ASRHR programs Vale a Pena and Ignite and developed for adolescents by adolescents – combines in-school showings of the campaign’s feature film with fun, pop-up events where young people learn about their bodies and gain life skills, with the option for free contraceptive counseling with a youth-friendly nurse.

Learn more.

5. Elevate Youth Voices 

Nothing for young people, without young people.

PSI believes in the right of young people to shape the lives they desire. Young people join us as equal decision makers to co-create and implement the programs that serve them.

PSI works to clear the path for young people to exercise their power, and we offer our platform as a means to amplify their voice and vision.

Access to contraception is not just about protecting girls from an unintended pregnancy today; it’s about putting power in girls’ hands so they can achieve their life dreams, now and into the future.

Through MYE and effective youth-adult partnerships, we help bring young people together with disciplinary experts to chart new and groundbreaking paths forward for ASRHR. And with it, we’re continually working with partners across health-and non-health sectors to explore and evolve what it looks like to engage young people meaningfully, authentically and effectively – for lasting value for ASRHR programming, within and beyond PSI. 

Onward we go.