Harnessing the Power of Youth to Reach our FP2020 Pledge

By Amy Uccello, Sr. AYSRH Technical Advisor, Adolescents 360, PSI

A young leader once told me: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Herein lies the root of positive youth development (PYD), an evidence-based approach that informs PSI’s youth programming across health settings. It’s a framework that equips adolescents with the skills, assets and support systems to reach their full potential, positioning them to play a central role in their health and well-being while shaping the societal systems that serve them.

PYD gives youth decision making power and makes them a part of the solution. It takes them off the menu and gives them a seat at the table.

At PSI, we’ve pledged to reach 10 million people under the age of 25 with a modern contraceptive method by 2020. With young women accounting for half of global unsafe abortion-related deaths, we remain firm in our commitment to arm young women and men with the knowledge, tools and contraceptive access to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

Our Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) pledge is ambitious. But it is not out of reach.

Success mandates blending the rigor of our efforts with the innovation of our solutions. Through PYD, we can concentrate on opportunities that build adolescents’ skills and enable them to foster healthy relationships and to meaningfully engage in their communities. It helps us establish pathways to integrated youth-friendly health services and, by incorporating aspects of human-centered design (HCD), PYD prompts us to start our work by trusting young people to be the experts of their own lives and define what they need.

By fusing the principles of PYD with the HCD process, we are cracking the code in how to work with and for adolescents to solve their unique SRH needs together.

From Nigeria to Nicaragua, we have re-envisioned what safe physical and online spaces look like to guarantee girls that they can receive voluntary contraceptive counseling in a setting that protects her physical, emotional and, in our modern age, cyber security.

“By fusing the principles of PYD with the HCD process, we are cracking the code in how to work with and for adolescents to solve their unique SRH needs together.” — Amy Uccello, Sr. AYSRH Technical Advisor, A360

Young people have taken us in new directions that we would not have endeavored on our own if designing in a lonely boardroom. Together we are building a sense of belonging and honing the skills that address the more holistic needs of adolescents. We have matched this inclusive design with youth-friendly health services to create healthy adult-youth partnerships. Through values clarification and intense training, we target all involved—from providers to clinic guards to receptionists who often serve as our clients’ first touch points—to respect young people’s rights as clients, to communicate without judgement and, above all, to maintain confidentiality. We create an enabling environment by reducing access barriers and engage youth as “mystery clients” to ensure that health facilities remain accountable in providing youth-friendly SRH services.

We’ve realigned our family planning messaging to speak to the life experiences unique to the girls we work with. Our “Smart Start” intervention in Ethiopia, for example, initiates contraceptive counseling by focusing on ways married girls can financially plan with their partners to reach their life goals. We address the cost of a baby through culturally relevant terms (a sack of grains, for example) to reinforce the monetary benefit of delaying pregnancy. The Adolescents 360 initiative has illustrated that this PYD-HCD approach, which meaningfully engaged young people in the design, can result in voluntary method uptake in only one site visit.

We continue to test creative ways to collaborate with adolescents to redefine the way SRH programs are designed, delivered, measured and evaluated. Having youth at the table as equal partners is the programmatic ingredient essential to not only reaching our FP2020 pledge, but also ensuring the sustainability and resonance of our efforts. As PYD proves, our solutions work when adolescent voices are heard, and their actions are integral to decision and implementing processes. Including youth not only makes them feel more connected—it holds us accountable.

This article was originally published on PSI Impact in March 2018.