Since A360’s launch in 2016, young people have shown us that the best solutions for adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programs come from when young people lead the way. As A360 shifts into the project’s next phase –focused on institutionalizing A360’s girl-centered approach to contraceptive programming—we’re revisiting A360’s meaningful youth engagement (MYE) strategy: what’s worked and what needs extra muscle.
To get there, A360 young designers are leading the charge.
Led by youth for youth, 45 A360 young leaders across Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria convened for a two-day conference to assess if and how young people felt meaningfully engaged by A360, and outline recommendations for where A360’s approach to MYE should go next.
How should A360 strengthen its MYE strategy?
What should adults know about working in partnership with young people?
And what unique perspective can young people offer on what it looks like for youth to engage youth?
We interviewed three young designers who organized the conference. Listen to their Q&A and/or follow along in the transcription below.
For more, read the young designers’ MYE recommendations here.
Christina Massawe, Young Designer, A360 Tanzania: Hi everyone, I’m Christina Massawe—I’m a young designer from Tanzania.
Heran Birhanu, Young Designer, A360 Ethiopia: My name is Heran Birhanu, I am a young designer from Ethiopia.
Melat Gebregiorgis, Young Designer, A360 Ethiopia: Hi, my name is Melat Gebregiorgis, I am a young designer from Ethiopia.
Emma Beck, Sr. Associate Communications Manager, PSI: And I’m Emma Beck, our communications lead for Adolescents 360. I am so lucky to be here in conversation with young designers from Adolescents 360, or A360, PSI’s flagship adolescent contraception program.
The program started in 2016 working in Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia— really centered on what it looks like to reimagine how we support young people to view, value and choose contraception. The project’s unique in that it works with and for young people, like the young designers who we are chatting with today.
We’re here with Heran and Melat, our young designers from Ethiopia, and Christina, our young designer from Tanzania, to discuss their experience creating and launching A360’s first ever young designer conference.
I want to know what insights you guys gained interacting with your fellow young designers. How might that shape A360 or PSI’s approach to meaningful youth engagement? And what can you tell us about what it takes to make space for young leaders like yourselves to take the lead?
So tell me, what did you get up to?
Birhanu: The young designer youth committee was a group of five young designers that were from three A360 countries in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria. We came together to organize the first ever young designers global conference, which was a meaningful youth engagement reflection on the past, and also planning of the future. We conversed with leadership one on one to tell them what we want to be included, and what we thought would be productive to making meaningful youth engagement even more meaningful in the future.
Beck: What did young people say they wanted to see as part of meaningful youth engagement strategies?
Massawe: Strengthening the youth-adult partnership is really important. First, it gives the opportunity for us to have voices can be heard and that we can really do something to change or better the project. Not only in PSI, but you could also think of sharing experiences to other people outside PSI into broader perspectives.
Birhanu: Having a platform where young designers can come together and the release the outcome of their work, or the progress, or just even meet and have conversations that would be very beneficial I feel for meaningful youth engagement.
Beck: We often talk about power dynamics when we have adults and young people at the table, but here we had youth engaging youth. So what did it look like to create an equal playing field for all youth participants to have their voices heard?
Gebregiorgis: Keeping the balance between youth organizers and youth participants; I would say that the fact that the organizers themselves respected each other, and they actually showed and vocalized it when interacting with each other, but also peers that are organizers in this specific conference. Having the breakout room sessions on day one gave us the chance for young designers to connect more to establish relationships I guess with each other—that’s how some of the trust was built.
Massawe: I think the way that you build this safe space for everyone to be free to air out his or her own views and accepting each other’s voice, to really understand what the other part means, because we are from different countries and we are sharing different experiences and we might have different culture and values as well. But, to have that space to speak it out and all of us together to understand that we’re really eager to learn from one another. We learn much when we hear experiences from others, we might be carrying lots of weight and youth might be involved in very different angles in the project, but sharing the experience is the whole story—and not only in PSI I but you could also think of sharing experiencing to other people outside PSI into very broader perspectives. At the end of the day, you realize that no matter how small or big the idea might be, all ideas can lead to something so good and wonderful.
Beck: Which is the core of what it looks like to engage young people as co-decision makers of youth programs…
Gebregiorgis: Yes, encourage and empower the participants at all times because even if the participation level is low, it’s usually not because they don’t have any ideas, it’s usually not because they don’t have a voice. It’s because they don’t feel empowered to use their voice. Keeping the encouragement and empowering them to actually vocalize their thought, it’s going to pay off.
Beck: What did you learn engaging with young designers from other countries?
Gebregiorgis: Diversity is beautiful, that’s what I learned. And that young people are awesome.