For This 15-Year-Old, A Smart Start Life is a More Certain Life

By Alexandra Idol, Philanthropist and Founding Fellow of MaverickNext

Alexandra Idol is a founding Fellow of MaverickNext, a philanthropy accelerator creating a movement of emerging global leaders who are engaged, inspired and changing themselves and the world through strategic investments. She is currently a partner and board member of a private family office where she focuses on strategic growth investments and philanthropic initiatives. She received an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a double major in Operations and Entrepreneurial Management and a BA from Villanova University with majors in Marketing and Finance.

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Abena has big dreams but even bigger fears.

“Retta, my neighbor, has 3 kids. They broke up, and she took the three children.”

But despite this fear, her dreams rise above. Abena – who lives in a rural Ethiopian village – has been married for one month. Her deep brown eyes are mesmerizing, and her fierce dedication to her husband shines brightly. “He is more beautiful than me,” she gushes abashedly, going on to describe him as both loving and hardworking. While simultaneously completing his schooling, Abena’s husband provides for the couple by selling sand for construction. At home, Abena supports their household by cooking, cleaning, and sewing.

Retta’s story may fuel Abena’s worry, but Tamrat’s inspires her to aim high.

“Tamrat owns a small business,” Abena beams about her husband. Abena values and admires the stability and prosperity her peers have achieved. She dreams of expanding her and her husband’s farm, building a house, and growing their family. “We both also want four children. That is enough.”

When Abena and her husband were introduced to Smart Start by a navigator, they learned of a means to make their dreams become reality.

Developed by PSI’s flagship, youth-powered, sexual and reproductive health program Adolescents 360 (A360), Smart Start uses financial planning to engage rural Ethiopian girls aged 15-19 and their husbands in planning their futures. Ultimately, Smart Start positions contraception as a tool for young families to achieve their goals for stability and, when they are ready, to begin building a family.

Through Smart Start and with her husband’s support, Abena plans to visit the health clinic where she will have a contraceptive implant put in her arm. Doing this will help to prevent an unplanned pregnancy for up to three years while she and her husband earn the money they need to provide for their future children.

In Ethiopia and beyond, healthy women that have economic stability help lift their communities out of poverty and improve national prosperity. Smart Start is proof of that power. In the 15 months since Smart Start launched, 17,500 girls aged 15-19 have voluntarily taken up contraception after engaging with the program.

“Before babies, it is important to have stability,” Abena says. Her smile is soft; her gaze is deliberate. “Discuss and create a plan with your spouse.”

Adolescents 360 (A360) is a four-and-a-half year initiative co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). The project is led by Population Services International (PSI) together with, University of California at Berkeley Center on the Developing Adolescent, the Society for Family Health Nigeria, and Triggerise. The project is being delivered in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania, in partnership with local governments, local organizations, and local technology and marketing firms. In Tanzania, A360 is building on an investment and talent from philanthropist and design thinker Pam Scott.

**Names changed to protect subject’s identity.

Photography: © Solomon Kifle

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