Meaningful Adolescent and Youth Engagement: Three Country Perspectives

The piece was originally published on the USAID Momentum blog.

By Sarah Engebretsen, Consultant, MOMENTUM Private Healthcare Delivery and Alexandra Angel, Technical Advisor, MOMENTUM Private Healthcare Delivery

MOMENTUM Private Healthcare Delivery is putting the principles of Meaningful Adolescent and Youth Engagement (MAYE) into practice by engaging directly with young people, as both participants and leaders, in the development of programs geared toward addressing their sexual and reproductive health needs. MAYE shares power with young people, recognizing them as experts regarding their own needs and priorities while also strengthening their leadership/workforce capacities.

Meaningful Adolescent and Youth Engagement (MAYE)

MAYE is an inclusive, intentional, mutually respectful partnership between youth and adults. Through a MAYE approach, power is shared, respective contributions are valued, and young people’s ideas, perspectives, skills, and strengths are integrated into program planning, design, and implementation. MAYE recognizes young people as experts regarding their own needs and priorities while also building their leadership/workforce capacities.

While it’s important to engage youth in pr­ogram and service design, youth should be active partners throughout the project lifecycle from design to implementation to monitoring and evaluation.  Engaging young people poorly or without careful thought and intention risks losing trust and connection with them. In a recent webinar, MOMENTUM shared experiences on how MAYE is being operationalized in Mali, Malawi, and Benin. Here’s what was shared:

Mali

In Mali, half of pregnancy and delivery complications occur in adolescents and youth. MOMENTUM is engaging with key stakeholders in the private healthcare sector including a dynamic partnership with the Network of Young Ambassadors for FP/RH, a movement of youth committed to sexual and reproductive health that was established out of the Ouagadougou Partnership. As the network creates social media content, uses their online networks to raise awareness among youth, and advocates for youth-responsive FP/RH services across Mali, MOMENTUM meaningfully engages and partners with them to develop organizational capacity and prepare them to become an autonomous organization. MOMENTUM is providing guidance on project management, communication, design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. The partnership and meaningful engagement of youth equipped the Network to convene a youth-led campaign, aimed at reaching young people and women, including the most marginalized, with family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) information and services. This and other campaigns on the radio, Facebook, and Twitter reached over 600,000 youth. The campaign included awareness-raising sessions with slam poetry, rap, and other entertainment.

Malawi

A substantial portion of young people in Malawi express a preference for obtaining modern methods of contraception from the private sector due to perceived anonymity, convenience, and discretion. However, gaps remain in making private sector health services accessible to adolescents and youth as private sector actors may not already be systematically engaged in meeting national adolescent and youth initiatives or goals.  MOMENTUM hosted discussions to generate youth-led insights on creating tailored, intentional social and behavioral change communication materials for adolescents and youth. By following the MAYE principle of valuing the respective contributions of young people, MOMENTUM learned that boys ages 15-24 do not see contraception as their responsibility. Married and unmarried girls ages 15-24 desire success and crave information on how to prevent pregnancy while in school, and all youth express hesitancy in visiting public sector clinics due to lack of confidentiality. These insights made clear that girls and boys preferred different communication channels: a video series for boys that featured private sector clinics and addressed boys’ role in contraception and a comic book for girls that focused on negotiating challenges. The video series was shared on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and on national television and yielded over one million views on YouTube and Facebook in a two-month period. The comic books were distributed widely through youth clubs, schools, school health days, and open days.

Benin

Providing young people access to SRH information and links to services through digital tools can offer confidentiality and anonymity. In Benin, 61% of adolescent girls and young women (ages 15-24) have an unmet need for contraception. Many young people lack knowledge of menstruation prior to first experience.  To meet the SRH needs of youth, MOMENTUM integrated young peoples’ skills and, perspectives into the development of the Tata Annie Chatbot. This is a technological innovation that provides young people with FP/RH information conveniently, approachably, and confidentially using an algorithm and a series of dynamic questions. Tata Annie links users to an online, certified midwife counselor available to respond to questions 24 hours a day. It allows users to request a referral to private sector, youth-friendly clinics.

Following the design phase of the chatbot, youth perspectives were considered in optimizing the digital tool through expanding the platform beyond Facebook, rewording phrases, and linking to nearby FP facilities. Since the chatbot was launched in October 2021, there have been over 9,000 unique visitors. Looking ahead, MOMENTUM would like to adapt and improve the chatbot to make sure it remains youth-relevant and youth-responsive.

Through these activities in Mali, Malawi and Benin, MOMENTUM is engaging in an iterative process of putting MAYE into practice, agreeing with MOMENTUM Mali’s Youth Coordinator, Ibrahima Traore, that the most important thing is “to always stand on the side of youth!”

For more information, watch the webinar below.

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