8 Ways PSI Puts Youth at the Center of Programming

By Ashley Jackson and Sophia Greenbaum, PSI


On August 13, PSI joins the world in celebrating the creativity, insights, and promise of young people. The theme of this year’s International Youth Day is youth civic engagement, recognizing the critical role of young people in ensuring that policies and programs are responsive to their needs and rights.

The world is now home to the largest generation of young people in history, and nearly half of the world’s population is under age 30.[1]  In Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls (age 15-19) account for an estimated 2.7 million unintended pregnancies each year and 25% of all unsafe abortions.[2] PSI works to address young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs not by defining solutions for youth, but with youth. Here’s how.



  • Advocacy:In Nepal, PSI invited young leaders from the Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON) and the Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER) to join a three-day stakeholder workshop with the Nepali Family Health Division of the Ministry of Health and Population’s Department of Health Services. AYON and Y-PEER interviewed 600 of their peers about the barriers they face to accessing key health services like contraception and STI treatment. The youth leaders then presented the concerns and ideas of their peers to the Family Health Division, global health donors, and civil society leaders at the workshop. Together with these stakeholders, the youth leaders developed recommendations for how to engage pharmacies and other private health outlets in the national effort to ensure that that public and private sector health services are youth-friendly and non-discriminatory. Learn more about PSI/Nepal’s sexual and reproductive health work here.YouthDay_d1-03
  • Formative research: To better understand the social norms contributing to the high adolescent pregnancy rate in Honduras, PSI and PASMO/Honduras conducted a baseline study involving nearly 300 girls aged 10-14 years. In responses to questions adapted to their age and maturity level, the girls shared their perspectives about gender norms and reproductive health. For example, 40% of the girls agreed that an obedient woman is better than an intelligent woman, and 24% agreed that a good woman never contradicts her husband. As part of the Chicas en Conexión project funded by the Summit Foundation, PSI/PASMO used the results in their work with adolescent girls to address harmful gender norms and open up the otherwise limited access to education about sexual and reproductive health. To date, 360 adolescent girls ages 10-19 have been enrolled in the Chicas en Conexión girls’ clubs, which provide a safe space to discuss gender equality, importance of remaining in school, and health through a series of weekly, age-appropriate activities led by trained young female mentors in rural Honduras. Read more about Chicas en Conexión here.


  • Program design: In Tanzania, the philanthropist and design thinker Pam Scott engaged PSI and IDEO.org to involve adolescent girls in developing a project to address unintended pregnancy. As part of a one-week design immersion, Scott, PSI Tanzania staff and IDEO.org consultants met with adolescent girls and the parents, teachers, boyfriends, and town elders in “feedback labs,” providing designers with multiple rounds of immediate feedback on their ideas as they prototyped different solutions. Read about the results of this process here.


  • Advisory board: In Malawi, a “Youth Advisory Board” oversees PSI’s efforts to reach youth with health messages and services funded by the German government (KfW) and USAID. The board members, young people selected from around the country, ensure that communication messages will resonate with and inspire youth, and that services are well adapted to respond to their peers’ needs. This year, the chair of the youth board traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in an expert meeting focused on developing global recommendations for how to expand the range of contraceptive options available to youth. More than 200 youth per month receive voluntary contraception through the clinics in PSI/Malawi’s social franchise that have integrated youth-friendly services into their offering.


  • Provider training: When PSI and its network member in Uganda, PACE, trained health providers in youth-friendly health services, they invited Ugandan youth to play a key part in all four days of the training workshop. In Uganda as in many countries, provider attitudes pose a major barrier to young people’s use of contraception and other health services. The workshop gave providers an opportunity to explore conflicts between their personal and professional values and consider the impact of their attitudes. During the workshop, youth and providers engaged with each other through role-play exercises, communication and counseling training, case study discussions and site visits. Youth participants provided valuable perspectives about their needs, desires and experiences with the health sector. PACE’s social franchise offers youth a wide range of contraceptive options, including long-acting reversible contraceptives like the IUD. In 2013-2014, 20% of PACE clients who chose the IUD were under the age of 25. More information on PACE’s sexual and reproductive health work is available here.


  • Radio programs: In Liberia, teens and early 20-somethings have hosted PSI’s radio program called Let’s Talk about Sex since 2009. The show airs weekly for 30 minutes and is complemented by peer education sessions with youth groups who listen to the show and discuss that week’s topic. Youth hosts discuss topics related to sex, sexual health, contraception, HIV prevention, and gender norms – often mixed with discussions about other issues that youth want to talk about, such as relationships, finding jobs, academic success, music and pop culture. Young listeners call in or send questions and feedback through mobile phones.

Watch Massa Harris, the popular host of Let’s Talk about Sex, interview the Dr. Jeffrey Peipert about the groundbreaking Contraceptive CHOICE study when they met in Washington, D.C.


  • Peer education: In many countries where PSI works, youth serve as peer educators who engage groups or individual young people in discussions about health and refer them for youth-friendly services. In Madagascar, IntraHealth International collaborated with PSI to train peer educators to address not only contraception and health, but gender inequality. Young men and women use debates and games to encourage their peers to explore the effects of rigid gender norms on health. Peer educators distribute vouchers to give youth discounts for sexual and reproductive health services. In 2014, PSI/Madagascar’s Top Réseau franchise provided voluntary family planning services to 89,498 youth aged 15-24. Nearly half (42%) of youth clients came with a referral voucher. Read more about this USAID-funded work here.


  • Evaluation: In Benin, PSI’s network member, the Association Beninoise pour le Marketing Social (ABMS), established a magazine, radio and television show, peer education, and youth-friendly services program called Amour & Vie (Love & Life) with funding from the Dutch government. PSI/ABMS works with young facilitators from its staff and network to conduct focus group discussions throughout the year with in- and out-of-school youth to get feedback on these activities. The inputs from young people are then used to determine topic selection and program improvements, helping to keep Amour & Vie messages and programs relevant and engaging to youth. In 2014, more than 9,000 youth adopted a contraceptive method for the first time and more than 20,000 received voluntary HIV testing and counseling through the program. Learn more about Amour & Vie in this video below.




Read more about PSI’s other sexual and reproductive health programs for youth here.

[1] USAID. (2012). Youth in Development: Realizing the Demographic Opportunity. USAID Policy Youth.
[2] Guttmacher Institute. (2010). Facts on the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescent Women in the Developing World. Retrieved from: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Adolescents-SRH.pdf.