This post was originally published on Humanitas Global Development.
Today is World Population Day, and this year’s focus is appropriately on youth and adolescent pregnancy. There are more than 1.2 billion young people in the world, and 87 percent live in developing countries.
For more than 10 years, Population Action International and Youth Vision Zambia have partnered to improve knowledge of and access to reproductive health among young people in Zambia. In the process, they’ve also discovered that how you work can be just as important as what you’re doing. Investing in youth is not just about funding, but about real participation and a seat at the table. It’s about teamwork not just over the course of one project, but over the long haul. PAI President & CEO Suzanne Ehlers and Youth Vision Zambia Executive Director Amos Mwale know this from experience. Today, with the spotlight on young people and getting results, they tell their joint story, and discuss their partnership model.
Suzanne: Young leaders bring enthusiasm but also a not-yet-refined business sense. Their inexperience can yield, quite frankly, both better-than-average and disastrous results. Their idealism fuels their fire in times of challenge and adversity.
But hunger is key.
A young leader can remedy so much through sheer determination and appetite. For knowledge. For a better world. For exposure and vision and movement.
Since 2003 PAI has worked with Youth Vision Zambia and its amazing team of young, talented leaders. A decade later, I’m astounded by the strength of that partnership and what it has achieved.
Amos: Young people in Zambia today lack access to comprehensive, affordable, youth friendly and non-discriminatory sexual reproductive health services. Twenty-eight percent of women aged 15-19 years, will become pregnant. Youth sexuality, pregnancy, and motherhood outside marriage continue to be stigmatized in many parts of Zambian society, and girls and young women are experiencing higher rates of gender-based violence.
Youth Vision Zambia conducts comprehensive sexuality education for young people in Kafue, Chongwe, Lusaka, and some parts of the Copper belt. The organization also educates members of parliament and the media about sexual and reproductive health issues.
Suzanne: On the one hand, it’s immaterial that Youth Vision Zambia focuses on the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people. And it’s also beside the point that it was founded and is run by young professionals.
Yet on World Population Day, as we focus on the needs, power and potential of youth it is so the point, as we look for partnership models that work, development approaches that deliver, and innovations that should be propagated instead of abandoned.
Amos: Youth Vision Zambia uses a model of youth participation to empower young people to be equal partners in policy design, decision making and resource allocation. Youth Vision believes that young people should be presented with evidence-based information about all the different choices they can make about their sexuality, and have access to quality and affordable sexual and reproductive health services.
Building on the already existing capabilities, and assisting Youth Vision Zambia in tapping into its own talents, niche and potentials, PAI has helped Youth Vision Zambia achieve transformative results in Zambian communities.
Suzanne: Two key attributes characterize the success we have shared with Youth Vision. One is advocacy and the other is long haul. Advocacy, because nothing excites a young person more than being given the tools, the skills, and the platform from which to influence his country government. For the better. Long haul because this kind of growth and capacity is not an overnight affair. It takes patience, some missteps, open communication, trust for a shared vision, and more.
Amos: Having worked for Youth Vision Zambia for more than 11 years, I have seen firsthand its growth and development, and can attest that it takes time. One of the greatest parts of Youth Vision Zambia’s partnership with PAI has been PAI’s trust, respect and acknowledgment of youth abilities, skills, perspectives and ideas. By providing Youth Vision with technical support and transformative mentorship over many years that respects youth needs and our organization’s autonomy we have been able to explore the contexts of youth in Zambia, and to generate solutions that are culturally appropriate.
Young people have ideas for change and hold solutions to problems that they face, but we can’t do it alone. With information, support and opportunities to act, young people in Zambia can improve their own sexual reproductive health and advance their rights.
Suzanne: Exactly. No environment is static and if we want to see lasting change in developing countries for women, their children, and their families, then we must start investing in and training—serious investments and purposeful trainings—the young leaders of those countries. They will not only move the needle where it has been stalled, but they will also keep it moved once it has shifted. Change, even change for the better, cannot be taken for granted.