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How Do We Mainstream Meaningful Youth Engagement in Family Planning Programs?

Recommendations from the YIELD Project

This article highlights key findings from the Youth Investment, Engagement, and Leadership Development (YIELD) Project’s report, Young People Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health: Toward a New Normal. We explore how the results and recommendations are relevant for decision makers, program managers, and others who design and implement youth family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs.

Currently, one sixth of the world’s population is between 10 and 24 years old. This means that 1.8 billion people—the largest generation of young people in history—are entering their reproductive years.

To make the best reproductive health decisions for themselves and their futures, these young people need information, tools, and resources. But this does not happen in a vacuum. Youth programs are more efficient and effective when they are planned and implemented with the full participation and leadership of young people themselves. And this requires a transformation of adolescent and youth programs—from a field for young people to one with young people.

How can we make youth participation the “new normal?”

How do we engage young people as genuine participants and leaders, maximize their contributions, and move this model into the mainstream? We can look to the Youth Investment, Engagement, and Leadership Development (YIELD) Project for guidance.

In 2019, the YIELD Project published a report synthesizing global evidence on how to realize youth participation in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). It provides three clear calls to action for the global community:

  • Work with youth as partners
  • Collaborate with others advancing youth participation and leadership in SRHR
  • Establish a shared vision

Below, we pair the calls to action with specific implementation guidance from the report, in order to clearly draw out practical steps that decision makers, program managers, and others in the family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) community can take as they work to mainstream youth-responsive FP/RH programming—whether at the local, sub-national, national, or global level.

CALL TO ACTION 1: Work with youth as partners

Young people are the experts in their own lives—and their creativity, passion, and insight can help solve a range of issues related to FP/RH. However, too often, youth aren’t engaged systematically, they don’t represent the populations being served, or institutions ignore young peoples’ professional development needs. The following recommendations will help organizations fully engage with youth in a more comprehensive, holistic way.

CALL TO ACTION 2: Collaborate with others advancing youth participation and leadership

In addition to working with young people themselves, FP/RH stakeholders need to engage with a wide range of other partners—both within and outside the health sector. The following recommendations will help organizations move beyond the typical groups to form partnerships with the goal of advancing youth participation and leadership.

CALL TO ACTION 3: Establish a shared vision

Currently, the field lacks the strategic direction and coordination necessary to move from a fragmented array of programs to a more systematic way of working with young people. To fully recognize young people’s roles as both partners and leaders, we first need to work to change mindsets and behaviors within policy, practice, research, and financing spheres. The following recommendations will help organizations coordinate stakeholders and invest in more impactful programs for young people.


The impact of youth participation is far-reaching—leading to long-term capacity strengthening among young people, improving FP/RH outcomes, and impacting broader civil society. Young people can and should play a part in all efforts that affect them, not only because it is their right, but also because it improves the quality and responsiveness of health programs.

But the onus of ensuring that young people are participating and leading is not only on the youth themselves. It’s time for the FP/RH community to come together to mainstream youth participation and leadership development, and to change mindsets that prevent meaningful youth engagement. The YIELD Project’s report offers us important guidance to ensure young people’s full participation and leadership in all aspects of FP/RH programming.

Want to learn more about this topic? Further reading:

About the YIELD Project:

Young People Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health: Toward a New Normal is a research report documenting the multiple benefits of meaningful youth participation and leadership in sexual health and rights (SRHR) programs. It synthesizes global evidence from the field on how to foster authentic youth engagement, the impacts that result, and recommendations that can strengthen and scale this stream of programming investment. The report is a product of the YIELD Project, which is guided by a Steering Committee comprised of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Summit Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

For more information, please contact: info@yieldproject.org

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Sarah V. Harlan

Partnerships Team Lead, Knowledge SUCCESS, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Sarah V. Harlan, MPH, has been a champion of global reproductive health and family planning for more than two decades. She is currently the partnerships team lead for the Knowledge SUCCESS project at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. Her particular technical interests include Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) and increasing access to longer-acting contraceptive methods. She leads the Inside the FP Story podcast and was a co-founder of the Family Planning Voices storytelling initiative (2015-2020). She is also a co-author of several how-to guides, including Building Better Programs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Knowledge Management in Global Health.

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