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Webinar Reading Time: 6 minutes

Positive Youth Development: Young People as Assets, Allies, and Agents

Connecting Conversations Series: Theme 5, Session 1

On October 14, 2021, FP2030 and Knowledge SUCCESS hosted the first session in our final set of conversations in the Connecting Conversations series. In this session, speakers explored what makes Positive Youth Development (PYD) different from other adolescent and youth frameworks, and why embracing one of the central tenets of youth as assets, allies, and agents of change in Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health (AYSRH) programming will increase positive reproductive health outcomes.

Missed this session? Read the summary below or access the recordings (in English and French).

Featured speakers:

  • Kristely Bastien, senior program manager at EnCompass.
  • Dr. Richard M. Lerner, the Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science and director of Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University.
  • Pauline Picho Keronyai, the executive director at the Nama Wellness Community Centre.
  • Amy Uccello, the senior youth and reproductive health technical advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Population and Reproductive Health (moderator).

How do positive youth approaches come about? What are some of the key principles of PYD?

Watch now: 11:43

Dr. Lerner provided a brief overview of the emergence of PYD and explained how historically, PYD regarded adolescence as a period of inevitable conflict and consequently treated adolescents as a problem to be managed. He described how recently, PYD has been reoriented from a deficit model to one that is strengths-based. These strengths are known as the four C’s: competence, confidence, connection, and character.

“If you align the strengths of young people with the resources that exist in their world, all young people can increase in their ability to thrive throughout their adolescence and into adulthood.”

Dr. Richard M. Lerner
Clockwise from left: Kristely Bastien, Dr. Richard M. Lerner, Amy Uccello (moderator), Pauline Picho Keronyai
Clockwise from left: Kristely Bastien, Dr. Richard M. Lerner, Amy Uccello (moderator), Pauline Picho Keronyai

How can PYD approaches be used in AYSRH? How have you seen that at work?

Watch now: 18:28

Picho Keronyai spoke about how the Nama Wellness Community Center has a program that has young people take the lead in designing and implementing their activities. Through this program, young people are able to change the lives of their peers and also think critically about the issues facing their communities. Picho Keronyai highlighted how this approach has managed to positively impact the adults in the communities who were initially resistant to providing family planning to youth. Bastien described how there are four key components that facilitate successful PYD: assets, agency, an enabling environment, and the ability for youth to make a contribution. She described how her organization leads reproductive health trainings that emphasize youth leadership in event planning and the creation of informational tools; she also went on to emphasize the importance of engaging parents in the implementation of PYD. Dr. Lerner mentioned three key design principles for effective youth programming: facilitating positive and sustained relationships with a mentor, teaching a life-skill building curriculum, and providing opportunities for youth leadership.

How can the youth educate adults in these contexts? Beyond peer-to-peer education, have you experienced adolescents sharing their knowledge with adults? What impact has this had?

Watch now: 24:44

Panelists spoke about experiences within their own programs where youth and adults were brought together for AYSRH workshops. Bastien described a workshop where parents and youth, along with a neutral third party, openly discussed their sexual experiences and shared advice. She commented that these types of workshops were initially awkward for participants, but that they provided a space for parents and youth to have constructive conversations about important sexual health topics. Picho Keronyai described how allowing young people to lead educational presentations in schools has changed the thinking of many adults in their communities. Specifically, she described a drama program where students presented on topics that were often left out of school curricula, such as gender-based violence and menstrual hygiene management. This program was enlightening for many teachers at the schools.

“Once we transform the way of thinking of young people as ‘problems’ to viewing them as the future generation that needs to be nurtured and developed, then adults become more appreciative of some of these programs.”

Pauline Picho Keronyai

What are the structures put in place to ensure sustainability in the activities with youth champions? How do we integrate PYD into our systems?

Watch now: 30:21

Speakers discussed how ensuring sustainability with PYD continues to be a challenge but emphasized the need for community partnerships as a way to scale and maintain PYD programming. Dr. Lerner described how there is a lack of research surrounding sustainability, and this gap in the literature leaves many practitioners without a guide on how to integrate their programs into larger structures. Picho Keronyai echoed this sentiment and spoke about how all stakeholders must be involved through multi-sectoral partnerships, including schools, the health field, and religious leaders.

“If you can create partnerships, and through evaluation show that the programs are changing kids’ lives for the better, that is a way for scaling and sustainability.”

Dr. Richard M. Lerner
Youth champions gather to discuss challenges they and their peers encounter when trying to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights in their communities. Credit: Yagazie Emezi/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment.
Youth champions gather to discuss challenges they and their peers encounter when trying to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights in their communities. Credit: Yagazie Emezi/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment.

Why haven’t PYD indicators been considered as a pathway to the health outcomes that we are all trying to achieve with AYSRH—increased contraceptive uptake, reduced adolescent pregnancies, etc.?

Watch now: 35:48

Bastien spoke about navigating knowledge gaps within her team, as many people did not know what PYD was. She emphasized the importance of tailoring the nature of PYD information to the specific stakeholder that you are interacting with. She described how providing evidence-based examples of how PYD can benefit a specific program, rather than discussing benefits theoretically, resonates with donors, participants, and program developers. Dr. Lerner expanded on this idea and spoke about how PYD needs to be adjusted to fit the needs of the population in which it is being implemented. Picho Keronyai spoke about the successes associated with the effective dissemination of PYD toolkit information to health workers.

“Getting partners involved is super important in highlighting how PYD can go across different organizations, programs, levels, etc.”

Kristely Bastien

How ready are nongovernmental organizations in using PYD to navigate myths and misconceptions among the regions in which they operate?

Watch now: 41:27

Speakers emphasized the importance of educating community leaders to combat misconceptions. Picho Keronyai mentioned how local leaders often act as a barrier to the effective provision of sexual and reproductive health in many communities and described how her program organized training for local leaders to educate them on the benefits of AYSRH. Bastien described how addressing myths was built into the curriculum of her program; youth would address health care practitioners about misconceptions that they had heard and the practitioners would use their credibility as well as factual information to debunk these myths.

“It really comes from the knowledge gap in our communities; if we do not address that, then we will continue to have these challenges coming up from all corners of our countries and communities.”

Pauline Picho Keronyai

It is clear that trust is critical to the successful implementation of PYD. What are some ways that you think we can facilitate trust in spaces while working with youth?

Watch now: 45:48

Picho Keronyai discussed the importance of drawing on the PYD framework to build trust; she described how having youth design their own programs enables them to better trust the people and services that they receive. She also emphasized how the quality of services is a significant indicator of whether a youth will choose to return to a provider, and that they need to trust that they will not be harmed by the products or services that are provided to them. Bastien commented that PYD should not be treated simply as a checklist of things to do; it is important to actively listen to youth and prioritize their feedback throughout PYD programming. She mentioned that only attending one meeting is not sufficient, and remarked that consistency within PYD is crucial to building trust.

What are some ways to really sustain and incorporate meaningful youth engagement?

Watch now: 57:03

Bastien remarked that it is important to consistently evaluate how your program is implementing PYD and collect data surrounding its effectiveness. She described that PYD is a collaborative strategy and that it is necessary to communicate with other programs to compare and align programmatic goals and approaches. Dr. Lerner echoed Bastien’s sentiments and added that successful PYD centers on positive relationship building between youth and mentors within PYD.

“You need positive developmental relationships that are sustained and marked by trust and mutual affirmation.”

Dr. Richard M. Lerner

About “Connecting Conversations”

Connecting Conversations” is a series tailored specifically for youth leaders and young people, hosted by FP2030 and Knowledge SUCCESS. Featuring five themes, with four to five conversations per module, this series presents a comprehensive look at Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health (AYRH) topics including Adolescent and Youth Development; Measurement and Evaluation of AYRH Programs; Meaningful Youth Engagement; Advancing Integrated Care for Youth; and the 4 P’s of influential players in AYRH. If you’ve attended any of the sessions, then you know these are not your typical webinars. These interactive conversations feature key speakers and encourage open dialogue. Participants are encouraged to submit questions before and during the conversations.

Our fifth and final series, “Emerging Trends and Transformational Approaches in AYSRH,” began on October 14, 2021. Upcoming sessions will focus on scaling up AYSRH programs and building trusting partnerships with adolescents and youth. Register here!

Want to Get Caught Up on the Previous Conversation Series?

Our first series, which ran from July 2020 through September 2020, focused on a foundational understanding of adolescent development and health. Our second series, which ran from November 2020 through December 2020, focused on critical influencers to improve young people’s reproductive health. Our third series ran from March 2021 to April 2021 and focused on an adolescent-responsive approach to SRH services. Our fourth series began in June 2021 and concluded in August 2021 and focused on reaching key youth populations in AYSRH. You can watch recordings (available in English and French) and read conversation summaries to catch up.

Jill Litman

Global Partnerships Intern, FP2030

Jill Litman is a senior at the University of California, Berkeley studying Public Health. Within this field, she is especially passionate about maternal health and reproductive justice. She is FP2030’s Global Partnerships Intern for the fall of 2021, assisting the Global Initiatives team in their work with Youth Focal Points and other tasks for the 2030 transition.