Brittany Goetsch, Knowledge SUCCESS Program Officer, recently chatted with Alan Jarandilla Nuñez, the Executive Director of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP). They discussed the work IYAFP is doing related to AYSRH, their new strategic plan, and why they are champions for youth partnership around the world. Alan highlights why AYSRH issues are so important to overall discussions about sexual and reproductive health, and rights (SRHR) and reframing the narrative around young leaders and the intersectionality of SRHR*.
*SRHR and SRHRJ are used interchangeably in the interview.
Brittany Goetsch: Can you tell me a bit about your current role and what you do at IYAFP?
Alan Jarandilla Nuñez: As executive director of IYAFP, I lead the implementation of our strategy. We recently approved a new strategy from 2021–2025. I also lead the external presentation of the organization, manage the executive team, ensure the organization follows the laws of the U.S. of non-profit organizations, and that we are working towards accomplishing our mission and vision as an organization.
Brittany: What is it like to serve as a member of the executive team? What does the executive team do?
Alan: The executive team at IYAFP manages the day-to-day operations of IYAFP’s global programs, and that means multiple things—from starting new and managing existing partnerships to coordinating the work and supporting the work of country chapters. IYAFP has over 60 chapters in different parts of the world, most located in the Global South. The executive team works to support the work our Country Coordinators and their teams are doing on the ground. We do that by, for example, looking for funds to implement projects and activities in-country, by connecting our Country Coordinators with existing partners on the ground, and leveraging those different connections that we have as a global team with different organizations around the world so that [Country Coordinators] can implement a partnership with those organizations so they can implement projects and activities according to their plans. What is important to note is that at IYAFP country chapters, Country Coordinators, and their teams decide on their agenda for specific topics they want to focus on, because when you talk about sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice, it encompasses a broad spectrum of topics and issues. Each country chapter decides which ones they want to prioritize during their tenure. What we do is we try to support that and what they plan to do with their action plans. We also work on some global projects that are managed at the executive team [level], mostly related to youth and advocacy and accountability on SRHRJ issues. We recently launched our new strategy, so we are actively looking to do some planning around how to kickstart the presentation of that strategy. As the executive team, we lead the implementation of that strategy. There are many other tasks, mostly related to coordination with our network, and that is an incredibly rewarding experience because you get to know many young human rights defenders that are passionate about [various] issues [and] are actively working with the limited resources that they have to achieve their goals and objectives.
Listen to Alan describe IYAFP’s executive team structure.
Brittany: How did you become interested in sexual and reproductive health?
Alan: That’s an interesting question and that goes way back. When I was in high school, I remember I first started becoming interested in international issues in general, especially human rights. The more I started to learn about human rights, I realized that sexual and reproductive health are rights and the exercise of SRHR was well behind compared to other rights, especially in my community [in Bolivia]. I started to learn more, and I got involved in several volunteer and activism activities in my community. That’s how I started to learn more, and I think I developed a passion around promoting SRHR for young people. It’s more than 10 years ago now that I think about it, and I think I’ve really just continued to work on SRHR issues since then.
“The more I started to learn about human rights, I realized that sexual and reproductive health are rights and the exercise of SRHR was well behind compared to other rights, especially in my community [in Bolivia].”
Brittany: Why is focusing on youth related to sexual and reproductive health important to you?
Alan: In Bolivia and Latin America in general, the data around unintended, early pregnancy is just unbelievable. There are high rates of teenage pregnancies in Bolivia, and access to sexual and reproductive health services that are readily available for young people were almost non-existent at that time. So for young people, when I started my activism working in Bolivia, it was almost impossible [to access] sexual and reproductive health without facing stigma and discrimination by health service providers. Because of that lack of ability to exercise our rights, I decided that this was an important issue to be raised and addressed. I wanted to contribute to it. Still nowadays, there are so many things that need to be done. Access is still restricted by socio-cultural, but also legal, norms for adolescents and young people around the world. Access to commodities as well—sexual and reproductive health commodities are also restricted for many different reasons. Something that is very important is information, it is restricted as well. Comprehensive sexuality education is not the rule and it should be the norm everywhere. Young people are getting information from different sources, but not from the formal education system that should be the ones providing comprehensive sexuality education for all young people. There is still a lot of work to be done and as long as all young people everywhere do not have access to exercise their rights related to sexual and reproductive health, we can’t stop working.
“Comprehensive sexuality education is not the rule and it should be the norm everywhere.”
Brittany: That’s a great way of putting it. You mentioned as long as youth anywhere aren’t able to [access sexual and reproductive health services], there’s still work to be done.
Alan: Exactly! That’s one of the things that we want to ensure. We want to ensure that every single young person everywhere, regardless of their age, or sex, or origin, or economic status, etc., they can access their sexual and reproductive health rights. That’s something we’re striving for at IYAFP.
Brittany: What is something you wish more people knew regarding AYSRH?
Alan: I wish more people knew that AYSRH is a fundamental human right that is still being denied. I think that one of the problems is that people in general cannot understand the importance of considering access to sexual and reproductive health as a fundamental human right. When governments, when societies, when socio-cultural norms actively deny young people access to sexual and reproductive health, that constitutes a violation of a fundamental human right. It’s not only about the service that is not being provided, it’s about a human right being denied. There needs to be active policies and programs from governments to ensure that young people have access to those human rights. I think that’s something that changes the narrative around access to AYSRH work.
Brittany: You mentioned coordination, and there is a trend in the FP field to strengthen activities and partnership at the regional level, in addition to country and global levels. How does that regional coordination happen for IYAFP?
Alan: At the moment at IYAFP, we don’t have a focal person, one specific person responsible for managing the coordination work for a specific region. Coordination amongst regions has happened, or across even different regions has happened in different ways. One example is our Latin American Country Coordinators have started, by themselves, coordinating work and implementing projects by working together, planning together. In addition, we at IYAFP issue what we call community grants for our Coordinators to implement projects in their countries. This time around, we launched a participatory process where Country Coordinators needed to apply and they themselves rated all applicants and decided who would get the grants. What is very interesting about this experience is that many Country Coordinators decided to work together on regional projects and pitch their projects together. Our Latin American Country Coordinators applied together and pitched a project and that project got selected. The coordination happened in a very organic way between Latin American Country Coordinators, just joining the Slack channel together, coordinating by themselves what project they’re going to pitch, what is the process, and they presented it. They’re now finalizing the implementation of that project. Other Country Coordinators in other regions and subregions have done the same as well.
“What is very interesting about this experience is that many Country Coordinators decided to work together on regional projects and pitch their projects together. Our Latin American Country Coordinators applied together and pitched a project and that project got selected.”
But also, at the global level we try to coordinate some other projects. For example, we are finalizing implementation of a youth-led advocacy and accountability project related to the Generation Equality Forum, where the executive team [of IYAFP] played a key role in coordinating activities across five different countries. Country Coordinators from Peru, South Africa, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Palestine are working together on this project promoting Generation Equality Forum commitments and trying to implement accountability mechanisms with a strong youth-led participation. The executive team has played a key role in coordinating and making sure there is alignment across activities of the different countries, but also ensuring that those activities are implemented in a way that responds to the needs and complexities of the issue context. Of course there is a huge difference between the context of societal norms and the government in [the different countries]. We’ve been able to implement a platform to promote knowledge sharing amongst our Country Coordinators who are implementing this project, and we are actively monitoring how different activities work and what are the difficulties that each country chapter faces as they implement the project.
Coordination happens in different ways. It sometimes happens because Country Coordinators decide to do something together because they feel a sense of community, and then sometimes the executive team plays that role in creating a platform for Country Coordinators to share experiences and difficulties that they have, to align strategies and project implementation across countries and across regions.
At IYAFP, we give a lot of freedom and autonomy to our Country Coordinators. That is something that is very important and is at the core of our network and operations. If our Country Coordinators want to work on something together, we support them and provide them with that platform. We try to build a sense of community amongst our Country Coordinators as well. I think that because of that, that kind of organic kind of coordination happens. It’s a result of multiple activities we’ve done to create a sense of community [amongst our Country Coordinators], which is important as well for us.
Brittany: How do you build that sense of community among Country Coordinators?
Alan: We have different spaces to do that and ways in which Country Coordinators participate and are building a sense of community.
Listen to more of Alan’s response to how IYAFP fosters coordination and community.
Brittany: How is IYAFP different now than it was years ago and what are you excited about for IYAFP’s future plans?
Alan: That’s a very interesting question. IYAFP is eight years old now, and has been evolving continuously as we mature as an organization. There are things that are rightly different, but there are things as well that are the result of evolution, learning, and trying to adjust things to work better. Our Country Coordinators program has changed a little bit in terms of our previous cohorts (which were only of Country Coordinators) so Country Coordinators were appointed for three years, and they were our official representatives in-country and that was it. Right now, Country Coordinators have teams so that they can feel supported and help them achieve their objectives and their action plans. That is one thing that has changed. Another thing that has changed is we have tried to make it more structured. For example, we developed this Core Curriculum. We believe that if we want to have a strong community and a strong network of Country Coordinators and their teams, it’s important for them to share the same stances related to sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice.
Another thing that has changed that is quite significant is the narrative. Right now we are [promoting] the narrative of advancing sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice. In the past, IYAFP has been seen as an organization that focuses almost exclusively on family planning. Yes, of course family planning is a big part of our work and will continue to be a big part of our work. However, as a new strategy, we are embracing the full spectrum of what encompasses SRHRJ. That means our narrative is more rights-focused and we’re trying to also push for an agenda that decolonizes the way we implement, work on, and advance SRHR. So putting at the center the voices, the expertise, and the experiences of people from the Global South, especially young advocates from the Global South, and changing the way our field operates. That’s an important change, an important shift in the narrative with this new strategy because from the [stories] of [activists], we are moving away from the concept of young leaders and embracing the concept of young human rights defenders.
Listen to Alan describe cross-collaboration and the future of SRHRJ.
Brittany: What excites you about the future of the AYSRH field?
Alan: I think there is momentum right now. Young people are pushing for meaningful adolescent and youth engagement and more equitable partnerships. Young people want to be included, young people want to participate, young people want to take a leadership role in defining the future of AYSRH. That’s what excites me the most. Right now, we’re working to build a coalition of youth-led organizations to create an agenda for AYSRH for 2030. We need to take advantage of this momentum and work together to push our agenda, as young people, as young human rights defenders, and as youth-led organizations working to advance AYSRH for all. We are coming together, we are starting to work together as youth-led organizations in different parts of the world. I think that IYAFP has a great role to play there with our network, with our reach. In the future, we’re going to see young people leading the agenda of AYSRH in a more active way, in an enabling environment where youth-led organizations are supporting the work and governments are more receptive to the voices and expertise of young people.
“We need to take advantage of this momentum and work together to push our agenda, as young people, as young human rights defenders, and as youth-led organizations working to advance AYSRH for all.”
Listen to what excites Alan about the future of AYSRH.
Brittany: What is your proudest moment working in this field?
Alan: I’ve experienced very great moments, but if I need to mention one that felt like a great accomplishment, it was the launch of the Global Consensus Statement on Meaningful Adolescent and Youth Engagement. After months of consultations, writing, rewriting, drafting, and redrafting, multiple extensive meetings with different partners and different stakeholders, together with FP2030 and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) we launched [the statement]. That sets a milestone in terms of engaging young people in our field and in our community. It sets principles for youth engagement and it has received the endorsement of a wide number of stakeholders including governments, UN agencies, international NGOs, and local NGOs. As of now, the statement has received more than 250 endorsements from organizations based all around the world. I’m very proud we accomplished that.
Listen to Alan on the global consensus statement on meaningful adolescent and youth engagement.
IYAFP is a critical organization championing AYSRH and its many facets. It has been a leader in meaningfully partnering with adolescents and youth to ensure that their needs are met and challenging all those working in the field to continuously innovate to change the AYSRH landscape. Building on a new strategy and actively planning for new and renewed partnerships in the years to come, IYAFP is looking forward to continuing to address AYSRH topics and issues.