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Unlocking Youth Leadership: Lessons from the Young and Alive Summit 2023

The Young and Alive Summit 2023 was a transformative event aimed at empowering Tanzanian youth in Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). More than 975 youth engaged in regional community dialogues at the sub-national level and 200 participants attended the national summit in Dodoma, Tanzania, which took place from November 27th to 30th.

A Platform for Learning and Connection

Led by Young and Alive Initiative (YAI), the summit served as a platform for young leaders to come together to learn, engage, and connect with like-minded fellows. Delegates included youth from both formal and informal networks, such as academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), unregistered youth volunteer advocacy groups, students, and members of the youth wings of political parties in Tanzania. Participants also included youth focal points from NGOs and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), healthcare providers, artists, and youth from religious organizations. All attendees united with a common goal: to rethink the sexual and reproductive health narrative for adolescents and young people.

Opening the Summit

The summit was kicked off by a panel of representatives from the local government, UNFPA Tanzania, WHO Tanzania and youth representatives from Dodoma, Aysha Msantu and Rajab Hunge. Aysha shared the outcomes of the regional community dialogues, which were supported by the IBP Network at WHO Tanzania, and took place across 6 regions prior to the summit. We opened the sessions with Rajab summarizing the community dialogue issues in a poem format.

Community Dialogue Outcomes

The outcomes of the community dialogues included:

  • Addressing stigma around adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
  • Discussing amendments to policies and laws hindering access to SRHR for adolescents and young people.
  • Focusing on mental health and parental involvement in SRH programming.

Shaping the Summit Agenda

The community dialogues helped shape the agenda for the summit, which served as a pivotal platform for discussion, capacity building on issues related to provision of non-judgemental services and ability to access credible online sexual health information. Conversations around economic empowerment schemes for young people sparked thought-provoking innovative discussions around issues at the intersection of youth poverty and sexual health, issues around stigma alleviation in health care settings, evidence based sexual health interventions, youth high impact practices (HIPs).

Experiences and Insights

Some of these experiences included:

  • Community youth volunteers can not do their work well if they are unable to feed their families and support themselves. One participant said, “I think our efforts are less compensated, addressing poverty amongst youth may eventually boost good sexual and reproductive health outcomes.”

  • Community dialogues, peer-to-peer informal SRH discussions, and experience sharing were examples of youth-led and community-based high impact interventions.

  • Another participant shared, “At some point in our lives we have encountered unsafe sexual relationships that have left us with physical and emotional trauma. Eventually, these traumas are overlooked in most SRH interventions and it makes these interventions unresponsive.” The participants insist on integrating mental health interventions into SRH interventions to increase the effectiveness of SRH interventions.

Service Delivery Integration

Artistic performances through creative expression provided not just learning but also happy vibes during the summit were also shared. One single audio song called “Tunaweza” was also produced during the event by a well known music producer Gach B and sung by a young delegate called Yesse from Morogoro region who attended with the support from WGNRR Africa.

During the 2022 youth summit, participants recommended integrating service delivery as an added value for participating in the summit and there was no doubt that services at the 2023 summit served a great purpose. The opportunity for service delivery for youth participants included voluntary blood donations, cervical cancer screening, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, FP counseling and psychosocial support from experts. The service delivery at the summit was among core values of strengthening linkages between youth participants and health care providers, and voluntary blood donations was a highlight that was praised and both participants and government stakeholders donated.

Emerging Priorities and Final Presentations

As we left the summit in Dodoma, there were no doubts about youth emerging priorities in Tanzania, these included climate justice, mental health, inclusive sexual health information and services, and finally, youth economic empowerment.

On the last day of the summit before the closure, youth participants were given an opportunity to present the work they do and how they generally felt about the summit platform.

Quoting a youth participant from the Msichana Network saying, “Indeed this was a platform to directly engage with government officials and present how the Msichana Initiative is working with young people from rural communities to excel in education and their lives” she ends her speech saying sharing the Msichana Initiative swahili motto, “Msichana mwenye ndoto ni moto,” which translates to “a girl with dreams and whose dreams are on fire.”

One participant from Makete district shared how her network led community dialogues in 23 wards of Makete to challenge the stigma towards people living with HIV/AIDS. She ended her speech by sharing that “The summit was a platform to feel heard, engage and connect on world issues, and it makes one think they are never alone.”

Future Directions

As we look ahead, the Young and Alive Summit evolves into a dynamic platform for youth empowerment and advocacy. At the summit, we founded a new YAI network in order to strengthen youth movements for sexual and reproductive health in Tanzania. This marks a new chapter in our journey, fostering greater collaboration and impact. The Network has received interest from more than 150 youth leaders across the country including individuals members and organizations. The next summit will be a platform for network members to showcase their work and be a youth-led sexual and reproductive network in Tanzania.

The motivation behind founding the network included the following:

  • In Tanzania, youth-led organizations (YLOs) working on sexual and reproductive health issues seem to work in silos and there is a need for a platform to bring YLOs together.

  • Most summit participants are also working as volunteers within their communities, or academic institutions. Everyone highlights the importance of having a platform to share challenges and success of their work in their communities. The network serves this purpose.

  • The network will also serve as a platform for learning (e.g. how do youth-led interventions learn to access funding, knowledge sharing and sharing opportunities that arise).

Partner Engagement and Resources

We invite partners to be part of supporting the co-creation of meaningful network programs and opportunities.

This short video highlights the Young and Alive Summit 2023 events, here is a photo album of the summit and click this link to view a full report of the meeting. Get inspired by our summit 2023 song ”Because I Am Young” written and sung by Otuck William and produced by Gach B., which is dedicated to all young leaders working on sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

We are thankful to our partners, the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, IBP Network at WHO, UNFPA, Marie StopesTanzania, EngenderHealth, WGNRR Africa, HIMSO Tanzania, SUPANOVA, Theatre Arts Feminist, FP2030, The Smile Initiative, Msichana Initiative, Poetic 360 and many other.

The Young and Alive Summit 2023 may have drawn to a close, but its impact will resonate for years to come, igniting a spark of change in every corner of Tanzania. For partners to join in support of the Young and Alive Summit 2024, please contact the Young and Alive Initiative secretariat at info@youngandalive.org.

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Innocent Grant

Program Director at Young and Alive Initiative, Tanzania

Innocent Grant is a Program Director at Young and Alive Initiative in Tanzania, a local and youth-led organization working to promote adolescents and young people's sexual and reproductive health. He is a gender specialist with a background in clinical medicine, and a self-motivated youth leader who is passionate about educating adolescents and young adults about sexual, reproductive health and rights. Innocent has more than five years experience in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights for adolescents and young people in Tanzania.His leadership and work in Tanzania has been recognized such that he was among the 2022 Mandela Washington Fellow, a prestigious leadership fellowship founded by President Obama for young African leaders and among the 2022 Phil Harvey SRHR innovation award winner. In the year 2023/24 Innocent is focused on building a sustainable digital media for reproductive health promotion called “Contraceptive Conversations” that has more than 10,000 subscribers, he is co leading a young and alive fellowship aiming at building new SRHR young leaders in Tanzania, co leading a gender transformative program for adolescent boys and young men in southern highlands of Tanzania called “Kijana wa Mfano”.