From rural Uganda to urban Kinshasa: involving the community in youth program adaptation

Christopher Hook
6 September 2016

We know that early pregnancy and child marriage are a reality for millions of young women worldwide. While a focus on individual change is important, it’s insufficient to meet this challenge.

Young people’s ability to forge healthy sexual relationships is influenced by social norms enforced by their peers, families and communities. Focusing on both in- and out-of-school youth in urban Kinshasa, DR Congo, Bien Grandir (or ‘Growing up GREAT,’ in English), is an intervention under the Passages Project that has drawn on carefully designed materials from previous research in Uganda and Rwanda. The end goal of these materials is to foster an environment that supports more equitable gender norms for early adolescents.

Our Focus: Relatability

We knew the materials from Uganda were not going to work in urban Kinshasa without adaptation to the new context. Our flipbooks of stories and lessons had images of Ugandan girls and boys playing in their compounds while farm animals roamed nearby; other pages had parents sitting around evening fires with their children—not quite something experienced daily in tightly-packed Kinshasa! More importantly, the stories and lessons, we thought, should reflect the experiences of young people in Kinshasa, not Uganda. If we wanted our program to be effective, we needed to make our tools relevant by resonating with the needs of program stakeholders. The many materials needed to be adapted: But how?

While we test whether these this sexuality/puberty education program works to improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health, we also want to learn how to scale social norm interventions like this one. What should we consider when taking an effective intervention to a new setting? (For example, we know it’s vital to get early buy-in from key DR Congo stakeholders—like youth, government, international NGOs and civil society.) How can we tackle successful implementation with input from Kinshasa youth while laying the groundwork for scale-up?

What’s we’ve done so far: involving stakeholders

To do both in a complementary way, Save the Children designed the adaptation process to involve key stakeholders whenever possible.


At the study launch, we invited stakeholders from government, civil society and INGO communities to not only sit in the audience and learn about the work, but also to take a look at the materials from Uganda, and propose changes. They formed a material adaptation reference group and spent a full day reviewing the materials together. This resulted in both a solid set of recommendations, and an engaged and excited body of stakeholders. Following this meeting, we took our materials into the community, speaking with parents of adolescents, community members, and older adolescents willing to offer advice about what they wish they had known in the run-up to puberty. This feedback being collated and will be presented, again, to stakeholders. Then, these stakeholders will listen to these diverse voices, discuss their opinions amongst themselves, and provide further guidance to material development.  

In just a few short months, we hope to have a finely crafted set of tools, relevant and tailored to the needs of young people, and vetted through a body of stakeholders who are engaged and committed to the program’s success.


Passages, led by the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University in partnership with FHI 360, JHU’s Global Early Adolescent Study, PSI, Save the Children and Tearfund, aims to address a broad range of social norms, at scale, to achieve sustained improvements in family planning and sexual and reproductive health. This research project is building the evidence base and contributing to the capacity of the global community to strengthen normative environments that support positive family planning and sexual and reproductive health, especially among very young adolescents, newly married couples, and first-time parents. This work is funded by USAID and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Chris Hook is a Senior Program Coordinator at Save the Children USA. Reach him at

Panelists Nana Dagadu and Rebecka Lundgren of IRH and Brad Kerner of Save the Children will discuss GrowUp Smart, GREAT, and the importance of programs for VYAs in The Metrics of Growing Up: Developmentally-appropriate Approaches for Intervention and Measurement at the Young Lives Conference on Adolescence, Youth and Gender from 8-9 September, 2016.