Engaging With Young People and Influencers: Our Learnings

Yashi Jain

“I think, not to feel guilty about privilege, but to recognize it in a way that how do you really use it to be able to benefit those who don’t have the same access to power.” – Neera Nundy 1

Neera Nundy, Dasra’s co-founder, which works on building the field of adolescent health and wellbeing through the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (DAC), strongly believes in using one’s power and voice to benefit those with less privilege and creating spaces for them to come forth and share their stories. With that ethos,  the 10to19 Collaborative, since it’s inception in 2017 has always strived to bring various stakeholders and young people, we hope to empower, at the same table to engage, learn and share.  

We started our Ab Meri Baari campaign, in 2019 to bring about normative change through communications and advocacy, not only to increase efficacy and agency of adolescents but to also influence the mindset of stakeholders in the ecosystem — government, media, public, parents, teachers, peers, etc. One of our learnings from our first year of intervention and campaign activities was that adolescent health, well-being and their various concerns, especially their SRHR needs, were not a priority for many stakeholders, and the media and public ecosystem was not conducive to having these conversations.  

When the pandemic hit us early last year, on the one hand, it impacted on ground interventions, and created an unprecedented digital divide2. However, on the other hand, it led to organizations deploying technology-based programming to bring young people and digital influencers, content creators, government officials from around the country on the same platform to discuss their concerns about the virus and how it has impacted the lives of young people. Discourses and dialogues that were difficult in the pre-pandemic era became accessible and important during the pandemic. It also gave young people, who had access to network and mobile phones ,an opportunity to become digital advocates for their respective communities.  

DAC recognized two immediate needs: 

1) Building the capacities of our youth champions to use digital platforms not only for their daily consumption but also effectively to advocate for their needs to decision-makers 

2) Engaging with influencers and decision makers through online platforms on adolescent needs and getting them to advocate for the cause. For the past year and a half, we have continued to focus on these two pathways. We have run a campaign to train young people on digital advocacy skills, and are currently training 60 young people from Jharkhand to be local mobile journalists. You can watch some of their work here.  

Mr Amrut Bang, Program Director at Nirman, during one of our Dasra Philanthropy week (DPW) sessions, around importance of leveraging India’s youth dividend, succinctly summed up why we need to get influencers and young people to engage more meaningfully on a regular basis “Young people are hungry for warm and authentic conversations where they can be empathetically understood but also critically challenged.” 3

Our Learnings

 
  • There is an urgent need to enable participation among young people: We need to stop infantilizing young people and truly believe that they know their needs best. We need to play the role of enablers and provide access to platforms and people they can raise their concerns with. This includes, thinking critically about what we mean by “meaningful participation” and how we must steer away from being tokenistic and ensuring they are truly able to exercise their agency. For instance, during our digital advocacy campaign last year, young people took over Dasra’s Facebook Page to organize webinars, live sessions with frontline workers, post stories and engage in conversations that they cared about. This led to gain in confidence among young people to be able to lead their narratives and on a national platform and also made us rethink our interventions in defining agendas for them.  
  • There are influencers who care: Online platforms have seen a surge in channels where professionals are raising their voice about various topics, with dedicated channels talking about SRHR, mental health for young people etc. They are steered by professionals distilling valuable information and creating a space for conversations. As NGOs, we must engage with them to make use of their platforms to gain more traction for the causes we are advocating for. This not only enables more eye-balls and conversations but also adds legitimacy-  
        • For example, we engaged with Esha Bahal, who is a law student advocating for young people’s rights online. She did a Youth Charcha with Dr Zoya Rizvi, Deputy Commissioner, National Health Mission, MoHFW, where they talked about the importance of youth participation and partnership in systems strengthening. The video saw a good uptake by audiences who would not generally engage in such conversations, hence engaging with unconventional but promising actors in the field currently can be really productive for the cause.  
  • Engagement can enable shared responsibility towards changing the narrative: We launched the #AMBAdvocates series early this year where we identified and got on board 3-4 digital influencers, such as – Navya NandaLeeza MangaldasDr Swati Jagdish and a few advocates from the state government level to be torch-bearers of the cause. This enabled more pro-active engagement and need for creation of knowledge, awareness and space to have these conversations from the other end. Instead of us always leading the agenda, we saw pro-active engagement from advocates to give voice to the cause and influence the larger narrative. Hence, there is an immense power in sharing the agenda and the responsibility for the cause that only enables more mouthpieces to influence the narrative.  
  • Engagement with influencers can inspire confidence and courage amongst your community: Last year on International Girl Child’s Day we were able to get PV Sindhu, the Indian professional badminton player and Padma Shri awardee, to tweet about the need for empowering our adolescent girls with education, access to services and improving their overall well-being for them to be successful women of the future. A single tweet from an influential figure like PV herself, did wonders not only to nudge decision makers but also to inspire confidence and courage among millions of girls in the country.  
  • Creating safe spaces can allow for empathetic discussions and critical thinking from both ends: In our latest Ab Meri Baari podcast episode, when you listen to Navya Nanda and Saba Rehmani talk about Menstrual hygiene management, discussing everything from taboos and myths surrounding MHM, to sharing their first period stories to talking about how they can work together to bring about change in their everyday lives- one feels a sense of empathy and regard, there is just a space for healthy debate and discussions for a better future. Similar spaces were created in our other AMB podcast episodes- a platform headed by young people. Similar to point 1, it is important to create more and more safe spaces.  
  • These conversations push decision makers to be more responsive: Finally, no number of conversations are meaningful enough if they do not result in tangible change in mindset, policy or action overtime. Our various efforts over the year led to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Jharkhand sharing a video message committing to invest more in young people of Jharkhand. This is a big win to have the highest influencer make such a commitment during a pandemic, teaching us that consistent advocacy and conversations have the power to, reach our ultimate goal: nudge decision-makers to make more empathetic systems and policies.  

All in all, we do believe using your power & privilege to enable others is a powerful tool and we truly believe in using our collective voice to bring about change. Supreme Court Lawyer Poulomi Pavini Shukla’s message during the same DPW session, sums it well

“Systems are built on inertia and to change them is difficult, but it’s not impossible. All it needs is a little patience a lot of persistence and basically making enough noise.” 4 

(Please note: All of our initiatives and activities listed in this blog post would not have been possible without the efforts by our partners, we would like to thank them and say that our biggest learning has also been to enable more meaningful partnerships for our common goals

Reference Example for easy understanding

Table 1

The policy gap(s) addressed by the program

The exclusion of young people in the decision-making process for policy issues surrounding adolescents

Community need(s) addressed by the program

Greater awareness and understanding of adolescent issues regarding their education, sexual and reproductive health, and early marriage

Opportunity for innovation addressed by the program

The opportunity to bring and work together with critical stakeholders on a single platform

Table 2

Day-to-day program activities

Stakeholder management, vendor management

Periodic program activities

Monitoring, Reporting, Training of Personnel

One-off program activities

Government advocacy, designing campaigns

Tools/frameworks/systems & processes/ways of working from the program

Systems Change Framework

Table 3

Program practices

Is the practice impactful? If yes, list down why?

Is the practice sustainable? If yes, list down why?   

Is the practice scalable? If yes, list down why?  

Is the practice innovative and/or unique? If yes, list down why?  

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers

Yes, as it allows young people to directly engage with decision makers and contribute to the decision-making process

Yes, as it equips young people with leadership skills. It is also cost effective due to the long-term gains it offers upon initial investment

Yes, as such training modules can be replicated across multiple initiatives by other practitioners & organizations. In addition, trained young people can also train other young people

Yes, as it follows an approach which centers its design and delivery around young people, in an end-to-end manner

+

+

+

+

+

Table 4

Promising Practice

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers to: (i) create a platform for youth to exercise their agency (ii) effectively engage decision makers

Source

  • Verbal evidence from community
  • Verbal feedback from on-ground team members
  • Project report & surveys

Details

Community feedback of adolescents feeling confident, understood, and acknowledge

On-ground team feedback on creation of government champions for the project’s objectives

Project report and surveys observe greater youth involvement and efficacy in engaging directly with decision maker

Table 5

RECOMMENDATIONS

Promising Practice

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers to: (i) create a platform for youth to exercise their agency (ii) effectively engage decision makers

The demographic it addresses

Adolescents from the age of 10 to 19 years

The gap/ need/ opportunity it addresses

The exclusion of adolescents and young people in the decision-making process for policy issues regarding adolescents and young people

Govt stakeholders

Holding consultations with critical stakeholders and young people from the inception of a program

Funders

Taking inputs from all stakeholders and young people before initiating a new project to ensure a deeper visibility and understanding of their demographic and its needs

Other Practitioners

Engaging young people in decision-making processes to adopt a more collaborative approach between stakeholders and young people

Community Stakeholders

Undertaking youth-led social audits and engagement with decision makers to engage directly with young people, understand their needs & concerns and influence change at the community level

5

Objective Review

Outcome

Promising Practices and recommendations ratified by at least one member/ partner organization/ community/ MEL partners outside of ‘the team’

5

Objective Review

Objective

To validate the final promising practice and recommendation(s) by at least one person/ partner organization/ community/ MEL partners outside of the team.

4

Document

Outcome

2-3 promising practices documenting:

 

  • What gap/need is addressed
  • How it is addressed and the change that is created
  • The potential for replicating along with recommendations for implementing

4

Document

Objective

To document the promising practices in a detailed manner

3

Develop into a recommendation

Outcome

Well-articulated recommendation(s) addressing:

 

  • Demographic to cater to
  • Gaps/needs/opportunities addressed by the practice
  • The change brought in by implementing such a practice

3

DEVELOP INTO A RECOMMENDATION

Objective

To construct a recommendation in a brief, specific and clear-cut format which would assist other initiatives in implementing the same

2

CALIBRATE & SUBSTANTIATE

Outcome

Obtaining qualitative and/or quantitative data to assess the promise of the shortlisted practices according to the five guiding factors

Arriving at first list of promising practices

2

CALIBRATE & SUBSTANTIATE

Objective

To substantiate the shortlisted practices by collating gathered data in the form of:

 

  • Feedback from the community
  • Verbal accounts of the ground team
  • Documentation reports
  • Other valuable data

1

List & Shortlist

Outcome

Identifying:

  • Policy gaps
  • Community needs
  • Opportunities for innovation and other aspects that the program is addressing.

    Creating a list of program practices that are working on-ground in bridging gaps/needs/opportunities.

1

List & Shortlist

Objective

To identify gaps/needs/opportunities and to shortlist program practices that are impactful, sustainable, scalable, innovative and/or unique.