As students head back to school—virtually or in person—I think about our adolescent clients and the thousands of young women who will be forced out of school and who will abandon their education because of an unplanned pregnancy. They face serious barriers to contraception and safe abortion and lack access to basic information about their bodies and their choices. We work hard to make our services accessible to adolescent girls, and as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, reaching them is more time-sensitive than ever.

Our country programs in Uganda and Kenya reported that adolescent pregnancies rose during national lockdowns, with girls trapped at home and unable to access services. One abortion provider explained the challenges facing adolescents: “Imagine a young unmarried person having to inform the police [at a roadblock] that they are traveling to a sexual and reproductive health clinic!”

COVID-19 has only amplified the barriers young people face every day. That’s why at MSI, we’ve put adolescents at the heart of our programs—and it’s made an impact. Our proportion of adolescent clients grew from 6% in 2016 to 15% by 2019.

How did we do it? First, we work to engage entire communities, so that parents, community leaders, health workers and policy makers come to understand what adolescents think, feel and need from the adults around them, and we work to understand the values of each community. For example, in Sierra Leone, contraception is key to keeping teenage girls in school; in Kenya, awareness of sexual health builds parent-teen rapport and safeguards futures; in Zambia, reproductive choice is central to family economic stability and community growth.

But it’s not enough to convince community gatekeepers—we have to reach the girls themselves! That’s why our country programs have developed youth-friendly marketing that addresses young people’s concerns and speaks to their hopes for the future. We train providers to offer services in a welcoming, accessible way and constantly monitor client exit interviews to make sure we’re connecting with young people where they are. Keep reading to find out how we did this in Burkina Faso.

We can’t stop until we’ve made choice possible for every adolescent girl. As a member of the Blue Door Society, your support helps us continue to innovate and reach more adolescent clients. Thank you for enabling young women around the world to decide their own futures.


Marjorie Newman-Williams

President, MSI United States

Changing the conversation: New tools to reach young people in the Sahel

What does your ideal family look like? For married adolescents in rural communities across the Sahel countries, that’s a difficult conversation: girls are married young, and stigma and misconceptions keep women from broaching the topic of contraception with their husbands.

We knew we needed a new approach to reach young couples, their families and their communities. So in 2018, we launched a Human Centered Design initiative in Burkina Faso, working directly with participants to create new tools that spoke to their concerns and met their needs.

The result was La Familie Ideale, a suite of tools including a board game and conversation cards to guide participants through honest conversations about the benefits of contraception. Since then, we’ve adapted the tools for use in Senegal and are working on additional adaptations in Niger and Mali.

Each country context is unique, so the tools need to be too. Our teams spent weeks in the field, testing the tools and gaining new insights. For example, we learned that it’s important to create separate spaces and “moments” for men and women to play the game. These test runs led us to change the designs and shift the focus to steer conversations towards the big question: What does my ideal family look like, and how can contraception help me achieve it?

In Burkina Faso, the teams using the tools increased their adolescent reach, from 15.8% to 19.6%. The teams also found that the tools appealed to more than just adolescents—older clients also found the game useful.

We already know that there’s interest beyond the Sahel region, and other country programs want to adapt these tools to their respective needs as well. By listening deeply to communities and making changes to reflect their needs, we’re able to meet married adolescents where they’re at, and to help them plan for a brighter future.

Participants playing the La Familie Ideale board game.

Donor spotlight

"Empowering women to be able to choose the number of children they have has a huge impact on solving so many societal problems - poverty, lack of education, food insecurity, and mitigating environmental damage for example. Supporting MSI not only makes a huge difference for individual families, it helps address these broader issues. That's why I continue to give."

Aimee S., MSI US donor since 2016

An icon of a globe

MSI in the news

“We know from experience that girls are particularly vulnerable during crises … [and] young people too often face discrimination and stigma. In this time of crisis, it’s vital that their needs are kept front and center.” - Diana Amanyire, global marketing adviser and youth lead

Click here to read the full story in Devex.

The Global State of Reproductive Freedom: Around the World with MSI

We're delighted to invite all Trailblazer-level members of the Blue Door Society and above to an exclusive fireside chat with Marjorie Newman-Williams, President of MSI United States, about the challenges and opportunities to build momentum for reproductive freedom around the world — together. This online event will feature special appearances from frontline providers in Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria.

Wednesday, September 23
11am PST/2pm EST
Click here to register

All gifts tripled this month!

For the month of September only, two generous donors have both stepped up to triple all gifts! This is a rare opportunity for your gift to go three times as far, making choice possible for even more women and girls around the world.

You’ve already given so generously to make contraception and safe abortion available to people who need it. But this opportunity to triple your impact is rare, so we hope you’ll consider another gift. Questions about upgrading your Blue Door Society membership or making the most of this matching gift? Contact Lee Deadwyler, Blue Door Society Manager, at lee.deadwyler@mariestopes.org.