Alexandra Hervish is an international education specialist with nearly 10 years of experience in capacity building, training and youth development. She has adapted and delivered policy communications workshops for youth and adults in both international and domestic settings. In addition, Alex has developed multimedia presentations that use innovative technologies to educate global and country-level audiences about population, health, and environment issues.

© 1999 Song Kimhour, Courtesy of PhotoshareIn January, the InternationalCenter for Research on Women (ICRW) and the United Nations Foundation (UNF) hosted a discussion about milestones in adolescent and youth health and development. All of the presenters emphasized the need for a holistic approach to the health and development of young people—one that enables them to delay marriage and childbearing, access youth-friendly health services, prevent the onset of mental disorders and non-communicable diseases, and thrive in a supportive environment. Amanda Keifer of the Public Health Institute highlighted that with the creation of the Bali Global Youth Forum Declaration, the global community is moving in the right direction by putting young people’s rights at the heart of development.

However, a participant raised an interesting point during the event:  if we have compelling arguments about the importance of investing in adolescents and youth, why can’t we translate this information into tangible financial and political commitments? In my opinion, there are two distinct, yet inter-related answers to this question:

  1. We just do not have enough data. Upon opening the 8-page “centerfold” from the Lancet series on adolescents, one would immediately notice the abundance of dashes in lieu of data points for many countries around the world (particularly low- and middle-income countries). In fact, we only just recently calculated how many adolescents die every year. Contrary to what many would assume (after all, adolescence is considered the healthiest time of a person’s life), the figure is rather high: in 2004, 2.6 million people ages 10-24 died, with deaths increasing from adolescence into young adulthood.
  2. Even when we have reliable data, we are not doing enough with it. Though far from a complete picture, we have quite a bit of data about the sexual and reproductive health status of young people thanks to several large-scale surveys. But certainly, we cannot expect to achieve the types of investments we need across all sectors—health, education, economic development, governance, and gender, among others—if these data remain on our bookshelves and do not get into the hands of decision makers who determine funding levels and government priorities.

And that’s where we come into the picture. At the Population Reference Bureau, we are in the business of communicating technical data and research to decision makers in compelling, clear formats. One of the ways we achieve this goal is through our ENGAGE presentations. Integrating Trendalyzer and multimedia software platforms, ENGAGE presentations explore associations among fertility, health, economic, and environment indicators in a visually stimulating way. They have been used to define agendas, focus discussions, and encourage dialogue about solutions to today’s development challenges.

And there is even a presentation about young people! The ENGAGE presentation The Time is Now:  Invest in Sexual and Reproductive Health for Young People delivers evidence-based messages about how sexual and reproductive health investments protect the well-being of young people and advance social and economic development. Using data and graphics, the presentation seeks to prioritize sexual and reproductive health for young people on policy agendas in sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation is available online in narrated and un-narrated formats in French and English with supporting presenter materials. And there are other issue-focused presentations to explore about family planning and poverty reduction as well as country-specific presentations and mini presentations.

It will take time to populate all of the dashes from the Lancet series with data points. But in the meantime, using policy advocacy tools that are available to us (like ENGAGE presentations) we can educate leaders about the importance of investing in young people to maximize their potential for healthy, productive lives.

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