Youth Participation and Leadership in Action

Imagine. 

You develop research skills. You build connections and opportunities. You participate in innovative activities and programs. You share your voice and opinions with others who listen. You create community decisions that put your community’s future at the forefront. You help draft and change policies that benefit your country and the citizens who live there—you, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and future generations to come. You are the trendsetter. You are the activist. You are the inspiration. You are passionate. You believe in yourself. You play a role to make this world a healthier, safer place rich in love for all individuals. You are the next generation of leaders. 

You(th) engage. You(th) lead. You(th) can. 

Continually, 4 Youth By Youth (4YBY) teaches about and advocates for youth engagement. We, 4YBY, believe in active youth participation and strong youth leadership. Not only do we value youth engagement and leadership, we uphold it. 

In 4YBY, our youth are involved as research facilitators, in research advisory as youth ambassadors, in participatory learning collaboratives within our open challenges and designathons, and in the development of the 4YBY HIV self-testing bundle. Our youth are a major contribution to the work that we carry out. Our name, 4 Youth By Youth, is representative of our research collaboration and goals within Nigeria. We aim to empower youth to lead each other to an AIDS-free generation. 

The 4YBY Innovative Tools to Expand HIV Self-Testing (I-TEST) team recently published a paper titled Youth engagement in HIV prevention intervention research in sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review. This review aimed to identify HIV interventions in sub-Saharan Africa that included youth engagement and to determine the degree of youth engagement that was used in the interventions through thematic analyses. Youth engagement was categorized as substantial, moderate, minimal, or no engagement:

  • Substantial engagement: pioneered and managed by youth
  • Moderate engagement: pioneered by adults with both youth and adults jointly responsible for making decisions
  • Minimal engagement: decisions finalized by adults with youth contributions only through voicing opinions or holding positions in activities around research 
  • No engagement: no youth suggestions, views, or projects accounted for throughout research 

The review included 112 articles with 74 unique interventions. These interventions were conducted in various regions of sub-Saharan Africa in low- and middle-income countries. Several interventions showed youth engagement at various stages of a research project life cycle (i.e. from design to implementation to evaluation). Majority of articles included minimal or no engagement (n=65 studies)  in interventions in the sub-Saharan Africa setting. While there is evidence to support the importance of youth engagement, the findings showed the lack of youth engagement that existed in HIV interventions, specifically engagement in terms of youth decision-making and leadership, which can be related to a variety of different reasons. However, it was proposed that youth engagement can be done through crowdsourcing open calls where youth can voice their opinions and ideas and through co-researching where youth can actively participate and make decisions along-side and under the supervision of researchers. Including youth in these types of engagement fosters youth opportunities in all sectors of research and leads to a future that is youth-led and focused on youths’ needs.

At 4YBY, we promote youth engagement from the development of the project components to dissemination of project findings (e.g., writing of scientific manuscripts). Part of our co-authorship team for this scoping review included four youth researchers who guided the creation of the infographic and video. Their design was aimed towards a younger audience. Thus, their novel approach fostered diversity in research studies and inclusion of youth readers. 

We often wonder and want to ask “Why?” Why do people not include youth? Why is it? Do people think youth aren’t capable, skilled, or innovative enough? Is there a lack of training? Do people place them in the category of “not enough experience yet”? How do you gain experience if we don’t give experience? 

We are the bridge to their future. Engaging youth in interventions provides them with experience and valuable research skills and us with new ideas and innovative approaches. Together we can make a difference. So WHY NOT include youth? Our youth are the next generation of leaders. 


Article citation: Asuquo SE, Tahlil KM, Muessig KE, et al. Youth engagement in HIV prevention intervention research in sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review. J Int AIDS Soc. 2021;24(2):e25666. doi:10.1002/jia2.25666

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