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Youth Conference ThinkPlace Kenya

A design challenge for the youth of West Africa

Africa is home to the youngest population in the world, and it is expanding quickly. By 2055, the African population aged 15-24, is expected to more than double.

Yet, “the continent remains stubbornly inhospitable – politically, economically, and socially – to young people” (UNDP). One of the main challenges that Africa will have to face in the 21st century will be to turn its youth explosion into growth and prosperity that includes and benefits everyone.

Poor management of population growth will have serious consequences. To avoid this, African countries will need new strategies in terms of leadership, institutions and policies. And much of that starts with tapping the potential of the continent’s youth.

That’s why designers from ThinkPlace US and ThinkPlace Kenya recently brought together 40 amazing young minds from more than 10 countries across West Africa for a Youth Design Challenge.

Over 13 hours spread across 4 days in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire we assembled these young leaders, gave them a challenge and provided them with expert mentors to help them tackle it using Human-Centered Design.

Held on the sidelines of Francophone Social and Behavior Change (SBC) Summit, 2019, the Youth Design Challenge was created to build innovation skills among participants by asking them to design a regional campaign promoting the potential of youth to steer their nations into an era of quality adolescent and reproductive health.

The conference brought together for the first time a community of Social Behaviour Change organizations, practitioners, researchers and youth advocates from French-speaking African nations to drive cutting-edge strategies for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health across  Sub-Saharan Africa.

Youth Innovation Challenge Francophone Social Behavior change ThinkPlace
Over 13 hours spread across 4 days in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire we assembled these young leaders, gave them a challenge and provided them with expert mentors to help them tackle it using Human-Centered Design

How it worked

The Youth Design Challenge involved a series of human-centered design (HCD)-inspired sessions. The Challenge focused around the key question: How might we improve the (self and external) perception of youth in the Francophone countries?

Challenge participants worked in six groups of up to five people, and teams self-selected their members via introductory and exercises. Each group was paired with an experienced mentor from summit donors, youth-focused organizations and design thinking consultancies to guide them through the innovation process.

During the rapid design process, participants learned about different research tools that could help them understand and empathize with their audiences in a deeper level. Since they did not have plenty of time, they had to get creative to be able to approach as many users as possible.

For example, due to the proximity of the summit venue to the airport, one team decided to go to the airport to conduct their research activities and to prototype their ideas.

Others approached people at the venue, including conference participants but also security guards, waiters and cleaning staff. Some decided to use role-playing to assume different behaviors from audiences that were not present during the Challenge.

After gathering insights, each group chose the insight that they felt most passionate about. Insights included: the importance of removing intergenerational taboos that may exist between young people and other stakeholders, acknowledging the role of social norms for the involvement of young people in decision-making, using alternative media, talking about menstrual hygiene in schools and adapting local health facilities to the needs of young people.

A rapid ideation session was facilitated in order to generate as many ideas for focused campaigns in as little time as possible. By this time, the room filled with excitement as competition heated up.

Teams developed basic prototypes such as story boards or comic strips to explain their idea in a simple and interactive way. They tested their prototypes and some teams managed to get feedback and refine the idea further.

The winners

The six proposals were graded by a team of evaluators. The top four were then selected to pitch their ideas in a 3-minute presentation to a diverse panel of judges. Solutions were evaluated on the basis of creativity, use of the design thinking principles, responsiveness to the challenge and the relevance of the campaign. Finally, Summit participants were invited to vote on the two top-ranked Youth Design Challenge campaigns and select a winner.

The winning campaign was designed by a team with members from Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Mali and Togo. "Thank you, my hero” or “Merci, mon héro!” in French, is a series of reality shows for young people. Although initially conceived for the TV, it is intended to be presented on alternative channels such as YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp.

The campaign plans to use opinion leaders from several West African countries and film episodes in relatable places for youth (universities, salons, etc.). The main purpose of the series is to help to liberate young people from social barriers that prevent them from freely using contraceptive methods by destigmatizing and rewarding adult’s advices.

Winners received a $1000 prize and will receive technical assistance to continue working on their campaign, and develop their idea into a more tailored pitch to donors and implementers in the region.

Across three days the spirit of innovation and enthusiasm was truly inspiring. Although the resulting campaign is filled with great ideas, it is even more exciting to realise that 40 young changemakers from a dozen nations will return home equipped with new tools and an innovation mindset. For us, as ThinkPlace designers with a commitment to creating positive change, the potential for future impact is enormous.     



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Juanita Rodriguez

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