Providing an opportunity for young people to publicly share their personal stories about family planning can help elevate their visibility, motivate them and instill confidence and pride in their work, according to a small new study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.
The findings, published Feb. 13 in the journal Health Promotion Practice, were based on interviews with 11 young professionals (ages 18 to 30) from Africa, Latin America and South Asia who shared their stories with Family Planning Voices (FP Voices), an online platform that documents stories from people around the world who are passionate about family planning. FP Voices, a collaboration between CCP and Family Planning 2020, has published photographs and interviews with more than 800 people since 2015.
“These young professionals told us that by sharing their personal stories with FP Voices, they gained greater recognition for their work and expanded their professional connections and opportunities,” says CCP’s Anne Ballard Sara, MPH, who led the research.
“They felt the experience highlighted the value that young professionals provide to the larger family planning field. They appreciated that FP Voices gave their stories the same weight and visibility as that of globally recognized leaders whose interviews were also included on the site.”
Everyone who shares their story with FP Voices has a professional portrait taken to accompany their story. Many of those in the study said having access to a professional headshot and the experience of being interviewed were valuable to their career development.
FP Voices stories are published on the initiative’s website and shared widely through social media. The young professionals interviewed also typically shared their stories on their own social media accounts as well as those of the organizations where they work. Many of those interviewed for the new study shared examples of how they felt that others – including family members, coworkers or other professionals – took them more seriously after their story was published.
“When they saw that it was an international blog talking to me … they took my work more seriously than before,” a participant from Latin America said of her family. “Before, I was just a volunteer doing crazy, stupid, feminist work.”
Many participants interviewed for the study felt that sharing their story with FP Voices contributed to a growing number of professional connections and opportunities.
“Immediately after the interview came out I was called … to speak on a panel,” one East African participant told researchers. “I’ve also been approached by the media to speak about sexual and reproductive health and rights issues and family planning. … It raised my profile a bit.”
Another participant, this one from South Asia, described how being on FP Voices led to an ongoing professional relationship to a foreign minister for the country.
“When I was at the conference … she found me in the middle of the conference exhibition hall, and said, ‘I was looking for you … You are doing amazing work.’ This [FP Voices] somehow built a relationship between a youth advocate and a senior policy maker.”
The study suggests that simple professional development opportunities similar to those in FP Voices – such as access to a headshot and external recognition – should be built into existing career development programs for young adults to help create and strengthen their professional personas. It also suggests that engaging young people as storytellers and story consumers can encourage other young adults and expose them to greater opportunities.
“If we are going to reach our goals of expanding modern contraceptive use and upholding the basic rights of all people, including young adults, to decide freely and for themselves whether and when to have children and how many to have, we need to include more young people in the planning and decision making behind family planning efforts,” Ballard Sara says. “Initiatives like this are one way to support, promote and recognize the amazing work of young professionals working in family planning.”
“Effects on Career Development from Sharing One’s Story: Young Professionals’ Experiences with Family Planning Voices” was written by Anne Ballard Sara, Elizabeth Futrell and Tilly Gurman.
Support for this research was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Global Health, Office of Population and Reproductive Health through Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-1300068.