Q&A with Femme Fellowship Coordinator Christabel Netondo

On codesigning with young women and girls

Q: What is the Femme Fellowship and why is it unique?

The Femme Fellowship is a four-month paid opportunity for young women between the ages of 18-24 to learn about the design process and serve as the voice of other young women in their communities. They’re invited to not only participate, but take the lead in design research, generate the design brief, and actually test solutions that address adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) concepts with and for other girls.

Q: What’s your role in the Fellowship? What drew you towards the opportunity?

I have been part of local, regional, and global youth programs dedicated to positive youth development as an actual youth participant. This has exposed me to the challenges the world faces and the potential that young people have to transform the world around them. Because of my age, I can respond to fellows not just from a professional level, but from my lived experience being a young person.

Q: How does your experience as a participant in the past affect your leadership style?

In some of the organizations I was involved in there was a fair share of tokenistic behavior. Sometimes we say that organizations are youth-led, but youth are not engaged meaningfully or offered tangible skills. I try to make sure that their voices are heard in the community. Apart from the training, they’re invited to go to meetings, practice public speaking, attend forums with other experts, and feel that they are given the power and trust to advise their partners.

Q: What are the best practices when it comes to co-designing with adolescent girls and young women?

We need to give youth the agency, assets, and enabling environment to thrive. What I understand by this is that when youth engage with a program, you have to give them the assets that not only benefit the program, but their wider community, peers, and eventually country. To create an enabling environment, adults need to build a partnership of mutual respect with you and also create an environment where youth feel safe to make mistakes, learn, grow, and with time become experts.

Q: How do you help adults promote this mutualism in their relationships with younger participants?

One way we do this is by seeing these young people as experts in their own lived experience. Instead of coming up with a workbook of what they should or shouldn’t do, we need to let them influence the trajectory of the project. Let them guide the process. And practically speaking, create a way of working that adapts to their way of life and work. For example, this could be in terms of the language you use should reflect how they might think or communicate.

Q: Could you tell us about some of the design concepts developed during the fellowship?

The She Thrives program is a one-year theory- and practice-based program on basic business management and financial literacy. The program targets young women (19-24) who have initial business ideas that are implementable within their communities with capital funding from the Community Based Organisation (CBOs) partners. As part of the program, the young women and the CBOS are matched with adolescent girls (12-18) to provide peer support on their puberty experience and solve their menstrual health and hygiene needs. Adolescent girls are also enrolled in a parallel program where they receive mentorship from young ASRH experts.

Another concept is Grltime which is a conversational bot that can be embedded into different messaging platforms for both parents and adolescent girls to access reliable and factual information about puberty. The bot provides self-paced learning in a confidential setting. Girltime is currently being piloted in Nairobi and Kisumu by Nairobits Trust, one of our Community Based Organization partners.

Q: What’s next for the femmes after the fellowship program?

Joining an alumni program for the two cohorts to extend the outcomes of the CoLab activities to the communities and strengthen the economic and education prospects for the alumni. We intend to engage them through continued mentorship and capacity building, access to prospect career opportunities with the CoLab’s partners and collaboration amongst themselves on projects and other causes of interest.

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