Lessons Learned from Successful SBCC Urban Adolescent Programs

There are many examples of SBCC programs addressing the SRH of urban adolescents and lessons learned can be applied both at the program design stage and when developing specific activities.

I-3_Resource _v2Below is a summary of key characteristics of successful SBCC programs for urban adolescents, based on a 2013 review of such programs in developing countries. You can find the full literature review here.

Where possible, references will be made to the specific Essential Element that will be described later.

When designing your program . . .

I-4_Involve young people_v2Create an Enabling Environment

This means that activities should aim to change the environment in which the individual lives, promoting protective factors and removing barriers to the desired behavior.

Involve Young People

Programs targeting young people should involve them from the ideation stage to implementation, and even evaluation. Only with young people’s active participation and input will activities and messages be developed in a way that appeals to them and engages them.

lessons-1Segment and Diversify Your Audiences

Young people may be the same in terms of age, but they differ significantly when referring to their behaviors and needs, especially during the rapid changes of adolescence. Young people also are differentiated by their cultural and religious background, education level, environment and living conditions, family situation, marital status and aspirations. It is unlikely that one approach will be suitable for all adolescents. Programs need to be aware of the differences and know the specific characteristics of the youth segment with which they choose to work. You will learn more about audience segmentation in Essential Element 3. 

Include Secondary Audiences

These are people who have an influence on the primary audience. If we want youth to change their behaviors, key influencing people (secondary audiences) may be parents, siblings, teachers or leaders. Your program should find ways of working with them.

Develop Ways of Mainstreaming Activities

Finding openings in existing systems and structures where SBCC activities can be incorporated will allow for greater sustainability. For example, opportunities for mainstreaming SRH activities can be found in the school curricula, community events or other significant occasions that mark community life.

lessons-2Adapt the Program to the Local Cultural Context in Relation to Sexual Behaviors

SRH is influenced by gender norms, roles, expectations and power dynamics. An awareness of these cultural dimensions that govern sexual behaviors is important to understand how to frame activities and ensure that they are well received.

Consider the Broader Aspects that Affect Youth Sexual Behaviors

Poverty and alcohol and drug abuse have been affecting sexual health behaviors of urban adolescents in a negative way. Programs should therefore consider finding ways of addressing these broader issues to support behavior change.

Sustain Behavior Change Messages

When planning SBCC programs, it is important to plan regular follow-up phases to reinforce messaging and ensure that changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors (KAB) are sustained. This may involve repeating successful activities at regular intervals.



SRH relies on access to good information. Out-of-school and younger adolescents might not speak French, Portuguese or official national languages as well as their locally spoken languages. Make sure your project’s activities and materials deliver the messages your audience needs in a language that they best understand by using local language where appropriate.



Creating an Enabling Environment

Promote conversation around SRH: An environment where SRH is discussed openly can be a protective factor. Activities should aim to create the space and opportunity for community members (young and old) to discuss issues related to sexual health. This can be done through a variety of communication channels (see Essential Element 2).

Work with service providers: To promote young people’s use of condoms, contraception or STI testing, we need to make sure that such services are accessible. Being “accessible” does not only mean that young people can physically go to the health center or pharmacy. Youth also need to feel comfortable going there, feel respected and know that confidentiality will be maintained.

I-3_Resource _v2See the Resources section at the end of the I-Kit for further guidance on linking with youth-friendly health services.

Engage parents and leaders: Support from parents and community leaders is necessary for changing dominant norms that influence sexual relationships and for developing supportive attitudes.

When developing specific activities…

Take Time to Develop Effective Messages

Well-developed messages are an important component of any SBCC activity. You will learn more about this in Essential Element 7.

Use Mass Media, Social Media and Mobile Phone Technology to Reach Urban Adolescents

Many urban adolescents have access to these types of communication channels and often prefer to receive health information through them.

Use Popular Role Models

Seek ways to involve famous people or personalities, admired by young people, in delivering activities to young people or promoting key messages through appearances in the media or other communication channels. Ensure that these individuals model the behaviors you are trying to promote.

Make Peer Education a Component of Your SBCC Program Rather Than a Stand-alone Activity

Using peer educators can be an effective way of imparting messages to adolescents. However, there is evidence to show that on its own, peer education is not enough to change attitudes and behaviors. It is important to make peer education a component of a broader SBCC program.


SBCC Theory