Portraits of Leadership
Hyperakt’s new interview series hands the mic to nonprofit and cultural leaders around the nation as they guide their organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today we’re talking with Victoria Watson, Executive Director of the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning. Partnering with youth from around the world, IYAFP facilitates community programming to empower the next generation with the knowledge and skills to guide important life decisions that shape their future.
From your vantage point, what stories are not being told about the impact of the Coronavirus?
The stories of adolescents and youth, especially girls, who are facing a sudden loss of health services and products that are not deemed “essential” — specifically reproductive and sexual health services and products such as oral contraceptives, as well as counseling for those at risk of gender-based violence at home.
Adolescents and youth across the world are voicing concerns about having to face this harsh absence of healthcare as COVID-19 disrupts supply chains and prevents personal access to any forms of primary care that is not defined as essential.
The resulting loss of self-determination, coupled with heightened risk of unintended pregnancies, prevention and treatment of STDs, and gender-based violence, puts both their physical and mental health at risk. Addressing their concerns needs to be at the centre of governmental responses and guidelines around essential medicine and healthcare access, instead of being a peripheral concern.
How have you needed to change how your staff works or the way you deliver services in order to meet the new reality?
It has changed everything. As an organization that supports an alliance of 80 youth activists, we have always done things differently — but self-isolation in our homes and the sudden disruption to our sense of normalcy as made it hard to stay motivated. Activities such as in-person convening, peer education, regional meetings, and community development is at the heart of our work, and this has all moved online or been postponed.
A significant amount of our in-country projects that require direct research and advocacy work have been stalled or shifted to online engagements, which has changed the nature and the tone of our efforts. As a team, we’ve had to find ways to maintain morale: each of our youth staff resides in a different country, and we have all faced a mixture of self-isolation measures, such as the 24/hr curfews or fines for walking outside. These restrictions, while necessary, has made feeing positive and productive a challenge, and has really impeded our inner strength.
Finding creative digital tools for staff engagement — like having drop-in happy hours, using Slack’s “Donut” tool for 1:1 virtual coffee chats, or coordinating more working meetings to simply have a person to chat with throughout the day. These small virtual efforts make a huge difference and help us feel like a team even when we are apart.
To keep up morale, positivity, and to encourage youth across our network of countries to keep a forward-thinking attitude, we’ve come up with creative ways to work and lean on our culture of friendship and family. In response to the loss of support for mental health and sense of isolation, youth in each of IYAFP’s 80 country chapters mobilized to organize a weekly peer support series.
Youth from across the world drop-in for an hour that makes space for safe, supportive conversations around mental health and how we are working together to fight the impacts of the pandemic.
The peer support series was a huge hit, and youth who attended have organized a global COVID-19 Youth Taskforce to mobilize country-level efforts for delivering essential SRH services for youth and providing support for one another’s activism and engagement. Our country chapters in Pakistan and DRC are now implementing youth-friendly campaigns providing COVID-19 guidance and peer support in their communities, and we are partnering with a few other iNGOs to see how we can creatively use technology to bring essential products to young peoples homes.
What gives you hope in this moment?
Seeing young people across the world look to their peers within the global health community for emotional support and to build not only solutions but personal resilience gives me hope for the future. For me at home, it’s the daily coffees, bike rides, chats with best friends and soft moments of the day where I dance or do yoga in my room. The silver lining of this era is that it’s taught me gratitude and how to find happiness in the small, peaceful things in life.
Hyperakt is a purpose-driven design and innovation studio that elevates human dignity and ignites curiosity. We believe in design’s power to build a future filled with courage, optimism, and honesty.
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