Young people need safe spaces where they can come together and engage in activities related to their needs and interests.

At Girl Effect, creating these spaces for the youth, online and offline, to engage with privately or together with their friends and family – is at the heart of how we endeavour to create transformative change. We have tools that we know are great at doing this, and we have honed our ability to use these in ways that are engaging and effective.

We are witnessing the global momentum that is gathering around the concept of ‘edutainment’, known as ‘education as entertainment’ or its more scholarly moniker social and behavioural change communication. The development sector now recognises the importance of these approaches to achieving results, including the Sustainable Development Goals, and is willing to invest in projects that will help build more of an evidence base.

For instance, the World Bank’s Development Impact Evaluation research (DIME) Edutainment programme launched in 2016 and is helping strengthen the causal evidence for entertainment-based education across sectors and mediums through studies in Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico and India. We’re hearing about more randomised controlled trials in this space funded by the likes of Unicef, BMGF and DfID. And the International SBCC (Social and Behaviour Change Communication) Summit a few months ago saw widespread participation from a community of practitioners, including us, that is trying to realise the full potential of these approaches.

This year at a DIME workshop in New Delhi, Girl Effect was invited to speak about the future of edutainment. Even among the incredible work being done by some brilliant organisations in the room, our unique combination of approaches had many lessons for those shaping this future.

1. Building brands that drive social change

We are big believers in the power of brands to project and make visible certain values, messages and behaviours and normalise them in society. Creating engaging youth brands is in our DNA and it’s a new approach to development. With numerous interventions under the umbrella of a single trusted brand, you can bolster the effectiveness of individual activities by creating a powerful multiplier effect that leads to greater combined change in the lives of people you’re serving.

In Rwanda, for example, multi-regular consumers of our brand Ni Nyampinga were much more likely to have gender-equitable attitudes than those unaware of the brand.

2. Created by and for girls

I was able to really appreciate this tenet and see it in action during a recent visit to Rwanda where we met the many inspiring girls who are driving the Ni Nyampinga movement. The magazine is created by a team of girl journalists, distributed by girl ambassadors in every district in Rwanda, and read and discussed in youth clubs. The weekly radio drama and talk shows are written and presented by Rwandan youth who embody the brand values. SMS and IVR lines allow girls from across the country to write in with comments and stories, and questions for their beloved agony aunt which then get answered in the magazine or radio show. And all of this activity is informed by and improved upon through research, monitoring and insights led by trained girl researchers.

3. Fun, engaging, entertaining

While cultural constructs that act as barriers to change differ from place to place, what doesn’t change is the universal instinct for fun! And it’s something we take very seriously.

We invest a lot in creating fun, engaging, inspiring content produced at a high quality through mediums like music, storytelling and role modelling. We know dry and didactic doesn’t work. Research suggests that people are more likely to change their behaviour when they feel positive about the change, and about themselves.

We also think it’s important to provide opportunities to the audience to interact with the brand and with each other – to deepen engagement with the messages and values that they share by being part of a collective movement, as well as shaping it through their voices.

4. Touching on all aspects of girls’ lives

Because everything in a girl’s life is connected – from her self confidence to her economic participation, her self worth to her health, we see it as our job to integrate into her world as much as possible and be a trusted companion as she navigates her journey to adulthood. We carefully balance this need to be holistic with the simultaneous need to focus on key issues that have the highest potential impact on her future, and are outcomes that the global development community is rallying around.

5. Integrated not ‘bolted-on’, and geared towards behaviour change

Beyond shifts in knowledge and attitudes, we are focused on the adoption of positive behaviours. As a demand side intervention, we can be catalytic when we partner with supply side actors because this means that girls can practise new positive behaviours and have access to the services and products they need to be healthy, educated, safe and economically empowered. That’s when we really know this approach is working! For example, through our partnership with Gavi we are looking to demonstrate impact of behaviour change communication on uptake of the HPV vaccine, and in Malawi through a partnership with PEPFAR, the impact on intention to get tested for HIV.

6. Built for a digital future

It’s a cliché but it’s true, mobile tech is putting unprecedented power in a girl’s hand and creating tremendous potential for platforms that enable girls around the world to access critical information, connect with others, share their experiences and find their voice.

Springster is one of Facebook’s Free Basics top five most accessed sites, is live in 66 countries, in 17 languages and has reached more than 30 million people so far. And it is set to become the world’s biggest source of data on adolescent girls, by tracking real time use, comments, surveys and user engagement; as well as contributing to the sparse evidence base around translation of digital to offline behaviours. We’re constantly innovating our digital offering and integration through exciting new features like chat bots and machine learning. It’s worth saying, that while we are optimistic about the promise of digital, we’re not blind to the wide gender gap in access, as well as rural-urban and other divides, so we understand that complementing the online with the offline is key.

Learn more about Girl Effect’s youth brands.

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