Contraceptives In Kenya: Philanthropy’s Role In Changing Perspectives And Policies

Growing up in a rural, remote area of Kilifi County in coastal Kenya, Riziki Karisa never had the chance to go to school. At 30 years old, she is already the mother of ten children, with her youngest arriving last spring.

To make a living, she and her husband spend their days gathering firewood from a local forest to make charcoal, which they sell. Most days, there is enough food for only one meal, if that, and the children often miss school.

For years she asked her husband if she could use contraception — permission she believed she needed based on the cultural norms and practices of her community – and he said no. But after counseling through a new initiative sponsored by Population Services International (PSI), he agreed, and she was able to receive a IUD at a local clinic.

Making contraception more accessible to women in underserved areas of Kenya is the focus of a new pilot project implemented by PSI and its local affiliate, PS Kenya. As a member of Maverick Collective, a women’s philanthropic and advocacy initiative of PSI, I am funding this project and devoting my time and talents to help drive it.

As a new philanthropist with a passion for improving the lives of women and girls in developing countries, Maverick Collective appealed to me because it gives me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves, not just write a check. Members commit to a three-year pilot project, leveraging their private funds to fund new approaches in areas such as family planning, HIV&AIDS, gender violence and sanitation. The goal is to generate evidence and attract funding to scale the projects.

In the case of my project, we are focusing on a key advocacy goal: changing Kenya’s policy to allow community health extension workers to insert contraceptive implants, which provide women with reliable contraception for up to five years. Currently, the policy requires that implants be inserted by medical professionals only, which dramatically limits access, especially for women in remote areas.

The project involves training the community health workers to safely provide a variety of methods, including implants. It will also include behavior change communication and education components aimed at overcoming barriers to contraception use, empowering women like Karisa.

The need is huge. While Kenya has made great strides in improving its contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) – in fact, surpassing its national goal and hitting 62 percent in 2016 – huge areas remain underserved. In Kilifi County, for example, the CPR is just 34 percent and only three in 10 women use modern family planning methods. Teenage pregnancy is higher than average, with 22 percent of teens getting pregnant.

After one year in Maverick Collective, I have learned a tremendous amount about the issues surrounding my project as well as about philanthropy in general. If you are interested in this kind of “venture philanthropy,” here are a few tips:

Be flexible and anticipate numerous changes and delays. Making a systemic or policy change requires patience and persistence, and the path to success won’t be a straight line. For example, governments change and your champion may be out of a job tomorrow.

Decide first if you are OK with failure. These projects are intrinsically high risk, but also have a potential for high impact. Regardless of the outcome, the learning that comes from a project has huge value.

Bring your “whole self” to the project, as Melinda Gates, the outgoing Maverick Collective co-chair, advises. In other words, your entire life experience can and should inform your philanthropic engagement. Bring all your skills, knowledge, wisdom and passion to the table.

This contribution by Ann Morris, Maverick Collective, PSI, was originally featured on Giving Compass.

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