A New Year, a New Determination: Energizing the Movement and Accelerating Progress, the Ouagadougou Partnership Six Years In
January 4, 2018
By Sara Stratton
Five years ago, in early December 2012, the Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit (OPCU) was established. Last month in Conakry, Guinea, more than 350 participants from the across the francophone Africa region, Europe, and the U.S. met to assess progress of family planning in the partnership's nine member countries. Over the past five years, the partnership achieved its goal of one million additional family-planning users, and has now increased its goal to 2.2 million by 2020. In the past two years, the partnership has added 910,000 additional users, representing achievement of 41% of their goal. This is not an insignificant achievement in a region where the modern contraceptive prevalence rate (mCPR)—the proportion of women using (or whose partners are using) a modern form of contraception—remains below 20% in six of the nine countries.
While the partnership still faces many complex issues, I want to recognize how far it has come and what it means for the region. From the inception of the partnership in February 2011 to establishment of the OPCU in December 2012, the five original donors (the United States Agency for International Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, French Agency for Development, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) met repeatedly to consider how to lay the foundation of a strong partnership that could reposition family planning in francophone West Africa. Their idea was to create a movement of "disrupters" in a region known for low modern contraceptive prevalence rates, and change the dialogue around family planning. Six years later, as evidence by the partnership's annual meeting, I see that a powerful and energized movement has emerged, focusing on improving access to contraceptives and high-quality family planning services.
Reflecting on my engagement with the partnership since its start, I offer a few observations about why it has been so successful:
- The Partnership Coordination Unit is culturally in tune to the region, representing different nationalities, and religious and professional backgrounds. It connects with countries, donors, and partners; is aware of what's happening at the country level; and provides regional leadership to foster an esprit d'corps among the member countries.
- A growing group of donors have invested in the region. Beyond the original five donors, the Ouagadougou Partnership has welcomed two donors, Canada and the Netherlands. These new donors have contributed US$17 million to the region. Overall, the Ouagadougou Partnership donors have added US$46 million to the region from 2012 to 2016. The nine countries have all established a budget line for family planning, demonstrating their commitment to mobilize domestic resources to complement external funding. Despite these advances, the cry for additional resources was heard from all of the country's presentations at last month's Conakry meeting, and the OPCU keeps this topic on regional and global agenda.
- A common goal of adding 2.2 million women using modern contraception by 2020 unites the partnership and orients all countries and actors in the region towards achieving it. A spirit of competition exists, and countries feel a sense of accomplishment contributing to the goal by increasing their mCPR and additional users of contraception. This was evident at this year's meeting as Guinea, the host country expressed their intention to increase their mCPR, as did Togo, Burkina Faso, and Cote d'Ivoire who were praised for their progress. Enforcing this common goal are the July 2017 renewed country and Ouagadougou Partnership engagements presented at the London Summit, reflecting a commitment to addressing financing, youth, task sharing policies, extending services and method options, and improving supply chains. During the 2017 Conakry meeting, each country identified how to monitor these engagements and proposed use of a standard methodology that holds each country accountable to contributing to the goal.
- A dynamic, live social media presence. The partnership is visible through multiple channels, sharing news, the latest research, and live images of activities. This digital platform is unique in a region challenged by connectivity, but one with a vibrant mobile device culture. Partner EtriLabs actively engages young professionals as contributors and curators of material, modeling commitment to youth in the region. The high-quality materials present a positive image of the region, challenging oft-held impressions of West Africa of being behind the digital divide.
- Continually challenging the status quo in the region. Inspired by the HIV and AIDS movement and passionate activists, Fatimata Sy has led the Ouagadougou Partnership to confront difficult themes, such as youth access to family planning services and methods. Youth ambassadors are visible and engaged, playing a critical role as they advocate for greater action and attention to the challenges facing youth, particularly the cost of contraceptives and health services. Through their advocacy and support from the OPCU, Burkina Faso is close to offering free services and methods to youth. The theme of the 2017 meeting was women's empowerment, which challenges many of the deeply-held cultural and religious beliefs and norms. The OPCU and member countries continue to dialogue with religious leaders, with the goal of greater access to contraceptives—without the pervasive stigmas in the region.
- Large annual gatherings are held in a different country each year. From just over a hundred participants at the 2012 meeting to more than 350 in Conakry in 2017, attendance demonstrates the interest in being present and a part of the movement—a contraceptive revolution. But the OPCU will face the challenge to go deeper during sessions, taking on thorny issues facing the region and listening carefully to key stakeholders, particularly youth and religious leaders. While participants reflect a diverse audience with a range of priority issues, the annual meeting offers an important and consistent opportunity to check in on the region's journey to achieve their goal of 2.2 million additional users by 2020.
As the 6th annual meeting closed on December 14, 2017, the energy and motivation was palpable in the room. Now the job for all Ouagadougou Partnership members is to package this energy and carry the partnership to greater achievements in 2018.
This story is also available on Medium.