3 key recommendations
Link to services
Use a good channel mix
Co-design and implement with the audience
Studies carried out in Côte d’Ivoire and Niger showed that exposure to the campaign was associated with having spoken to someone about FP/RH (a proxy for intergenerational communication), FP service use, and FP method use.
In Francophone Africa, conservative social norms often prevent open conversations about puberty, sex, and family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH). These taboos particularly impact young people, limiting their access to correct information about reproductive development and contraception.
Sparked by a Youth Design Challenge at the Francophone Social and Behavior Change Summit, the multi-media Merci Mon Héros (MMH) campaign launched online in November 2019 with Facebook as its most popular channel. Radio and television broadcasts, along with in-person activities, started later that year. Through Breakthrough Action, the campaign has been active in urban and peri-urban areas in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Togo, with additional activities and dissemination in Benin, DRC, Guinea, Mali, and Senegal.
Breakthrough ACTION is partnering with young advocates in West Africa to empower peers and adult allies to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health. Discover the indispensable tools they developed and see how you can apply them in your program.
Break Family Planning Taboos
Using a Multi-Media Strategy with Young People TO
Activities are more likely to be accepted and sustained when members of key audiences have a key role in organizing, implementing, and monitoring activities.
Removing taboos preventing communication about these topics
Increasing empathy for young people’s FP/RH needs
MMH encourages judgement-free conversations about FP/RH between youth and adults, and among youth themselves, by:
Where was the MMH campaign implemented?
In 20 TCIHC-supported cities in
Uttar Pradesh State, India
Public and accredited private facilities, linking community-based ASHAs with referrals to appropriate tertiary facilities for NSV
Who were the stakeholders?
Partners and other
Urban and peri-urban adult and young women and men
Encourage youth to talk about their personal experiences to break their own taboos and to clarify their FP/RH needs for adults, and intimate partners
MMH is co-created and co-implemented with a team of young consultants based in campaign implementation countries. These consultants collaborate with more senior project staff to identify, produce, and disseminate campaign content via social media, mass media, and community activities.
Gatekeeper and ally testimonials
Young people talk about a sensitive time in their lives when an adult "hero" supported them.
OTHER CONTENT AND Dissemination Channels
How often were the activities carried out?
MASS MEDIA spots broadcastED
In the campaign’s first two years, there were a total of
What are the resource implications?
Challenges and Solutions
The Merci Mon Héros campaign is run by a devoted, small team, across its many channels and activities. Of course, this has come with some implementation challenges and adaptations:
The campaign’s younger team members had experience in youth FP/RH advocacy, gender, the music and entertainment industry, marketing, NGO work, and more. Older team members had some of these skills and brought additional expertise in campaign design, monitoring and evaluation, and social and behavior change.
Work with a diverse team to develop technically solid, appealing content
WABA routinely sought input from Merci Mon Héros audiences by conducting:
social media polls
Social media pages
Community Discussion tool
The original Empathways tool and facilitator guide
Video editing guide
Video interview guide
Authored by: Erin Portillo, Sophie Weiner, and Ruwaida Salem, Johns Hopkins CCP
Photo credit: Merci Mon Héros/West Africa Breakthrough ACTION
Thanks to all of the Merci Mon Héros campaign consultants, past and present, including : Arthur Armand Arnaud Daboné, Komlan Edem DZADZA (Edson le Zorro), Oury Kamissoko, Abdoulaye Seydou Souleymane (Althess le Slammeur), Léopoldine Tossou, Lajoie Matota, Félix Guébo, Augustin Assaba, Didier Gnahoré, Serge Aboua, and to all others who have contributed to this campaign
For more information on the Merci Mon Héros campaign, contact Erin Portillo at email@example.com .
Radio, TV, and, social media may be good ways to reach different audience segments, while in-person activities provide opportunities for people to collectively reflect on and trial new, priority behaviors.
Calls to increase youth access to FP/RH services and contraceptive methods should be paired with links to quality, youth-friendly FP services.
West Africa Breakthrough ACTION (WABA) worked with nearly 80 youth and community networks and associations across Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Togo, and provided technical assistance and coordinated with the FP service delivery Amplify-FP project to organize and support campaign activities.
WABA provided technical assistance to the Breakthrough ACTION Guinea and
DRC teams to implement Merci
Mon Héros activities.
Partners and other stakeholders
District health office and national Ministry of Health
USAID/West Africa Region
Private donor (in DRC)
Celebrate the “heroes” (adults or partners) who have broken taboos to talk about FP/RH with youth, and encourage other adults to do the same
Stimulate discussion among youth and adults to identify and overcome restrictive norms and FP/RH taboos to help youth live fulfilling lives
Increase positive attitudes about youth’s contraceptive method use and facilitate informed, voluntary modern method use among youth
In-person activities started as launch events that reached hundreds of people at a time and evolved to more intimate community conversations among fewer than 20 people to encourage one-to-one exchange about FP/RH between young people and adults in a supportive environment. Breakthrough ACTION partners with local youth associations and community groups to organize these discussions, which include:
• Showing up to two MMH campaign videos to contextualize a given discussion topic (e.g., parent-child
communication, religion’s impact on youth FP/RH decision-making)
• Semi-facilitated dialogues between youth and adults, in pairs or small groups, around selected Empathways
• Adults and young people making commitments about how they will act to improve youth FP/RH access
TV and radio broadcasts range from airing MMH videos or audios, to brief segments with MMH team members explaining the campaign and sharing a video, to televized expert panels to discuss a specific theme, such as gender-based violence.
Periodically throughout the campaign, MMH leveraged the WhatsApp messaging platform to promote online, mass media, and in-person campaign events or contests; share campaign content and direct people to MMH social media pages; and spark discussions about various questions.
Filming and editing equipment
• Technical guides and resources
• Filming and production software, file sharing platforms, video conference software
• Campaign promotional items
• Team trained in video filming
and production; social media marketing; mass media and community activities; and/or FP/RH
• Experts to train-up team members on the above skills
• Community associations with whom to partner for implementation
• Budget to pay consultants, experts, and conduct community, mass media, and social media broadcasts and activities
Such as, “what topics do you want to see us address?”
for Merci Mon Héros materials (such as the “open letters”)
with community leaders, FP service providers, and parents to understand their barriers to talking with young people about FP/RH.
Ensuring that team members learned and used the same production software, content guides and tools, campaign theory of change, marketing techniques, and activity implementation methodology was crucial to team collaboration. This also led to more youth leadership in on-boarding new team members, presenting the campaign to external audiences, and organizing campaign events and collaborations.
The Challenge Initiative for Healthy Cities successfully encouraged men to become family planning champions and users in urban poor communities in India. See how their model can be applied to your program’s goals.
Increasing youth access to FP/RH services
MMH Priority Audiences
Parents, extended family members, teachers, healthcare providers, NGO workers, partners, etc.
The MMH Theory of Change
Modeling positive behaviors, through storytelling. MMH amplifies young people and adults talking openly about navigating first periods, first relationships, contraceptive method use, and first pregnancies – and why this is so important.
Celebrating partners and adults who overcome restrictive norms and taboos to help young people access the FP/RH information and services they need.
By empowering young people to talk about FP/RH and encouraging adults to empathize with youth and support their healthy development by talking with them about FP/RH, MMH hopes to reduce the social and gender norms that regularly prevent youth access to modern contraceptive information and services.
Download the model
youth, duo, and gatekeeper and ally videos PUBLISHED
Community events held with 22,583 people
in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Togo
Gatekeeper and ally testimonials
Sourced, filmed, and produced by the young team members, MMH campaign videos are generally 2.5 minutes long and feature the following:
in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Togo
on social media
Young people and their “hero” - usually a family member - tell the story together.
Religious leaders, family planning service providers, musicians, and other adults, describe why talking with young people about FP/RH is beneficial and needed, and how they approach these topics with youth in their lives.
View the full playlist on YouTube
Download the Materials Kit
Youth consultants develop monthly editorial calendars each month to spark conversation about a specific theme, or social or gender norm that impact youth RH and access to contraception. Social media content includes:
• Discussion questions
• Tips for youth and adults to support healthy relationships, youth development, and FP/RH access
• Greetings and inspirational quotes
• Monthly Facebook Live sessions with FP/RH experts, MMH team members, or other special guests
“[Open conversation] should be encouraged. It allows young people to talk to adults, see their perspectives, see how they see us.” –Young person, Niger
"Starting tomorrow, I will be more open with my children. I will help other parents around me to talk with their children and refer them to health facilities for more information on FP/RH." —Adult ally, Togo
Social Media Analytics
First two years of the campaign (Nov 2019-Nov 2021)
“I had never talked to my parents about FP/RH. The first time I had sex, my girlfriend got pregnant. Then one day, I went into my father’s library and saw a book on reproductive health and that’s when I started to teach myself the importance of talking about this topic with children to prepare them.” —Adult ally, Côte d’Ivoire
The majority of Merci Mon Héros' Facebook audience was men ages 18-34.
Of Merci Mon Héros Facebook followers were men.
Audience by age
Audience by gender
2015-16 National Family Health Survey
% of survey respondents who had heard of the campaign
Most popular channels for survey respondents reached by the campaign
Most Popular Channels
Those exposed to the campaign were more likely to have recently used FP/RH services, modern methods, and to have spoken to someone else about FP/RH.
The data below comes from a cross-sectional household survey conducted in Côte d’Ivoire (n=1006), and preliminary results from a similar survey in Niger (n=1500).
Most Popular Channels
Significant Individual Transformations
After attending campaign events, parents said that:
They were less strict and gentler with their adolescent children in general.
They resolved to talk more with their children about FP/RH, and to encourage others to do the same.
The MMH campaign in Abidjan has transformed many women, including Exaucée, a 50-year-old woman living in Abidjan, who was embarrassed to discuss sexual issues with her children. In her own words, “It removed the veil of shame and taboos that existed between me and my children. And it even allowed me to gather young girls, the youth, in my church. And when I followed the campaign, it was like I was [liberated].” After the campaign, she gained the courage to talk to her children about anything related to sexuality, something that was very difficult for her to do before, and it worked for her. According to her, communication with her children improved and she gained confidence in herself. This self-confidence led her to spread the MMH campaign around her, including in her religious community, so much so that some families have introduced sex education in their homes.
Based on a qualitative study carried out by Breakthrough RESEARCH in Côte d’Ivoire and Niger
Validate and co-create with audiences to increase impact
Strengthen capacity in-house
Reach & Trust
Create a strong social media strategy to stay visible and build rapport with the campaign’s digital audience
Merci Mon Héros stayed visible online by posting daily, boosting selected posts , and creating colorful and diverse visual content.
MMH invited exchange with its audience by posting open-ended questions and quizzes, responding to comments and direct messages, and hosting live events.
To reinforce reach and audience trust, the campaign worked with influencers (including comedians, TV and radio hosts, musicians).
Merci Mon Héros relied on social media to reach its younger audiences; mass media to reach young and adult audiences by broadcasting on or adjacent to shows popular with each audience segment; and community-based events to provide opportunities for young and adult audiences to practice priority behaviors, such as breaking taboos and talking together about FP/RH.
Complement online activities with mass media and in-person activities to create “surround sound” and ensure intended impact
Merci Mon Héros partnered with more than 80 youth associations and adult ally networks to organize community discussions. The partner associations gained new technical and organizational skills, and notoriety in their own communities. Some have since devoted resources to organize their own events. Merci Mon Héros is currently working to build partnerships with other regional campaigns and organizations to further expand its impact and sustainability.
Build partnerships to expand campaign reach and localization
Understanding the viability of “viral”
Merci Mon Héros wasn’t “going viral.”
Because short-term “viral” pickup is not only unlikely but also incongruous with Merci Mon Héros’ long-term goals, the campaign focused instead on building a following, earning followers’ trust, and connecting virtual content with real-life social and behavior change by blending online/offline events.
MMH developed its audience by cross-promoting its online channels at in-person events and vice-versa, collaborating and tagging local and regional organizations and campaigns, and using highly recognized hashtags - such as those affiliated with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence and with international days.
Shortly after Merci Mon Héros’ launch across nine countries, youth volunteers involved in the campaign shifted focus to other priorities.
Breakthrough ACTION hired selected volunteers as paid consultants under the regional West Africa Breakthrough ACTION (WABA) project. This meant dialing campaign “presence” back to the four countries where WABA had staff and resources: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Togo. This allowed for more tailored campaign implementation, and more strategic focus on what each campaign component and phase aimed to achieve.
mass media content aligns with youth- and adult-focused programs
social media content reaches mostly male but some female adolescent and young adult audiences
community events reach both youth and adult audiences
Limited time didn’t allow for creating unique content across social media channels, or for consistently moderating WhatsApp groups.
Merci Mon Héros creates its content with Facebook in mind – where the campaign has five times the followers compared to Twitter and Instagram – and edits lightly to fit Twitter and Instagram parameters. This content is also pushed out through WhatsApp groups. This also allows Merci Mon Héros team members more time to devote to the crux of where we hope to facilitate the greatest change: in-person, in young people’s and adults’ real lives, in the communities.
Knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change
Merci Mon Héros’ online audience was gender imbalanced, consisting of mostly men.
Merci Mon Héros couldn’t change the fact that worldwide, men have greater access to resources, digital devices, and the internet. So, while also running paid ad campaigns to try and reach more women, Merci Mon Héros leaned into the opportunity to speak to young men about FP/RH. Merci Mon Héros shares content for young women and young men, and the campaign regularly includes gender-neutral and male-focused messages and topics, including what men should know about menstruation, information about male puberty, couple communication about FP, and gender-equity messages from male influencers.
Merci Mon Héros is not an FP service delivery campaign, but receives requests for local (youth-friendly) FP clinic contact information.
Breakthrough ACTION collaborates with FP service delivery project Amplify Family Planning (Amplify-FP) to coordinate Merci Mon Héros campaign events with Amplify-FP “special days,” which provide on-site, free access to FP methods and counseling. Breakthrough ACTION also trained and involved Amplify-FP Youth Champions in Merci Mon Héros community approaches and discussions. These Youth Champions help deliver FP method trainings during Merci Mon Héros events, and can link youth participants to FP services.
Can my team use Merci Mon Héros’ content? Yes! Youth-focused, youth-led, and family planning-focused programs can incorporate Merci Mon Héros campaign content into their existing programs if they are interested in:
MERCI MON HÉROS RESOURCES
Talking about specific youth FP/RH topics
Expanding multi-media content
Transforming community activities
such as parent-child or partner FP/RH communication, puberty, religion’s impact on youth FP/RH, and more
Expanding multi-media content to include new youth FP/RH “stories,” or communication formats to include videos
Transforming community activities to increase FP/RH discussion and understanding between youth and various reference groups, including FP providers or other community actors
with all the official MMH videos and themed playlists
Merci Mon Héros on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
“Open Letters” to parents
from a young woman’s and a young man’s perspective,
Your campaign can share or retweet content, visuals, etc. directly from the page – don’t forget to tag @MerciMonHeros!
Appealing to parents for advice, these letters can be printed in local newspapers, integrated into community conversations, or shared online.
Merci Mon Héros partners with local youth associations and community leaders using the:
Empathways facilitator guide
Thematic discussion guidance
For programs that are specifically interested in organizing discussions between FP providers and young people
To ensure that video subjects understand that their stories will be edited, and shared publicly on social media, mass media, and in other ways. Minors must have a legal guardian present, and should sign the form on a minor’s behalf.
team members, including addressing unexpected emergencies
Conducting coordination meetings, and livestreaming events with individuals based in multiple countries
Creating/sharing team documents in real-time
Editing and producing MMH videos, including creating graphics and subtitles
Sharing drafted and final video content between team members, and making some content available to followers
Creating campaign video graphics, animations, and credits
robust mass media, community, and hosted live-stream events
some mass media, community, and hosted live-stream events
some mass media and community events, early in the campaign
Using Digital Technologies in Youth-Focused SBC Programs for FP/RH
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