Melinda Gates participated in a high-level roundtable Jan. 25 in Nairobi, Kenya, to hear firsthand about the Kenya activities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s largest and most innovative family planning investment – The Challenge Initiative.

The Initiative offers a “business unusual” approach to financing, scaling up and sustaining high-impact family planning solutions for the urban poor. It seeks to mobilize and diversify resources to scale up approaches already successfully implemented in India, Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya under the foundation-funded Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (URHI). A strategic shift away from the traditional model of development, the Initiative is demand-driven – local governments self-select to participate and demonstrate political commitment by bringing their own financial, material and human resources to the project. In return, the Initiative provides technical expertise as well as support from its Challenge Fund.

“I am excited to see that The Challenge Initiative is expanding family planning access to women living in urban slums through the adaptation of evidence-based best practices and tools,” said Gates. “We know that when women can choose the number and spacing of their children, not only does she benefit, but also society as a whole.”

In addition to Gates, others participating in the roundtable included HE Paul Chepkwony, Governor of Kericho County, Kenya; HE Amason Kingi, Governor of Kilifi County, Kenya; Dr. Josephine Kibaru- Mbae, Director General, National Council for Population and Development; the Initiative’s Deputy Director Kojo Lokko; Dr. Mildred Mudany, Country Director, Jhpiego, Kenya; Paul Nyachae, Deputy Director, TCI/Kenya, Jhpiego; Dr. Anisa Omar, Kilifi County Executive Council for Health; and Dr. Betty Langat, Director of Health, Kericho County.

At the Kenya roundtable, the governors of Kilifi and Kericho both pledged their support and commitment for the Initiative, while Dr. Kibaru-Mbae expressed her wish to extend the Initiative’s approaches to all counties in Kenya.

The Initiative is known as Tupange Pamoja (Let’s plan together) in East Africa. In Kenya, it is beginning implementation in Migori, Kericho and Uasin Gishu counties while in Uganda and Tanzania, eight cities are preparing to implement its evidence-based approaches. These include integrated community outreaches in poor urban settlements, which involves bringing family planning and other health services to a venue within the community. Family planning can be integrated with related services such as child health, cervical cancer screening, prostate cancer screening, HIV testing and counseling, immunization and de-worming. Because women prioritize the health of their family over their own, integration encourages participation in these outreaches and brings services closer to those who need them.

Working through its implementing partners in East Africa (Jhpiego), Francophone West Africa (Intrahealth International), India (Population Services International) and Nigeria (Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs), the Initiative believes that expanding access through high-impact proven family planning interventions can mitigate several pressing social issues and save millions of lives.