© 2005 Netsanet Assaye, Courtesy of Photoshare

A global program that addresses the reproductive health needs of people living in poor urban communities—The Challenge Initiative—has been awarded a $20.5-million supplemental grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The award will allow the Initiative to focus more on adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health issues. The grant from the Gates Foundation includes funds from Gates Philanthropy Partners.

The Initiative, led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute on Population and Reproductive Health within the Population, Family and Reproductive Health Department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is now actively implementing its evidence-based urban reproductive health interventions in 52 cities across four regions: East Africa, Francophone West Africa, Nigeria and India. The supplemental award will allow the Initiative to address the needs of youth, ages 15 to 24 years, with best-practice programming, in addition to its programs already being implemented for women and men living in poor urban communities.

“Globally, many adolescents don’t have access to the sexual and reproductive health information they need to make informed choices and this can keep communities trapped in a cycle of poverty,” says Jose “Oying” Rimon, the Initiative’s Director and Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health Senior Scientist at the Bloomberg School. “We are so grateful that the Gates Foundation has made it possible for The Challenge Initiative to use our ‘business unusual’ approach to really make a difference in the lives of youth.”

The Initiative will now layer adolescent and youth programming onto its already existing portfolio in the cities where it is currently working. Thirty-five of those cities have already formally expressed interest in this new area of focus.

In addition to adolescent and youth programming, the new award provides funding to enhance the Initiative’s monitoring and evaluation efforts, as well as implement a robust new learning agenda.

With this award, the Initiative is now a $59.5-million, five-year (2016 – 2021) program. This investment has also attracted investments from other donors. A private philanthropist and London-based Comic Relief previously contributed $8 million to the original investment. It has also received $6 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development in India and nearly $30 million in cash contributions from 52 cities and local governments worldwide.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this new investment in this important sector,” says Cynthia Minkovitz, MD, chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Population, Family, & Reproductive Health and William H. Gates Sr. Professor. “We are confident that its model for scaling up and sustaining family planning programs will succeed.”

Minkovitz cited the Initiative’s model that allows cities to lead and implement their own programs, while allocating their own funds. Implementers also have access to evidence-based toolkits and best practices that they can adapt at scale for their own local context. City implementers can also use the Initiative’s digital-based “university without walls” to learn from proven approaches and, in turn, enrich those learnings from their own experiences.

The Challenge Initiative is a “business unusual” approach to financing, scaling up and sustaining high-impact family planning solutions for the urban poor. It represents one of the Gates Foundation’s largest family planning investment to date—a substantial effort to mobilize and diversify resources to scale up family planning approaches already successfully implemented in urban India, Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya. The Initiative is demand-driven—local governments self-select to participate and demonstrate political commitment by bringing their own financial, material and human resources. In return, the Initiative provides technical expertise as well as support from its Challenge Fund.

Led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, the Initiative’s implementing partners are Population Services International in India, IntraHealth International in Francophone West Africa, Jhpiego in East Africa and the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) in Nigeria.

Media contacts: Kim Martin at 443-287-4782 or [email protected] and Barbara Benham at 410-614-6029 or [email protected].