Connecting the Why and the How to Increase Opportunities for Youth


Connecting the Why and the How to Increase Opportunities for Youth

by Andrea Kane
March 26, 2018
A Venn diagram of information, access, and opportunity

A new report from the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty offers bold ideas to make progress on the proposition that all young people should have the chance to make plans for their future, to imagine the life they want for themselves and to act upon those aspirations in order to realize their potential. SPARKS for Young People’s Mobility out of Poverty: Supporting Intentional Family Formation and Positive Youth Development focuses on providing both the motivation and the means for young people to live their best lives. 

This means ensuring young people have SPARKS (Supportive Pathways through Adolescence through Recreation, Knowledge, and Schools) that empower them to find their “why,” along with information about and access to the full range of birth control options.  Access to these resources help empower young people to choose whether and when to become parents, which in turn makes it possible to achieve other goals.  As the report puts it, “Together, these approaches can help ensure that young women and men have the autonomy to choose their own goals and the power to achieve them.”

We were honored to contribute to this paper and to help facilitate a design lab with experts, thought leaders, practitioners, and young people with lived experience that generated important insights and recommendations reflected in the report. Power to Decide is committed to ensuring that all young people—no matter who they are, where they live, or what their economic status might be—have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant. 

As the new report underscores, access to high quality sexual health information and birth control alone can’t solve poverty, racism, economic inequity, or other social challenges that make it hard for all young people to create the future they want. But, especially when coupled with a sense of meaning (aka SPARKS), a connection to allies and champions, and real possibility, they can empower young people to make major life decisions that can affect their opportunities. That is why at Power to Decide we work on increasing information, access, and opportunity. In the words of the SPARKS authors, we need to focus on both the how and the why.

The new report is the latest in a series from The US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, an effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and supported by the talented staff at the Urban Institute. The Partnership is generating ideas for  investment by philanthropy and the public sector that answer the question: What Would It Take to Dramatically Increase Mobility from Poverty?  The SPARKS report  summarizes existing research, highlights examples of promising and effective programs, and recommends key steps for future research and investment.  Acting on these recommendations will be an important step towards ensuring more young people have both the why and the how to achieve their goals and the futures they want.  I encourage you to read and share it!