Youth, Sex, & Mobile Phones: The Latest in Engaging Young People with Mobile Technology

Want to learn more about the mCenas! approach? Members of the media are invited for a press conference at the International Conference on Family Planning on November 12 from 3:30-4:00pm in the press briefing room at the African Union Conference Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Watertown, MA—1 in 3 people in Mozambique are between the ages of 10 and 24. Young Mozambicans have unique sexual and reproductive health needs and often face tremendous barriers to accurate information and quality services. The contraceptive prevalence rate is low and child marriage and adolescent childbearing rates are among the highest in the world.

That’s where mCenas! comes in.

Seeing an opportunity to reach youth through the growing popularity of mobile phones, Pathfinder  International developed mCenas!, which translates to “mobile scenes”—Mozambique’s first ever youth-centric text messaging campaign that delivers information and stories about sex and contraception to young people at the touch of a button.

As part of the USAID-funded Extending Service Delivery/ Family Planning Initiative project, mCenas! is unique for a number of reasons:

mCenas press kit photo

Young people are involved in every stage of mCenas! including design, development, and implementation.

“Using the Pathfinder’s ‘Pathways to Change’ board game, young people helped point us to the major barriers they face in accessing contraception. Their input greatly influenced the design of mCenas!, including the decision to design two distinct  mCenas! experiences—one for youth with children and another for  youth without children,” said Callie Simon, Pathfinder’s Technical Advisor for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Young people sign up to receive mCenas! messages through specially-trained peer educators called “Activistas.” Activistas are key to linking young people with sexual and reproductive health services. They are also incredibly powerful because they are young, often making it easier for young people in their communities to approach them for information.

mCenas! uses stories and local text message slang to engage youth. 

Pathfinder hired a local scriptwriter with experience writing for young people to develop mCenas! stories. These stories engage young people through characters that they can relate to, like a soap opera told via text message. The characters in the stories experience many of the same challenges that youth identified during the design stage of the project.

“We really listened to what the youth were telling us and applied it in the story development,” said Carolien Albers, the Chief of Party for Pathfinder’s Family Planning Initiative project that houses mCenas!.“We found that Edu, one of our characters, resonated with young women, but boys found him wimpy, so we gave him some characteristics that boys could identify with and that made him more appealing as a role model for boys, like being a member of a hip-hop group.”

mCenas! goes beyond text messaging.

Pathfinder’s work doesn’t stop with an SMS message. The text messages and stories sent as a part of mCenas! empower youth with knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, but they also give young people information about where to access youth-friendly services.

Behind mCenas! text messages are more than 2,000 providers and 440 peer educators who have been trained by Pathfinder to help youth choose and access the contraceptive method that is best for them.

Pathfinder International was one of the first organizations to respond to the unique sexual and reproductive health needs of youth around the world and has spent two decades working with youth in Mozambique. Pathfinder believes in the power of technology to better serve young people’s needs and looks forward to applying lessons learned through mCenas! in our work elsewhere around the world.

“We’re thrilled to announce that Pathfinder is now adopting this approach in Ethiopia,” said Pathfinder Senior Project Manager for mHealth Marion McNabb. “We believe that reaching youth with SMS and in their own vernacular will make a difference.”


Press contact:
Lauren McKown, Pathfinder International, lmckown@pathfinder.org
Mobile: 1-517-403-3049      Office: 1-617-972-1383

Media Contact

For more information, please contact communications@pathfinder.org or call 617.972.1291.

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