Meeting the Needs of Adolescent Girls: Using Research to Develop and Implement Programs that Improve Girls’ Lives

In Zambia, Population Council researchers are implementing and evaluating the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program (AGEP) using a randomized control trial, in order to provide strong evidence of the intervention’s impact. AGEP will enroll 10,000 poor adolescent girls and address their social isolation, economic vulnerability, and lack of access to vital health services.

Three Components

AGEP has three main components: safe spaces meetings, health vouchers, and savings accounts:

  • Safe spaces: During weekly meetings, 20–30 girls gather with a local mentor in a safe place, such as a community center. There, they develop supportive social networks and receive training on health, life skills, and money management.
  • Health vouchers: Girls are given vouchers for health services that they can redeem at partner public and private health providers.
  • Savings accounts: Girls can open a “Girls Dream” savings account at a nearby bank that has partnered with the program.

The randomized control trial has three arms, so that researchers can assess the added effect of each component. In group 1, girls will attend safe spaces meetings. In group 2, girls will attend safe spaces meetings and receive a health voucher. In group 3, girls will attend safe spaces meetings, receive a health voucher, and have access to a savings account.

The study will document how each activity affects the participants and whether there are added benefits of a health voucher and a savings account. Researchers will focus on primary impact indicators of school attainment, HIV prevalence, HSV-2 prevalence, age at marriage, age of sexual initiation, age of first birth, and experience of sexual violence. The data will also reveal effects on self-esteem, agency, gender norms, savings activity, income generation, health service seeking, and nutritional status. Finally, the study will determine the cost of delivering each program component and the cost of achieving each additional benefit. Such information is crucial in places where resources are scarce.

Pilot Phase

This research started with a pilot phase during which the researchers collected evidence to help them fine-tune the three program components. This assessment suggested a number of specific adjustments to each component to allow successful program scale-up. Some examples include:

  • outlining attendance requirements for mentors in their contracts to make clear that the monthly stipend is dependent upon attendance;
  • bringing the girls to the bank as a group to open their savings accounts; and
  • ensuring that materials about the health voucher are available for girls with low or no literacy.

These and other important lessons will help guide the program as it expands to sites across rural and urban Zambia, ultimately reaching more than 10,000 girls aged 10–19. The evaluation of the program’s randomized control trial will take place in 2017.


Austrian, K., N. Jackson Hachonda, and P. Hewett. 2013. “The Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program: Lessons learned from the pilot test program.” Lusaka: Population Council.

Population Council. 2013. Financial education curriculum for the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program (AGEP). Lusaka: Population Council.

———. 2013. Health and life skills curriculum for the Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program (AGEP). Lusaka: Population Council.


UK Department for International Development