Sierra Leone

Adapting through Covid-19: October 2020 lessons from teenage pregnancy programmes in Sierra Leone



Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world: 28% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have children (UNFPA, 2019). There is evidence that this high teenage pregnancy rate is fuelled by a diverse set of drivers, including: lack of information, knowledge and skills; weak institutions and services; poverty and girls’ limited access to assets; widespread sexual violence and exploitation; and engrained social and gender norms that make girls vulnerable to early sex and pregnancy (Denney et al., 2016). However, programming in this area has mostly focused on a limited set of intervention areas, notably sexual and reproductive health information, access to contraceptives, and mentoring and life skills training for girls.

Recognising the gap between the complexity of drivers and this limited range of responses, the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is implementing the Adaptive approaches to reducing teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone action research programme, funded by Irish Aid. Under this programme, an action research team (ART), based in Freetown and supported by ODI staff, accompanies Save the Children, Concern Worldwide and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as they test different strategies to address the problem of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Specifically, the team helps these organisations to develop and trial new theories of change that address the wider array of drivers of teenage pregnancy, and supports and documents their work as they seek to implement these programmes using adaptive management approaches.

This brief forms part of a series that documents emerging learning from the Adaptive approaches to reducing teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone action research project. It focuses on the three partner organisations’ learning and adaptation through the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, during the first half of 2020. Specifically, it summarises key points made by staff from the three partner organisations at a workshop that was held in July 2020 to discuss:

  • how drivers of teenage pregnancy – notably norms that promote gender inequality – are affected by the Covid-19 context
  • how partners have adapted their programming to the Covid-19 context
  • the experience of accompanying adaptive programmes with action research during this period.

This brief captures the observations and reflections of these organisations’ staff in responding programmatically to the pandemic, rather than being an account of the impacts of Covid-19 in Sierra Leone more broadly. This forms part of our ongoing documentation of learning: what is actually going on in terms of adaptation, knowledge gaining, and what it means not to lose sight of the original goals of the programme, even in the middle of a pandemic.