Last week, thousands attended a global online forum presented by the Bloomberg School’s Gates Institute on 2-3 February 2021 as part of the upcoming International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). The forum, “Not Without FP,” aimed to champion the important role family planning plays in universal health coverage schemes, and to explore the impact of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide.
It is a privilege to share some highlights from the first-ever #NotWithoutFP Forum. As we know, it takes a village to accomplish something great. This Forum was made possible in a spectacular way through multiple villages in the reproductive health community and the village of the global health sector that came together over two days to build, amplify, and solidify the ICFP as an international movement, platform, and community.
We received 7,800 registrations from over 190 countries—shattering previous in-person ICFP records. The forum convened at a pivotal time—as the international community plans to move beyond its Family Planning 2020 (now FP2030) goals and UHC gains traction globally—made even more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing civil unrest and inequity. This special virtual convening offered 16 sessions in both English and French, engaging digital programming on ICFPLive!, a virtual Exhibit Hall, dedicated community engagement spaces, four special plenary sessions, and was completely partner-driven and community-led.
After its official launch on the first day of the Forum, the #NotWithoutFP hashtag reached over 3.6 million accounts with over 33.1 million impressions, 4,161 tweets, and over 1,000 unique contributors. In just two days on Facebook alone, the ICFP account quadrupled previous metrics—increasing reach, engagement, and page likes. Additionally, the ICFP website had over 120,000 page views, with 40,000 unique visitors, and only 20% of those visitors coming from the United States. We also stirred up quite a buzz in the press— as of Tuesday, initial metrics indicate a press release from PR Newswire about the Forum received over 5,200 views and hits, has been reprinted 235 times (with a potential audience of over 87 million), and resulted in two earned media hits [1 , 2].
Beyond statistics, we are pleased to report Forum organizers received positive feedback from many, including one comment via Twitter naming the Forum as “accessible and a great learning experience;” another participant stated, “while nothing can compare to in-person conferences, It’s incredible to hear from actual experts from countries we may not otherwise – instead of relying on ‘experts’ from the Global North… more of this, please!” and another said, “ICFP2021 mission accomplished. A wonderful journey full of international speakers and an astounding virtual experience came to an end. Thanks to all of the organizers for putting a great effort to make it accessible and a great learning experience.” Forum Hostess and Emcee, Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng (“Dr. T”), United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, said this about youth presence at the Forum: “Since 2016, when we met as winner of the @120Under40 New Generation of Family Planning Leaders, you’ve ensured that no one speaks on our [youth] behalf, instead, we have led and you have listened.” From sessions on Advocacy and Accountability, to Building Resilience in AYSRH, and Innovations in FP Advocacy During COVID-19, youth leaders made clear that investment in adolescent access to contraception is critical, but youth must be included as a partner in program design and implementation, not just a beneficiary of services.
On day one of the Forum, we heard from Mr. Anutin Charnvirakul, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of the Kingdom of Thailand, who demonstrated great success in family planning in Thailand with government, non-government, and international collaboration. We also heard a powerful message from Dr. Natalia Kanem, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) about UNFPA’s three zeros: zero unmet need, zero preventable maternal deaths, zero GBV and harmful practices. Our panelists then discussed the importance of health services without financial hardship or barriers to access and demonstrated how various countries and organizations are promoting innovative, evidence-based solutions to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 in family planning service care delivery, demand generation, and advocacy. Our community sessions, planned by the ICFP International Steering Committee’s Subcommittees featured in-depth discussions with Scientific Subcommittee co-chairs and members about how to craft and submit a high-quality abstract, the role of faith-leaders in family planning, and program implementation of high-impact practices in humanitarian settings. Finally, our Day One closing plenary, “Real Talk, Real Stories, Real FP.” co-organized with FHI 360, featured community members sharing powerful personal accounts of family planning access and care and how this has been affected by the pandemic.
On day two, we learned from our morning plenary panelists about the negative impacts of COVID-19 on family planning and SRH services; the cost of unmet need for family planning; combating systemic challenges posed to vulnerable populations; and solutions for successful UHC and an effective COVID-19 response. Day two also featured a variety of community sessions focused on the Private Sector, Advocacy & Accountability, the Demographic Dividend, Youth, Humanitarian & Crisis Settings and the Implementation of Best Practices. Our closing plenary featured The Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, Canada and Gloria D. Steele, Acting Administrator, USAID who addressed forum participants in her first public appearance since assuming office, stating support for family planning as an essential service. We also took a look into the future of FP2020 (now FP2030) with Executive Director Beth Schlachter. Lastly, we were inspired by Mechai Viravaidya’s work in de-stigmatizing family planning in Thailand and his impressive commitment to ensuring equity. Let’s not forget about our two moving musical tributes from Lea Salonga and Jamila Sabares-Klemm!
If you missed any of these exciting sessions, check out “The Wrap with Dr. T,” where our forum hostess Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng and six FHI 360 rapporteurs discuss highlights and key takeaways of the #NotWithoutFP Forum, now available on the ICFP website.
The coming year is pivotal for the family planning community as we reflect on the progress made and challenges faced in reaching the ambitious FP2020 goal of enabling an additional 120 million women and girls to access high-quality, voluntary contraceptive commodities and services. The Forum showcased how innovation and collaboration can accelerate progress towards universal access to reproductive health and family planning services that save lives, improve economies, empower women and girls, and figuratively and literally transform our world. The disruptive events of the pandemic, while painful, can be important opportunities to transform the way we think and do our work. It will take a massive mindset change and more global collaboration to ensure family planning is an essential service that’s accessible to all. This collective moment of lift was not without its challenges, but I want to thank everyone who made it possible.
I want to first thank the Gates Institute Anchor Grant staff — Kellie Welborn, Anastasia Pierron, Christina Cherel, Jean-Christophe Rusatira, Darby Major, Carolina Salmeron, Naomi (Bev) DeRoche-Brown, Carolyn Combs, Zachary Moturi, Naomi Johnson — for their dedication to ensuring the #NotWithoutFP Forum was a smashing success. Not only did the Forum run effortlessly, it also set a precedent for global accessibility among future virtual events in the larger SRHR community and beyond.
A big kudos to our communications experts Matt Matassa, Katherine Davis, the entire FHI 360 team, and of course our Forum hostess Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, and other 120 Under 40 winners for organizing sessions throughout the two days. Thank you also to our JHSPH A/V Team for all of their technical expertise.
Finally, thank you to our Co-hosts, Core Organizing Group, sponsors, and partners without whom the ICFP would not be possible.
Jose “Oying” Rimon II
Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health
Population Family and Reproductive Health
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Chair, International Steering Committee
International Conference on Family Planning
Please note the new dates for the 2022 ICFP are November 14-17.