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Diva Centres and Divine Divas

Diva Centres and Divine Divas

In Zambia, partnered with Marie Stopes International and the Hewlett Foundation to design the Diva Centres - a multi-touchpoint service that helps adolescent girls in urban Lusaka access the contraception they need to take control of their bodies and their futures. Using the human-centred design (HCD) approach, which involves spending weeks immersed in the lives and aspirations of Zambian teens, the project revolves around vibrant and youth friendly Diva Centres, a space where girls can do their nails while having informal conversations about boys and sex. They learn about contraception in their own terms from trained peers, and, when they are ready, receive counselling and access to a variety of short- and long-term birth control methods in a safe and judgment-free environment from a trained professional. The Centres are supported by a teen-focused brand, The Divine Divas, which helps girls connect long-term contraceptives with their future aspirations.

Communication Strategies: 

Despite being one of the leading providers of contraception and family planning services in the country, Marie Stopes Zambia (MSZ) saw almost no teenage patients in their traditional clinics. It is for this reason that they decided to work with in order to develop a concept that would help teenagers access family planning services. The concept of the Diva Centres emerged out of a detailed research and design process performed in Lusaka using the HCD approach. Through's immersive field research, the following became clear:

  • Girls don't often feel a sense of control over their reproductive health, with the decision to use a condom most often determined by their male partner. And like most teenagers, their sexual decisions aren't always premeditated, making planning a challenge.
  • Information about long-term, female-controlled methods of birth control is hard to come by, leading girls to rely on ill-informed peers or their partners for information about their own reproductive health.
  • Teen won’t reach out first - Teens have little information about contraception, and what they hear is often negative and based on rumours and myths. It is for this reason that teens don’t usually take the initiative to seek out reproductive health services.
  • Contraceptive choices are confusing and intimidating - Contraceptives are often talked about in scary, clinical terms - with lots of emphasis on the side effects and not enough on the benefits.
  • Clinics are intimidating - Fear of judgement and lack of money and accessibility prevent teens from feeling welcome in typical family planning clinics.
  • Family planning is perceived as something that is only for married women; adolescents simply assume that contraception is not meant for them.
  • Long-term decision are difficult to make - Teens are not accustomed to making long-term decisions and need time and tailored support to help them make the big choice about which contraceptive method to use.

As the project started looking at different options for types of services that would appeal to girls in Lusaka, it became clear that the design must focus on making the topic of contraception feel and sound more like the conversations teens are already having with their friends, as well as help girls understand the link between long-term contraceptives and their future goals. The programme developers therefore started focusing more on what young women desire instead of simply what they need, and shifted from talking about the factual benefits of contraception to positioning birth control in the context of what teens care about, like love, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualisation, and their future selves. The project therefore built messaging and brand campaigns that connect contraception to girls’ futures, and began providing contraception in a way that felt designed specifically for them, their lives, and their aspirations.

The Diva Centres concept that emerged out of the design process includes the following components:

The Diva Centres - these pop-up nail salons are vibrant, teen-only spaces where girls can come together informally - no appointment needed - to hang out, gossip, and do their nails. The Diva Centre is intended to be a place where teens can walk into without feeling scared that someone will see them come in and judge them. This is important in a small community where everyone knows everyone and teens don't want to take the chance of getting "caught" walking into a family planning clinic.

Teen Connectors - the Centres are promoted and staffed by trained peers - young women who personify the Diva brand (see below) and serve as a safe and trusted resource for girls to confide in. They will also follow up with girls and invite them to other events or encourage them to return to the Diva Centre.

The Divine Divas - the Centres are supported by a teen-focused brand, The Divine Divas, which helps girls connect long-term contraceptives with their future aspirations. The ‘Divine Divas’ are five inspirational characters, each representing a different form of contraception - Condoms for Every Girl, the Pill of the Perfectionist, the Injection for the Girl on the Go, the Implant for Ms. Ambition, and IUD for the Supergirl. Miss Perfectionist, for example, is always on time and follows a perfect routine - important qualities for someone choosing to take the birth control pill, which has to be taken every day. The characters bring these methods to life by making qualities of each method relatable and memorable. They make talking about contraceptives and reproductive health a conversation about lifestyle rather than side effects, and help teens understand how this decision would fit into their lives.

The Diva Booklet - this booklet comes with myth busters and a detailed description of each Diva — her story, her personality, and more clinical information about each birth control's application and common side effects.

The Diva Nurse - Once the girls and women are adequately informed, The Diva Centre clinics also offer health services, such as intrauterine device (IUDs), the pill, and other contraceptive options. The Diva Nurse, who is part of the Diva Centre, will provide these.

The Diva Kit - this kit is designed to guide conversations between nurses and clients in the most effective, comfortable way. It begins with myth busting and ends with a layout of the physical birth control methods at the bottom of the box.

Pop up events - from netball tournaments to music shows and drama, outreach events are used to engage young people in conversations that are not only about contraception, but also to scope the demand for services in new areas.

Teen Ambassador Cards - to facilitate and measure client to client referrals, the project created Teen Ambassador Cards for clients to share with their friends. These discreet, pocket-sized cards are the teen's passport to free information and services and help the project track which clients refer the most friends.

Click here for a guidebook on how to develop a Diva Centre from start to finish.

By 2017, MSZ had planned to build a total of ten Diva Centres by 2017 and adapt the urban Diva Centre model to serve teens in more rural areas of the country. By 2015, they had three centres serving more than 5,000 girls - 82% of whom have adopted some form of birth control, most for the first time.

Development Issues: 

Youth, Reproductive Health

Key Points: 

The Divas won Core77 Best Service Design Award in 2016 and Runner up for Design for Social Impact Award.

Partner Text:, Marie Stopes International, and the Hewlett Foundation

Contacts (user reference): 
Marie Stopes In...
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