Recruiting Peer Leaders

Youth can benefit from participating in programs led by their peers, other adolescents who are close in age and share common demographic characteristics (e.g. sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, behaviors, etc.). Whether modifying an existing program to include peer leaders or creating a new program that employs adolescents from the onset, here are two ways to involve youth in peer programming. They can either offer support to their peers in mutually-beneficial support groups, or youth can receive special training and serve as leaders.

Peers that lead programs use their power and influence to promote knowledge and encourage desirable actions, outcomes, and attitudes. A USAID fact sheet, for example, shows that peer education interventions have been effective in increasing adolescents' knowledge about HIV. At the same time, peer leaders can discourage undesirable outcomes, behaviors, and beliefs. In either case, it is helpful to know how to recruit, train, and support peer leaders who will then contribute to a program's success.

Webpage Resource

Tips from School-Based Health Alliance on where to recruit and how to retain peer leaders.

Careful selection of youth to serve as peer leaders is key to the success of any peer-led program.

  1. Identify sources to look for leaders and channels for reaching candidates. One option is to select youth from existing groups that include the target population. Broader outreach through announcements or social media may also be appropriate.
  2. Define clear selection criteria, standardized selection processes, and expectations for candidates. While some program planners use interviews and/or competitive application processes, others use voluntary, self-selection procedures, or select leaders based on recommendations. Regardless of the approach chosen, it should be transparent, fair, and known to all candidates. Selected youth should commit to the outlined responsibilities, be enthusiastic about the project, and of similar age, background, or demographics to the target audience.
  3. Plan for ongoing recruitment and training. Because youth will naturally grow out of a program's target age group or move on for other various reasons, successful programs must recruit and train peer leaders on an ongoing basis.
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All the kids are required to navigate 10 of their friends to the school-based clinic to complete their certification to be youth health messengers."

Irwin - Washington, DC

Page last updated: April 2018