Child & Youth Care Forum

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 23–43 | Cite as

A Developmental Assets Approach in East Africa: Can Swahili Measures Capture Adolescent Strengths and Supports?

  • Christopher F. Drescher
  • Laura R. JohnsonEmail author
  • A. Solomon Kurz
  • Peter C. Scales
  • Ray P. Kiliho
Original Paper



Assets-based approaches are well-suited to youth living in majority world contexts, such as East Africa. However, positive psychology research with African adolescents is rare. One hindering factor is the lack of translated measures for conducting research.


This study builds capacity for positive youth development research in East Africa and beyond by examining a Swahili measure of youth development that assess both internal and external strengths.


We translated a well-researched and internationally used measure of assets, [Developmental Assets Profile (DAP), along with measures of self-efficacy, ethnic identity, sense of community, and community participation] into Swahili. Psychometric results for 1241 diverse Tanzanian young people were evaluated. Open-ended asset listing and focus groups provide complementary data and identify areas for further investigation.


Most scales displayed promising internal consistencies and were related to each other and to socio-demographics. Moreover, the DAP predicted self-efficacy and vulnerability status. Exploratory factor analysis supported a three-factor structure of the DAP. Test–retest reliability and language equivalency scores yielded less satisfactory results. Qualitative data support the assets approach and suggests areas for consideration based on culture and context.


The developmental assets framework and Swahili measure may be used to advance research in this understudied, yet important region. Adolescents in Africa should be included in international efforts to develop PYD theory and to understand the diverse contexts in which youth develop and contribute.


Positive youth development Africa Global issues Translation Psychometrics Swahili 



We thank Tory West, Sekievu Abukari and staff and volunteers from the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program in Tanzania. Special mentions go out to Japhet Jonas, Zaituni Karim, Sophia Assenga, Summaye Kleru, Deus Cosmos, Stephen Chacha, Vitalis Temu, Hereith Balgaye and all the research assistants who made this project a success. Dr. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain and Justin Roskopf from Search Institute provided assistance in using the institute’s Developmental Assets Profile.


This study was funded in part by the U.S. Fulbright Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The study was funded by a Fulbright Scholarship awarded to Dr. Johnson. Dr. Scales is a Senior Fellow at the Search Institute, a non-profit social science research organization that developed and distributes the DAP. None of the other authors report potential conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All study procedures were approved by the second author’s U.S.-based Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Council on Science and Technology (COSTECH) in Tanzania, and were in accordance with all ethical standards for conducting research with human participants as delineated by the American Psychological Association.

Informed Consent

Participants were invited to participate as part of their regular school and club activities. Informed agreement was obtained. Due to the nature of the sample population and the surveys, the need for signed parental and individual consent was waived by the IRB and COSTECH.


  1. Arnett, J. J. (2008). The neglected 95%: Why American psychology needs to become less American. American Psychologist, 63, 602–614. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.7.602.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Asparouhov, T., & Muthén, B. O. (2010). Weighted least squares estimation with missing data. Mplus Technical Report. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén. Retrieved from
  3. Benson, P. L., Leffert, N., Scales, P. C., & Blyth, D. A. (1998). Beyond the “village” rhetoric: Creating healthy communities for children and adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 2, 138–159. doi: 10.1080/10888691.2012.642771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., & Syvertsen, A. K. (2011). The contribution of the developmental assets framework to positive youth development theory and practice. In R. M. Lerner, J. V. Lerner, & J. B. Benson (Eds.), Advances in child development and behavior: Positive youth development (vol. 41, pp. 197–230). San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brislin, R. W. (1970). Back-translation for cross-cultural research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1, 185–216. doi: 10.1177/135910457000100301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, T. A. (2015). Confirmatory factor analysis for applied research (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  7. Catalano, R. F., Berglund, M. L., Ryan, J. A. M., Lonczak, H. S., & Hawkins, J. D. (2004). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591, 98–124. doi: 10.1037/1522-3736.5.1.515a.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cha, E. S., Kim, K. H., & Erlen, J. A. (2007). Translation of scales in cross-cultural research: Issues and techniques. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 58, 386–395. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04242.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155–159. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Damon, W. (2004). What is positive youth development? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591, 13–24. doi: 10.1177/0002716203260092.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Drescher, C. F., Chin, E. G., Johnson, L. R., & Johnson-Pynn, J. S. (2012). Exploring developmental assets in Ugandan youth. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 4(1), 500–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fabri, M. (2008). Cultural adaptation and translation of assessment instruments for diverse populations: The use of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire in Rwanda. In L. A. Suzuki & J. G. Ponterotto (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural assessment: Clinical, psychological and educational applications (3rd ed., pp. 195–219). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Furrow, J., & Wagener, L. M. (1998). Report on psychometric analysis of Search Institute profiles of student life: Attitudes and behaviors. Pasadena, CA: Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary (Unpublished manuscript).Google Scholar
  14. Guerra, N. G., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2008). Linking the prevention of problem behaviors and positive youth development: Core competencies for positive youth development and risk prevention. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 122, 1–17. doi: 10.1002/cd.225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Institute, Search. (2005). Developmental assets profile preliminary user manual. Minneapolis, MN: Author.Google Scholar
  16. Johnson, L. R., & Johnson-Pynn, J. S. (2007). Cultivating compassion and youth actions around the globe: A preliminary report on Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program. Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice, 2.Google Scholar
  17. Johnson, L. R., Johnson-Pynn, J. S., Lugumya, D. L., Kityo, R., & Drescher, C. F. (2013). Cultivating youth’s capacity to address climate change in Uganda. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 2, 29–44. doi: 10.1037/a0031053.Google Scholar
  18. Johnson, L. R., Kim, E. H., Johnson-Pynn, J. S., Schulenberg, S. E., Balagaye, H., & Lugumya, D. (2012). Ethnic identity, self-efficacy, and intercultural attitudes in East African and U.S. youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 27, 256–289. doi: 10.1177/0743558411412955.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Johnson-Pynn, J. S., & Johnson, L. R. (2005). Successes and challenges in East African conservation education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 36, 25–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Johnson-Pynn, J. S., & Johnson, L. R. (2010). Exploring environmental education for East African youth: Do program contexts matter? Children, Youth and Environments, 20, 123–151.Google Scholar
  21. Kithinji, C., & Kass, N. E. (2010). Assessing the readability of non-English-language consent forms: The case of Kiswahili for research conducted in Kenya. IRB: Ethics & Human Research, 32, 10–15.Google Scholar
  22. Leffert, N., Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., Sharma, A. R., Drake, D. R., & Blyth, D. A. (1998). Developmental assets: Measurement and prediction of risk behaviors among adolescents. Applied Developmental Sciences, 2, 209–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lerner, J. V., Bowers, E. P., Minor, K., Boyd, M. J., Mueller, M., Schmid, K. L., et al. (2013). Positive youth development: Processes, philosophies, and programs. In R. M. Lerner, M. Easterbrooks, J. Mistry, & I. B. Weiner (Eds.), Handbook of psychology, vol. 6: Developmental psychology (2nd ed., pp. 365–392). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  24. Lin, J. Y. (2012). Youth bulge: A demographic dividend or a demographic bomb in developing countries [Web log post]. Retrieved from
  25. Matías-Carrelo, L. E., Chávez, L. M., Negrón, G., Canino, G., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., & Hoppe, S. (2003). The Spanish translation and cultural adaptation of five mental health outcome measures. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 27, 291–313.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mohochi, S., & Wairungu, M. (no date). Swahili. Retrieved from
  28. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2012). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  29. Mwansoko, H. J. (2003). Translation work at the Institute of Kiswahili Research, Dar es Salaam: Procedures, problems and solutions. Babel, 49, 327–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Peterson, N. A., Speer, P. W., & McMillan, D. W. (2008). Validation of a brief sense of community scale: Confirmation of the principal theory of sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 36, 61–73. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Phinney, J. S. (1992). The multigroup ethnic identity measure: A new scale for use with diverse groups. Journal of Adolescent Research, 7, 156–176. doi: 10.1177/074355489272003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Phinney, J. S., & Ong, A. D. (2007). Conceptualization and measurement of ethnic identity: Current status and future directions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 271–281. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.54.3.271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ratner, C. (2001). Analyzing cultural-psychological themes in narrative statements. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3, Art. 17.Google Scholar
  34. Rhemtulla, M., Brosseau-Liard, P. É., & Savalei, V. (2012). When can categorical variables be treated as continuous? A comparison of robust continuous and categorical SEM estimation methods under suboptimal conditions. Psychological Methods, 17, 354–373. doi: 10.1037/a0029315.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Scales, P. C. (1999). Reducing risk and building developmental assets: Essential actions for promoting adolescent health. Journal of School Health, 69, 113–119.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Scales, P. C. (2011). Youth developmental assets in global perspective: Results from international adaptations of the developmental assets profile. Child Indicators Research, 4, 619–645. doi: 10.1007/s12187-011-9112-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Scales, P. C. (2014). Developmental assets and the promotion of well-being in middle childhood. In A. Ben-Arieh, F. Casas, I. Frones, J. E. Korbin, & E. Jill (Eds.), Handbook of child well-being. Theories, methods and policies in global perspective (pp. 1649–1678). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., Dershem, L., Fraher, K., Makonnen, R., Nazeen, S., et al. (2013). Building developmental assets to empower adolescent girl in rural Bangladesh: Evaluation of project Kishoree Kontha. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23, 171–184. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2012.00805.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Scales, P. C., Foster, K. C., Mannes, M., Horst, M. A., Pinto, K. C., & Rutherford, A. (2005). School-business partnerships, developmental assets, and positive outcomes among urban high school students: A mixed-methods study. Urban Education, 40, 144–189. doi: 10.1177/0042085904272746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Scales, P. C., & Leffert, N. (2004). Developmental assets: A synthesis of the scientific research on adolescent development (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: Search Institute.Google Scholar
  41. Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Fraher, K. (2012). Do developmental assets make a difference in majority-world contexts? A preliminary study of the relationship between developmental assets and selected international development priorities. Retrieved from
  42. Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Shramko, M. (2016). Aligning youth development theory, measurement, and practice across cultures and contexts: Lessons from se of the Developmental Assets Profile. Child Indicators Research. doi: 10.1007/s12187-016-9395-x.Google Scholar
  43. Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Wallace, T., Inselman, A., Stephenson, P., & Rodriguez, M. C. (2015). Assessing youth well-being in global emergency settings: A brief report on the Emergency Developmental Assets Profile. Journal of Adolescence, 45, 98–102.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Scales, P. C., Sesma, A., Jr., & Bolstrom, B. (2004). Coming into their own: How developmental assets promote positive growth during middle childhood. Minneapolis: Search Institute.Google Scholar
  45. Schmitt, T. A. (2011). Current methodological considerations in exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 29, 304–321. doi: 10.1177/0734282911406653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Scholz, U., Doña, B. G., Sud, S., & Schwarzer, R. (2002). Is general self-efficacy a universal construct? Psychometric findings from 25 countries. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 18, 242–251. doi: 10.1027//1015-5759.18.3.242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schulz, W., & Sibberns, H. (Eds.). (2004). IEA civic education study technical report. Amsterdam: The International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement.Google Scholar
  48. Schwarzer, R., & Born, A. (1997). Optimistic self-beliefs: Assessment of general perceived self-efficacy in thirteen cultures. World Psychology, 3, 177–190.Google Scholar
  49. Schwarzer, R., & Jerusalem, M. (1995). Generalized self-efficacy scale. In J. Weinman, S. Wright, & M. Johnston (Eds.), Measures in health psychology: A user’s portfolio. Causal and control beliefs (pp. 35–37). Windsor: NFER-Nelson.Google Scholar
  50. Schwarzer, R., Schmitz, G. S., & Tang, C. (2000). Teacher burnout in Hong Kong and Germany: A cross-cultural validation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Anxiety Stress and Coping, 13, 309–326.Google Scholar
  51. Shek, D. T. L. (2006). Conceptual framework underlying the development of a positive youth development program in Hong Kong. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 18, 303–314.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Sherer, M., Maddux, J. E., Mercandante, B., Prentice-Dunn, S., Jacobs, B., & Rogers, R. W. (1982). The self-efficacy scale: Construction and validation. Psychological Reports, 51, 663–671. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1982.51.2.663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tajfel, H. (1981). Human groups and social categories. New York: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  54. Theokas, C., Almerigi, J., Lerner, R. M., Dowling, E. M., Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., et al. (2005). Conceptualizing and modeling individual and ecological asset components of thriving in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 24, 113–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Thompson, B. R., Corsello, M., McReynolds, S., & Conklin-Powers, B. (2013). A longitudinal study of family socioeconomic stats (SES) variables as predictors of socio-emotional resilience among mentored youth. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnerships in Learning, 21, 378–391. doi: 10.1080/13611267.2013.855864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Torney-Purta, J., & Barber, C. (2011). Fostering young people’s support for participatory human rights through their developmental niches. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81, 473–481. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01113.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Tweed, R. G., & Delongis, A. (2009). Cross-cultural resilience research on youth: Avoiding methodological hazards. In L. Liebenberg & M. Ungar (Eds.), Researching resilience (pp. 155–179). Toronto: University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  58. Ungar, M., & Liebenberg, L. (2009). Cross-cultural consultation leading to the development of a valid measure of youth resilience: The international resilience project. Studia Psychologica, 51, 259–268.Google Scholar
  59. Ungar, M., Liebenberg, L., Boothroyd, R., Kwong, W. M., Lee, T. Y., Leblanc, J., et al. (2008). The study of youth resilience across cultures: Lessons from a pilot study of measurement development. Research in Human Development, 5, 166–180. doi: 10.1080/15427600802274019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Webber, M., McKinley, E., & Hattie, J. (2013). The importance of race and ethnicity: An exploration of New Zealand Pākehā, Māori, Samoan and Chinese adolescent identity. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42, 17–28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher F. Drescher
    • 1
  • Laura R. Johnson
    • 2
    Email author
  • A. Solomon Kurz
    • 2
  • Peter C. Scales
    • 3
  • Ray P. Kiliho
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Health BehaviorAugusta UniversityAugustaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe University of MississippiOxfordUSA
  3. 3.Search InstituteMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.Mbeya University of Science and TechnologyMbeyaTanzania

Personalised recommendations