Calls to engage men and boys in efforts to promote health, prevent violence and advance gender equality have grown in recent years. However, there remains little evidence or reflection on how most effectively to change harmful norms related to masculinity. This study addresses this gap by exploring the perspectives of participants in the Young Men Initiative (YMI), an innovative programme that aimed to promote healthier masculinities among boys attending vocational high schools in several Balkan countries through educational workshops, residential retreats and a social marketing campaign. Qualitative data were collected through 37 in-depth interviews and 11 focus-group discussions with boys, youth facilitators and teachers.
Findings from four schools (in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Prishtina and Zagreb) suggest that several elements of the programme resonated strongly with participants and supported their meaningful engagement in project activities. Five themes emerged as most salient in identifying how and why specific aspects of YMI positively influenced participants: personal reflection, experience-based learning, connections with youth facilitators, new peer groups and aspirational messaging. Building on these insights, the study highlights potentially useful strategies for other programmes seeking to reach boys and transform their understanding of masculinity.