Leverage digital technology or perish

BY VICTOR ADAR

Enterprises that seek to bring social change in communities are known to receive mentorship from moguls and as always end up scaling, and creating sustainable jobs. The fact that picking an area you are comfortable venturing in is enough to be on the right track, it is better to have an internal drive and a bit of focus. 

With various inventive technologies available in the world, those who are ready to jump into the ring are truly spoilt for choice. One can accelerate access to credit by creating affordable and efficient money lending app, delve into healthcare, smart farming, or set up a community water dispenser. This implies that the market is big and that businesses hinged on technology and innovation will grow significantly. 

Even so, a team of innovators have joined the campaign to mainly focus on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) services in a bid to tackle the rapidly rising cases of gender-based violence (GBV), teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality.

In a virtual forum facilitated by New Faces New Voices (NFNV) Kenya in conjunction with Graça Machel Trust, Global Fund for Women and United Nations Population Fund, innovators shared their web-based intervention approaches and offline digital terrestrial interventions in a bid to tackle the rapidly rising cases of GBV, teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality.

The webinar is the fourth series of an ongoing campaign to fuel action towards the achievement of SRHR agendas. 

Moderated by a media personality who is also a founder of Inua Dada and trustee, Janet Mbugua, the online conference aimed at elevating entrepreneurs that have dedicated interventions that address sexual reproductive health challenges. It is also aimed at challenging youth representatives and entrepreneur-innovator hubs to forge collaborations and partnerships that seek to address the gaps in sexual reproductive health.

To tackle scarcity of jobs and lack of capital, entrepreneurs ought to showcase solutions that are able to solve problems. As long as growth strategies are clear, money will simply start flowing

In the sphere of eco-friendly disposal of sanitary towels and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to preserve our environment, Genesis Care that won Sh1.08 million to scale up their innovative solutions in a competition held by Graça Machel Trust, Nailab and UNFPA Kenya in 2018, have taken the lead with their innovative incinerators.

The menstrual hygiene incinerators are essential in disposing off used sanitary towels that are overflowing in latrines hence posing a threat to the environment, hygiene and at times even access to clean and safe water. 

“COVID-19 pandemic has brought about the challenge of disposal of PPE kits, masks and gloves. We have been able to innovate beyond the disposal of sanitary towels and the Genesis incinerator is now also able to provide an eco-friendly disposal of hazardous medical supplies for various Counties in the country,” said Genesis Care co-founder Catherine Wanjoya.

At the heart of Ms Wanjoya’s innovation was a set of obvious solutions that would turn in revenues while solving problems. Of course disposing off some of these items was seemingly a big issue. “It was inspired by a problem we’ve seen,” she said.

In the accessibility of sanitary ware for school going children, Munira Twahir, founder of Inteco Limited, a process innovation company based in Kenya, invented the Ari Pad ATM dispenser that offers children in schools access a sanitary pad with a unique ID card. 

“Our solution offers a supply and distribution management system with proper accountability structures and processes. By offering women discrete access of single packed sanitary pads through their sanitary pad dispenser brand, we ensure positive menstrual experience for adolescent girls in Kenya,” she said.  

Ms Twahir added that Inteco’s current focus is to engage strategic partners to help in navigating the Covid-19 landscape and allow adolescent girls to access sanitary pads in an out of school system especially with schools being closed. Way back in 2012 when she conceived the idea while at United States International University, little did she know that the venture will one day create impact. 

“I had vision and I was willing to go over and above to achieve that,” said Twahir. “The first machine I wanted to get was in China but I didn’t have a lot of money to do this and knew my idea would die. I only had Sh2, 000. So my goal was to raise Sh40, 000. I ended up working on the streets of Nairobi, and I got the money.” 

But in the end, the organization picked up pace and is currently doing a pilot in four counties that include Nairobi, Kiambu, Nyandarua and Laikipia, with plans to spread tentacles to all the 47 counties. She said that over 40,000 pads have been distributed to five schools so far with a plan to reach 500 schools. 

Mums Village Kenya acting chief executive Millicent Muigai said that digital platforms have been a safe haven for women going through emotional, psychological or physical abuse especially, during the Covid-19 season by availing a social support network through peer to peer interaction with counsellors and lawyers and empowering them to make informed decisions. 

Apart from an abuse-support group on the WhatsApp platform that provide a question and answer forum that has so far impacted over 300,000 women who share their heart-wrenching stories, the organization has integrated a one-stop shop with a big focus on mums and baby essentials. 

“Initially our organization successfully organized physical meetups with the GBV victims and assisted them to get legal and counselling support. Due to the current pandemic, we have since migrated to an online platform, paused the physical meetups and adjusted our e-commerce systems to be at par with hygiene measures,” said Ms Muigai.

Imara TV co-founder Stephen Maina argued that there is need to amplify sex education, especially in the grassroots through technology, to curb the prevalence of risky sexual social behaviours among young people such as ‘sex for fish’, ‘sex for money’, ‘sex for pads’ and other transactional sex practises going on due to financial constraints.

Through documentaries, animations and series of SRHR-related content, Mr Maina said that their television channel targets a robust online audience. To him, the deadly coronavirus that has killed thousands worldwide, and the movement restrictions, has brought about a shift in focus for Imara TV, an edutainment platform on sexual reproductive health issues.

“Instead of producing live films, we have now shifted to animated films that can be done remotely. We are also working in partnership with the Ministry of Health to create educational animation videos aimed at training medical personnel about coronavirus across our 47 counties,” said Maina.

“Our growth strategy is to expand our broadcast to-free-to air platform which has over 5.04 million registered households with a signal coverage of 88% population in Kenya,” he added.

Other innovators included Irving Amukasa, co-founder and CEO of Sophie Bot that has demonstrated the significance of using anonymous forums and digital chatbots to enable many people to share their plights on sexuality and sexual reproductive health via App, Telegram, Twitter and website through texts and voice chats.

Knowing that challenges faced by enterprising individuals are caused by two factors; scarcity of jobs and lack of capital, entrepreneurs ought to showcase solutions that are able to solve problems. As long as growth strategies are clear, money will simply start flowing.    

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