Kenya’s Lily Health & Oky are among the 6 startups selected in the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator which was launched in May 2019.
Lily Health is a reproductive SMS service for girls and women in Kenya and across East Africa while Oky is the world’s first period tracking app that provides reliable, evidence-based menstrual health information, created for girls and with girls.
The Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator builds on UNICEF’s 70-year history of innovating for children and Duke’s track record of success in entrepreneurial education, the Innovation Accelerator aims to support social enterprises tackling the most pressing challenges facing children and youth around the world.
The first cohort of six social enterprises will join the Innovation Accelerator to develop and scale innovations addressing menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) in East Africa and beyond.
The six include:
Lily Health is an interactive mobile chat service that provides girls and women in Kenya and across East Africa with private, trusted, and discrete sexual and reproductive health advice. Through messaging on Whatsapp, FaceBook Messenger, and SMS this innovative solution uses artificial intelligence to ensure a personalized experience for every young woman seeking help. Lily Health’s team works to provide a future where all menstruating girls have the information and support they need to navigate menstruation with dignity and confidence.
Oky is the world’s first period tracking app that provides reliable, evidence-based menstrual health information, created for girls and with girls. This remarkable digital solution delivers girl-centered, culturally appropriate menstruation education and individualized period tracking directly into the hands of girls, in the way they want. Developed to meet the needs of girls’ digital realities, Oky is accessible on low end phones, can be accessed offline, doesn’t necessitate a high level of digital literacy to use, and is discrete and private. Originally created by UNICEF in East Asia and the Pacific, the app will be introduced in Kenya as a first entry to Sub-Saharan Africa, through UNICEF Kenya.
Kasole Secrets, based in Tanzania, makes the Glory Sanitary Napkin, a disposable pad engineered with ultra-absorbent and naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic bamboo fiber. These biodegradable pads are distributed to schoolgirls at a discounted and affordable price. Through an interactive menstrual health and hygiene curriculum that engages boys alongside of girls, Kasole is challenging period taboos and demystifying menstruation for a new generation.
SaCoDé (short for Santé Communauté Développement), is a Burundi-based startup that takes a holistic, wrap-around approach to the menstrual health of girls and women. SaCoDé’s novel innovation is a washable and reusable sanitary pad, branded Agateka, which means Dignity in Kirundi, is uniquely designed with special straps that allow them to be worn with or without underwear. Bundled alongside the product is comprehensive menstrual hygiene management and sexual reproductive health programming for adolescent girls.
Tai Tanzania‘s The Jali Project, an initiative that uses storytelling in the form of animated videos to raise public awareness and change prevailing attitudes and behaviors around menstruation. The videos, which are geared toward adolescents, depict real-life experiences collected from members of the community while providing evidence-based MHH information.
Femme International seeks to make quality, reusable menstrual products available, accessible, and affordable in local markets, and along the last mile, throughout East Africa.
Through a project called the Twende Initiative, Femme takes a comprehensive, community-based, and educational approach to tackle issues surrounding menstruation. Twende ambassadors are trained to engage girls and women on a grassroots level, connecting with community groups and other local stakeholders, and going door-to-door to sell safe and affordable menstrual products, provide health information, and offer support. These frontline ambassadors are destigmatizing periods by dispelling persistent myths and addressing the lack of knowledge that too often hampers women from being healthy and safe during menstruation.
On April 3, Duke will host a global conference of social entrepreneurs, academics, philanthropists, business leaders, activists, and students. This summit will spotlight the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator entrepreneurs in conversation with other experts and practitioners on the front lines of social innovation and international development.
The local solutions developed by the innovators enable them to provide tailored support and resources for girls.
“When we launched our first pilot chat service, we were shocked by the amount of misinformation and lack of basic information around menstrual health and hygiene,” said MacGregor Lennarz, cofounder of Lily Health. “Everyone deserves to have accurate information that can improve their lives.”
Through the Innovation Accelerator’s two-year program, the entrepreneurs will have access to a multitude of resources, including UNICEF subject matter experts, mentorship opportunities, Duke University faculty and students, monthly capacity building webinars, and a week-long residency at Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative.
“The Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator means an opportunity to access a global platform to learn, develop, network, and improve our solution for a bigger and better impact in the community,” said Ian Tarimo, Executive Director of Tai Tanzania.
On April 2, UNICEF’s 8th virtual Conference on Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools will share the latest research and programming from around the world. The virtual conference is expected to bring together online over 1,000 participants from around the world.