Unlocking the potential
of digital innovations
for girls and businesses
The number of enterprises using digital solutions to transform education, health and other services in developing countries has grown exponentially in recent years.
Digital innovations have the potential to empower adolescent girls by providing them with new skills and access to vital services.
But they can also widen the digital divide
Women in South Asia are 26 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone
Sub-Saharan African women are 34 per cent less likely to be online than men
SPRING was a bold experiment.
Backed by international donors and powered by world-class strategists and designers, it set out to prove that businesses could offer innovative and commercially viable solutions that could improve the lives of adolescent girls.
Between 2015 and 2019, SPRING supported 75 companies in South Asia and East Africa to design products and services that could help girls earn, learn, save and stay safe and healthy.
Out of these, 40 were a digital business or had a digital component.
SPRING’s digital businesses
Through the SPRING journey, the businesses we supported learned many powerful lessons about leveraging digital technologies to scale, transform girls’ lives and overcome social norms that prevent girls from accessing products and services that can improve their lives.
We hope that our insights and lessons will inspire other accelerators and programmes to support digitally driven businesses to create scalable innovations that deliver impact for girls.
In the developing markets where SPRING has worked, socioeconomic, geopolitical and cultural factors have led to labour pools that are inadequate for the needs of many companies, especially those with ambitious, tech-driven visions for growth. A number of SPRING-supported businesses tackle this challenge head-on by using tech to access untapped human capital and help upskill and support the labour force.
Technology can be leveraged to address complex human resource constraints and access underserved markets.
Building a scalable business that aims to bring skills, expertise and services to underserved markets and those living in rural areas is not achieved without difficulties. Accessing people with the right skills and experience and harnessing their skills in a way that brings benefits to hard-to-reach markets often needs innovative approaches to help bridge gaps and leapfrog social norms and other barriers to access.
Sehat Kahani provides low-cost, high-quality health care to rural women and marginalised communities in Pakistan.
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SPRING has encouraged the businesses it supports to invest in low-income, underserved markets such as women, youth and people living in rural areas. For many of the businesses, this has meant using digital technologies to help scale their business ‘downmarket’ in order to provide essential services where there are fewer resources and services available.
LearnOBots promotes interactive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) education among children in schools across Pakistan.
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Girls are one of the best investments that societies can make. Well-designed products or services can provide a girl with the confidence she needs to learn, earn, save and participate in society. Yet life-enhancing products and services are rarely designed for, marketed to or distributed to adolescent girls who consequently remain a massively underserved market.
Technology has limits, especially where there is unequal access.
When businesses combine tech-based solutions with a face to face approach the result is more engaged users, better uptake and adoption.
Kasha is an e-commerce platform in Rwanda that sells and delivers women’s health-care products discreetly to women.
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Engaging girls in product and service design can lead to solutions that work better for girls and potentially for other user groups too.
Girls as a consumer group are often overlooked, and are underserved when it comes to accessing education, assets, health care, and opportunities.
SPRING supported businesses to apply a human centred design (HCD) approach, which helped them validate and disprove assumptions they held about their users.
Nepalese mobile wallet provider Khalti developed ‘Smart Chhori’ – an app that engages adolescent girls as advocates for the digital wallet in their communities and provides them with financial literacy training.
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Cultural norms that limit girls’ access to technology are major barriers to their empowerment. Even the smartest business models will fall at the first hurdle if they fail to consider the gender norms that reinforce restrictions on women’s and girls’ mobility, access to information and basic services.
SPRING’s HCD approach has helped businesses to understand girls’ wider ecosystem and their ‘gatekeepers’, who often create barriers to accessing products and services.
Digital innovations can help remove barriers to girls’ access to products and services.
Negative social norms can limit girls’ mobility or prevent girls from accessing products and services. Digital solutions can help to create online spaces in which women and girls can feel emotionally and physically safe, where their freedom of expression without fear of reprisal is respected; and where the rules guard each girls’ self-worth and dignity and endorse mutual respect.
Pan Ka Lay is the first organisation dedicated to menstrual health awareness in Myanmar through delivering research, advocacy, education, awareness campaigns and menstrual health products.
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