March 10, 2018

Hack4Girls in Ethiopia

Four months after the hackathon event in Copenhagen, the enthusiasm and entrepreneural spirit of Hack4Girls live on.

In November 2017, Hack4Girls brought together talents from tech, NGOs and creative industries in Copenhagen to find new solutions using technology for better reproductive health for refugee girls and women. The event was co-created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, UNFPA, Microsoft, Save the Children, digital strategist Natasha Friis Saxberg and Maternity Foundation.

This March, two Hack4Girls teams went to Ethiopia to test their solutions among potential users and to join a roundtable discussion on how to bring the techvelopment agenda into action.
One team was LadyGuide, the winner of Hack4Girls, who is developing an offline self-assessment app that teaches girls about reproductive and female health. This image-based product aims to relieve girls of the worry and shame associated with their bodies.

“Going to Ethiopia was wonderful. We put “a face to a name” and met the girls, who we are developing Ladyguide for. It was great to test, because we found out what we were missing in terms of UX and UI. The girls gave us great tips and suggestions, which we will implement in next releases. We listened to their pains and got a solid feedback. We left both humbled and motivated”, says Anna Halsall from LadyGuide.

The other team was Titi Learning, who also met during Hack4Girls and have since then continued the development of a gamified learning experience for young girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. Titi Learning has also tested their solution among both rural and urban school girls in Kenya.

“Conducting user tests in Addis Ababa and Kenya, and in general meeting these young women from various backgrounds, gave us great honest insights into how we can meet the needs of this urban youth in Africa. These young women loved our simple, fun and visual app, and suggested other topics such as boyfriends, family planning, motherhood and peer pressure, and contributed with many creative ideas for us to add to Titi Learning”, explains Marco Camargo from Titi Learning.

LadyGuide and Titi Learning met with both Ethiopian school girls and refugee girls from South Sudan and DRC to test their solutions and get feedback from the girls. The user test took place at Yazmi, a leading tech start-up company in Addis Ababa.

One of the girls joining the LadyGuide discussion was 16-year-old Genet Tilahun, a high school student from Addis Ababa: “I never thought this kind of app existed! It can totally help African girls with body issues. I liked being part of the discussion today, and they really let us brainstorm what we had on our mind. I suggested how some of the images, like for peeing and for sanitary pads, should look like”, said Genet.

Arian Tumukunde is a 19-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has lived in Ethiopia since the age of 11. Her family was forced to leave due to the civil conflict, and Arian lived in the Sherkole refugee camp before settling in a town outside Addis. She goes to college and wants to start a business in sales. Arian was part of the Titi Learning user test.

“Many refugee girls are not educated and they do not know about these body issues. Also, many are engaged in early marriage. It think this is a good tool for education, especially for the younger age group”, said Arian, who also pointed out that distribution can be a challenge in some communities. “Many refugee girls I know would not be allowed to have phones by their parents or will not be able to afford a phone”.

After the user test, LadyGuide and Titi Learning joined the roundtable discussion event “Techvelopment in action – empowering women and girls in Ethiopia”. The event – which was hosted by the Embassy of Denmark in Ethiopia, UN Women, ITU, Yazmi and Maternity Foundation – gathered startups, NGOs, government representatives and international organizations such as the African Union to discuss how techvelopment can translate into real impact for girls and women in Ethiopia and beyond.

“The techvelopment roundtable discussions and presentations changed my perspective on technology. I always looked at technology as a specialized scientific tool, but now I see it as a way to bring ideas into reality”, says Ade Wesley from LadyGuide. Both LadyGuide and Titi Learning received very positive feedback from the other roundtable participants.

At the event, initiatives such as UN Women’s “African girls can code” and Maternity Foundation’s Safe Delivery App was presented and discussed alongside the Hack4Girls-projects.

“We are very thankful for the opportunity to share our passion with likeminded spirits at the Techvelopment roundtable event. We learned a lot from the feedback we got from the many local experts present at the event, as well as from the experiences that Maternity Foundation and UN Women & ITU shared with us. We are very excited to be a part of this agenda going forward”, says Sally Gregersen from Titi Learning.

Photo: Anna Halsall from LadyGuide getting feedback from a group of Ethiopian high school girls.