This article is part of the Innovation Gender Challenge blog series highlighting stories from the field of how innovations like U-Report are supporting gender opportunities and girls’ empowerment in countries. The Challenge was launched in February 2017 by UNICEF with the goal of catalyzing better results and progress for girls and boys globally.
By: Nelson Rodrigues, UNICEF Mozambique Innovation Specialist Massimiliano Sani, UNICEF Mozambique Adolescent Development Specialist
Where we started: Two years ago werealized that girls in Mozambique had few places to access free, reliable and confidential information about Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and HIV/AIDS. In collaboration with Government counterparts, a national youth coalition, and UNFPA, we deployed SMS BIZ/U-Report, a platform that enables information sharing and engagement via SMS.
The SMS BIZ/U-Report service is free to join and use, thanks to specific agreements with the three telecom operators in Mozambique that guarantee free unlimited SMS packages until 2020. Adolescents and young people sign up by texting ”JOIN” to 9 22 22. A group of 24 adolescents and young adults (50% girls) are trained as peer counsellors to respond to SMS text inquiries received.
Where we are now: SMS BIZ/ U-REPORT, has exceeded expectations with over 110,000 active adolescents and youth registered at the end of September 2017. But wait, where are the girls? With a ratio of 60% boys to 40% girls, we asked ourselves, why not 50/50?
The Innovation Gender Challenge, launched in 2017 by the Office of Innovation and Gender Section in UNICEF Headquarters presented us with an opportunity to get creative about finding solutions to increase the engagement of adolescent girls. And we are always up for a challenge! In this case, we aimed to increase the number of girl U-Reporters to reach gender parity and to enhance our U-Report content to specifically address gender priorities alongside other office colleagues’ programming efforts.
Brainstorming with in-country partners led us to focus on enhancing the user experience – how young girls join and stay actively engaged with the service. We know that “word-of-mouth” references are powerful; people trust services that other people refer them to. But sometimes those who girls trust the most are not those they see every day. This knowledge became the impetus behind the focus on Girl-to-Girl (G2G) subscriptions. It resulted in a new feature on the platform that would encourage girls already on the platform to invite other girls to join the service, no matter how close or far they were from each other.
How it works. It is simple, we made it a game with rewards! Registered girls are asked to text ‘Convidar’ (meaning invite) as well as the phone number(s) of other girls they would like to invite to 9 22 22. Once verification of the inviter’s registration status is confirmed, invites go out to the provided invitees’ phone numbers. For every girl signed up, the inviter gets 1 point. The first 5 girl users that reaches 50 points, they receive a reward, composed by a simple smartphone and a SMS BIZ/U-Report customized t-shirt and cap. The reward is a gesture to thank her for contributing to building up a strong network of young girls who can now receive free, reliable and confidential information on SRH, HIV, ending violence and child Marriage and other important issues.
Raima Francisco Manjate, one of our stellar peer counsellors, officially launched the G2G feature on the International Day of the Girl on October 11th, with an intervention at the National Girls Conference organized in the context of the UN Joint programme Action for Girls, funded by the Swedish Government. The results have been OUTSTANDING. In only 72 hours, more than 8,600 girls successfully registered, decreasing the gender gap of overall users, with a new a ratio of 44% girls to 56% boys, increasing the overall registration to 123,800 users.
Way Forward. Developing and launching this feature has confirmed a few of our hunches, and taught us a few things. We know girls want to get involved, but it is essential that we continuously find ways to make that possible. We know gender equality is crucial in achieving sustainable development and are committed to finding innovative solutions that complement other efforts to accelerate girls’ access to information on social issues that matter to them and everyone. Finally, the Innovation Gender Challenge encouraged us to critically think through ways of integrating gender into our innovation practices, celebrate this success, and come to work tomorrow ready to continue taking up the challenge for and with girls- powered by the needs, wants and dreams of these young Mozambicans.
About the Innovation Gender Challenge
In February 2017, UNICEF’s Office of Innovation and Gender Section, in collaboration with programme sections across the organization, launched the Innovation Gender Challenge. The Challenge invests in the development, piloting, and scaling of innovative solutions that support gender equality and girls’ empowerment, with the aim of catalyzing progress and better gender results for girls and boys globally.
About SMS BIZ / U-Report
U-Report, known as SMS BIZ in Mozambique, is UNICEF’s free digital youth engagement tool used by more than 3.7 million U-Reporters around the world and implemented in 35+ countries. U-Report gives youth a platform to voice their opinions, questions, and concerns through online and SMS-based features including polls, surveys, and anonymous peer counseling.
For more information on the SMS BIZ/U-Report initiative, please contact: