Making Family Planning Accessible with Mobile Technology

20 Oct 2018

Nikhila crouches in the corner of a busy intersection in Mumbai. Her eyes dart between passing pedestrians and a crumpled issue of “Ask the Sexpert,” a weekly column in the Mumbai Mirror featuring sex advice by a 94-year old OB-GYN. Nikhila has a boyfriend and they are considering having sex. She wants to protect herself but does not know how, or who to ask.

For young women around the world like Nikhila, accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is not easy. Misinformation, myths, and misconceptions about family planning persist, as do stigma and inconsistent product supply. Nivi, a company co-founded by unlikely bedfellows – a public health expert and the man behind TinyURL – has big plans to change this state of affairs.

Nivi is a social enterprise changing the way women and men access family planning information, products, and services in low-resource settings. The company launched in Kenya in 2016 with funding from Merck for Mothers – Merck & Co. Inc.’s 10-year, $500 million corporate responsibility initiative to end preventable maternal deaths.

For McCann Global Health – a new player among Nivi’s partners – it took only one meeting before both teams found common ground in their belief in the power of using people-centric communications to drive healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes. Mobile technologies for public health as innovative as Nivi’s, are only as good in the hands of people’s whose lives they will positively impact – and this shared belief is the reason behind both parties joining forces to promote Nivi in its target markets.

Nivi’s backbone is a digital platform featuring a free SMS chatbot, askNivi, that uses keyword campaigns to engage users in a conversation about family planning. AskNivi is unique in its ability to meet women where they are – geographically and in their reproductive health journey. The end result of an askNivi conversation could be an answer to a question or a personalized recommendation for a family planning method. askNivi also makes it possible to “nudge” users to take steps to promote a healthy lifestyle. For instance, an automated reminder that a referral has not been used can be sent 24 hours after a referral was made. Or, a digital voucher to offset costs can be sent to users that meet certain criteria.

Results from Nivi’s initial years of operation have been promising. In one year, Nivi had over 39,000 unique users and delivered more than 2,800 referrals for long-acting reversible family planning methods. Building on its successes and learnings, Nivi plans to launch in India – a high-need, high-opportunity market – in early 2019. The unmet need for contraception in India is higher than anywhere else in the world. 13% of women in India face an unmet need for family planning, and the country sees 13,400,000 unintended pregnancies each year.

For Nivi, scale-up will require enough resources to simultaneously cover current operations in Kenya, make real-time product adaptations for new audiences, and drive rapid adoption of a disruptive technology in a new market.

Given the scope of the work ahead and Nivi’s mandate, it is no surprise Nivi co-founder Sidd Goyal spent the better part of 2018 building partnerships and stewarding relationships with potential investors and donors.

“Mahatma Gandhi said ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’. Our belief with Nivi is that we can contribute to making that dream a reality by giving individuals, families, and communities the tools they need to enact the change they want to see,” said Nivi Co-Founder and CEO, Sidd Goyal.

Through their partnership, Nivi and McCann Global Health aim to make askNivi the answer to Nikhila’s questions, and a life-changing resource to her peers. The open question is whether the global health community is prepared to invest enough in Nivi to make it the solution to expanded access to sexual and reproductive health.

Are you interested in partnering with us to launch Nivi in India? We want to hear from you. Email us at globalhealth@mccann.com.

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