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From Menstrual Hygiene to Covid-Nineteen: RAAJI chatbot takes intelligent leap into the new normal

Utilising our existing chatbot to educate vulnerable adolescent girls on Covid-19 & using data to advocate for their new needs & challenges

Photo of Saba Khalid
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As developed countries slowly slide into their new normal, developing countries like Pakistan (where a large majority of the population either lives in rural areas or urban slums) only begin to seriously face their deadliest and most alarming days due to Covid-19. And with this reality come new health, social & economic challenges.

"But often while accounting for these challenges, we tend to forget those bearing the toughest brunt of the pandemic - adolescent girls - especially those who are living in urban slums across the developing world."

Unfortunately, their new norm will be interrupted education, inequitable access to reproductive health products and services, digital disclusion, increased domestic violence, increased household chores & responsibilities, unemployment concerns and an information disconnect from crucial and life-saving Covid-19 information.

We feel children, especially girls, play an important role in our future & we want to utilise the power of technology to help them raise their voice, showcase their challenges, and empower them to make the best decisions about their health and well-being. 

Our pivot aims to tackle the gendered implications of Covid-19 by:

  • Utilising the power of our pre-existing, localised and contextualised chatbot technology (see Coronabot English or Urdu) to educate adolescent girls on the topic, survey & collect important data that helps us understand & showcase girls' new reproductive and mental health needs on a data dashboard for policy-design & advocacy.

  • Train community leaders/lady health workers and build their capacity for Covid-19 education efforts & data collection. Partner with relevant government & non-governmental organisations like Unicef Pakistan and Robin Hood Army involved in ration drives in communities to deliver relevant & updated chatbot-based Covid-19 training.   

  • Based on data collected on the needs of girls during Covid, build an interactive & engaging health and hygiene curriculum that lady health workers can continuously utilise in their communities post-Covid.   

  • As data flows in (cumulatively and in an anonymised format) from surveys and community interventions, we plot it on our map and data dashboard. 

  • We showcase key learnings, insights through articles, whitepapers, social media content and blogs for greater policy-level change and advocacy.   

  • Considering we have been working with girls and women for the last three years using films, workshops, technology on taboo subjects, we have the domain expertise to make a successful pivot in this direction. 

  • Our team consists of award-winning social entrepreneur, public health & community work specialist Saba Khalid, Fullbright fellow & machine learning engineer Jaya Rajwani and content creator and social media activist Musfira Taqdeer. Previously, we have been an MIT Solver team for 2019 besides winning some prestigious awards, grants, and competitions for our innovative ideas. 

  •   We have mentorship from digital transformation & AI specialist Christian Ehl, supported and endorsed by femtech founder Ida Tin, supported by The DO School team & community and have previously received an award by Vodafone for our innovative work.

  • We already see many chatbot innovations entered into this competition and have observed others over the course of a year, and we stand apart as we understand from experience that vulnerable populations especially girls often do not have direct access to tech & different mechanisms/delivery methods to distribute important information have to be tried out as opposed to rolling out a simple chatbot app or software. Having experience building chatbots, measuring their impact, connecting them to data dashboards to show knowledge gaps & identify health needs, gives us headway to pilot this new project in a month's time. 

  • As female founders working in a small team, tackling Pakistan's most taboo subjects in hard-to-reach communities, our resilience and patience has been continuously tested and our resolve has shown through in difficult scenarios. As a non-VC funded social enterprise, we see this competition & grant as an opportunity to further build upon our impact, continue supporting girls, market our innovation, find new partners, learn from existing innovations and pivot meaningfully in a changing world.  
    Link to the survey we will put on our chatbot to collect relevant information: 

  • A look at a mock dashboard that we would like to build that will keep updating with community based chatbot interactions:


  • All the data and news collected on Pakistani women's health problems and violations during Covid-19. 

What is the need are you focusing on?

Girls at a greater risk of abuse/violence as they now spend more time at home.

Girl’s education given minimal priority pre-COVID & many won’t return to school post-Covid. 

Mental health issues intensified by Covid-19 has led to suicides. 

With unpended supply chains & healthcare services, girls are resorting to unsafe sex or unsafe abortions or unsafe deliveries.   

With lockdowns & decreased mobility, girls face limited access to menstrual products & managing periods unhygienically facing impacted cycles & worsened menstrual disorders.   

As digital learning becomes a new norm, girls are discluded from e-learning as mobile sets/laptops are largely owned by husbands, fathers and brothers. Girls also do not get adequate information on Covid-19 developments& social distancing protocols. 

While Jacinda Ardern & Erna Solberg have shown the importance of engaging with kids over Covid, Pakistani leaders haven't included girls in engagement strategy. 

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Sharing a pivot idea your organization is considering or could consider

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

Our work at Aurat Raaj requires us to interact daily with schools and educate adolescent girls in Pakistan on reproductive health topics (such as menstrual hygiene) and when we heard that schools were indefinitely closed, we knew we had to pivot. We had 2 directions to take: 1) Introduce a paid version of our app, target a higher-income audience & continue advocating on menstrual hygiene management using our chatbot. 2) Go back to the drawing board, interview girls we interact with & understand their new challenges, talk to other Femtech organisations and understand how they are pivoting & stay granularly focused on how the pandemic is affecting girls' health. We chose the latter direction, as it made us realise that chatbots could provide different but equally important functions for girls during this pandemic. After surveying several chatbots & dashboards & realising their drawbacks, we saw a need for an inclusive, interactive, educative chatbot experience on Covid-19.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Developing a localised chatbot on this topic empowers community leaders with updated information to benefit their communities in the short and longterm. This education is centred on inclusivity at a time when many voices of girls are going unheard. The data collected through these chatbot interventions could be presented for policy change. Women and girls when educated on hygiene introduce these daily practices & information in their homes and girls have a large part to play in communities. This information provided through people they trust and love (community leaders) could be crucial when so many quacks and misinformation is circulating widely in small communities. We have access to 5 communities in Karachi that we have worked with in the past and could run this pilot with 20 trained lady health workers directly impacting 5000+ girls. This solution could be introduced in e-learning curriculum of public & private schools. Important videos could be embedded in chatbot

What is the name of your business or organization?

Aurat Raaj is an award-winning social enterprise from Pakistan with a mission to educate & empower girls from developing countries about their health using the power & scale of technology. We came up with the idea for a Chatbot for Reproductive health education called RAAJI while screening our local-language cartoon series which was focused on various taboo topics in classrooms across remote areas of Pakistan.

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

In urban areas of developing countries such as Karachi, Pakistan, a large part of population lives in slums. Girls who live in slums are disproportionately underprivileged and do not have access to education, healthcare, employment, mobility and financial resources. We use tech to educate girls in schools from an early age about their reproductive health. This leads to improved quality of life in slums, better family health & less pressure on public resources. It also helps the government achieve SDGs. "14-year-old Yusra lives in ‘Neelum Colony’ in Karachi. Attends a non-profit school ‘The Garage School’. Able to speak & write in Urdu but hesitant to inquire on topics. She does not own her own mobile but plays with sister's phone.

What is your profession?

CEO/Founder of Aurat Raaj Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/saba-khalid-raaji/ Bio: shorturl.at/huCDO Team: https://www.auratraaj.co/ar-team

Where are you located (country)?

Karachi, Pakistan

Where are you located (region)?

  • Southern Asia

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Activist/Community Leader/Organizer
  • Communications/Visual Design
  • Education
  • Entrepreneur/Investor
  • Healthcare/Medical
  • Social Work
  • Technology

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 0-10

How old is your business/company?

  • 2-5 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Social Enterprise

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- NGOs
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Government
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Grassroots/Community Groups

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

- Organisations who work with lady health workers in urban slums and disadvantaged communities. - Organisations that can help us design manuals & protocols to be followed during community interventions & have a mechanism to ensure they are practiced & followed. - Organisations that can help us further localise the content from Urdu to other more regional languages. - Health experts that can evaluate the authenticity and relevance of the Covid-19 content.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

- Girls have limited access to technology and won't be able to use the chatbot - this can be corrected if we train lady health workers through the chatbot on relevant Covid-19 information to share with girls & mothers through non-tech interventions. - Lack of internet availability might hold back community leaders from getting trained through the chatbot, we are already addressing this by creating an offline chatbot with content that can be downloaded & updated every time you go online. - We're still learning new info on Covid every day, we can address this by making hourly updates to the content in real-time on chatbot. - Pakistani govt may not act on data from chatbot interventions - then provision to non-profits & media imp.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

1) Tech access in communities is missing - our community leader was well-prepared on the subject through our chatbot on the subject - but couldn't showcase the content on multimedia or share it with girls on their phones. 2) Ensuring that all social distancing protocols are following during a community intervention is difficult to manage remotely unless the event is live broadcasted or pictures are taken. 3) Many girls have reported alarming myths and misinformation on Covid-19 that could have longterm discriminatory effects. For instance, many girls believe that only non-muslims or other religious sects can contract Covid-19. This myth formed its ugly head from some reports that appeared about Covid-19 symptoms were first seen in Shia pilgrims or Chinese expats. A six-year-old girl shared that her parents are going about in a normal fashion because they perform wudu, pray 5 times a day, and eat Halal food. They strongly believe religious Muslims will not be affected by Covid.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?

Yes. We plan to share this idea with: https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/women-rise-for-all We've also outlined other grants, incubators, webinars, challenges and competitions we plan to apply to so that we can learn from others and improve our idea going forward. We are sharing our list to help others: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18CJuJcjS2sy2quWV8mC2cWdhBOWQUH2afFhNDHEniGE/edit#gid=0

Website URL

https://www.auratraaj.co/ https://www.auratraaj.com/coronabot/ https://www.auratraaj.com/coronaboturdu/ https://www.pioneerspost.com/news-views/20200414/raaji-the-chatbot-tackling-menstruation-myths-pakistan-s-classrooms https://auratraaj.com/englishmhm/ https://auratraaj.com/urdumhm/ All important links: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1M3SIPIQtpdY4DkxNtD8jUiUdcBQdzhtPktxJIypq_nA/edit?ts=5e4259

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