In conflict-affected countries such as Mali, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV). Stigma stops the spread of information and victims lack knowledge and means of reporting perpetrators. In this challenging context, Porcho Marguerite Sogoba found an opportunity for advocacy through social media and street theater, along with a new mobile application to report GBV.
Sogoba is the project coordinator for Zero GBV, an initiative of the Mali-based association for the promotion of women for ICT known as Musodev. When Musodev worked with girls in schools on new technologies, they saw that cyberbullying and the shaming of girls over modesty was common. Girls felt alone and didn't know what to do if they were experiencing these issues.
Sogoba decided that a lack of awareness and of reporting options were problems that she could act on, and Zero GBV was born. The initiative was one of 12 awardees of AfrIdea, a regional innovation mechanism implemented by Pact and supported by the U.S. Department of State to unlock the potential of West African entrepreneurs, social activists and developers. AfrIdea activated a network of young entrepreneurs and innovators from Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Togo to support their ideas, test their concepts and establish operations or scale up.
The innovation at the core of Zero GBV is a mobile application that provides information and acts as a mechanism for reporting GBV. AfrIdea’s innovation process and funding supported testing the app with real users—essential for any new technology.
Zero GBV had created low-cost prototypes before investing in a full application, which allowed the organization to determine the best user experience and remove bugs before investing in further development. Testing of the application saved them time and money and resulted in a more impactful resource for women and girls. The team also ensured the application had voice memo functionality—critical to users with low or no literacy—and used the local languages of Bamara, Soninké and Peul.
The funding also allowed Sogoba and the Zero GBV team to design a creative advocacy campaign, both on social media and via an in-person caravan event, in order to reach young people and women in vulnerable situations along with the general public. During the 16 Days of Activism against GBV in 2021, the team’s advocacy campaign reached more than 5,000 people and two confirmed cases of abuse were reported through the mobile application.
Sogoba cites the introduction of innovative techniques learned during AfrIdea activities for the level of creativity in the advocacy campaign design. By thinking outside the box, Zero GBV was able to engage many more people than in previous campaigns. Further, it has had a deeper impact through its memorable skits, inspiring action through the application.
The AfrIdea project ended in October 2022, with final funding distributed to awardees for further work after eight months of coaching, iteration and learning. Zero GBV will be using these funds to conduct a new self-defense training, a direct outcome of listening to their users' needs. The training motto is: “Strong women are capable women.”
Overall, AfrIdea funded 12 talented entrepreneurs and their solutions with research, testing or pilot grants. Other projects include:
- Karamo: An innovative, online, easy-to-access platform connecting parents and teachers in a virtual market. The platform prototype was created and validated with 30 users.
- By’Recycl: A recycling project recovering masks to turn them into insulators. It has expanded to other fabric waste and forged key partnerships with several large sewing shops in Mali.
- My Health (e’sante): A digital health platform and mobile application connecting users to medical providers and pharmacies. It creates a medical file that can be shared and updated in real time. During user testing funded by AfrIdea, the project won the 2022 Connection-Citizen Incubation Program and secured its first major angel investment.
AfrIdea’s other grantees also gained skills from the 2021 idea-a-thon to adapt their solutions and overcome challenges. The larger AfrIdea network created through the idea-a-thon and other events comprised more than 800 entrepreneurs and connected eight regional innovation hubs. These networks will continue to connect participants, local mentors and topical experts as well as highlight relevant U.S. Embassy events and networking opportunities.
AfrIdea is a two-year cooperative agreement funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Services and implemented by Pact.