Youth code their way to better sexual and reproductive health

BY Charles Otine, Leslie Berman | October 22, 2015|Comments 0

Tech-savvy young people are exploring innovative ways to use mobile technologies, creating the change they wish to see. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ‘Hack For Youth’ challenged 80 participants from 17 countries to design and develop creative solutions to sexual and reproductive health issues affecting their lives.
Today’s young people are more connected and tech-literate than ever before and this has the potential to transform their lives, lowering communication and information barriers and empowering them with platforms to self-organize and build influential networks.

Innovation & mobile tech

The mobile industry continues to scale rapidly, and mobile phones are leading advances across sectors. We are seeing mobile health (mHealth) advances across the healthcare spectrum. This brings innovations to achieve a range of objectives:

  • increase access to health data;
  • improve the efficiency of service delivery;
  • provide sexual and reproductive health information and referral services;
  • promote learning, behaviour change and knowledge exchange;
  • strengthen logistics and supply chain management; and
  • hold health systems accountable to the needs of young people.

The number of young people with access to mobile phones is ever-increasing. At the same time, many young people lack access to essential sexual and reproductive health information and services, which is critical to ensuring their ability to make healthy and informed decisions about their lives and futures. Could the first solve the second?


‘Hack For Youth’ event spurs innovation

Developers worked through the night, furiously typing code into their laptops, racing to complete a working prototype. But this was no Silicon Valley startup. It was a conference room in Kampala, Uganda, filled with young people from around the world, all competing to devise the best, most innovative mobile phone app to promote sexual and reproductive health.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, recently invited young people to design and develop technology solutions to pressing needs and challenges in adolescent sexual and reproductive health. UNFPA hosted Hack For Youth in Uganda in July 2015. The three-day workshop – called a hackathon – brought together young people from around the world along with UN experts, engineers and partners.

  • The winner was a quiz app called TriGivia. It dispels myths and provides accurate information about sexual and reproductive health. By playing the game, users win fun incentives, including points redeemable for free mobile airtime.

The event received support through the UNFPA Innovation Fund, established in 2014 with a contribution from the Government of Denmark, to bring together creative and cutting-edge initiatives. The contributions of UN partners and the UN in Uganda ensured the hackathon’s success.

Awards Ceremony UNFPA

A fast-paced competition

The hackathon began with a kick off to set the stage and quickly moved to a design challenge:

  • Working in teams, participants identified the key challenges they wished to address, and the technology solutions they planned to build.
  • Over the next two days, teams were guided through an intensive process to build their mobile products. Teams worked late into the night as the excitement and (friendly) competition continued to build.
  • Members of the UNICEF U-report team in Uganda served as mentors and active team members, sharing their experience using the U-report mobile platform to crowdsource feedback from mobile users, especially young people.
  • UN Global Pulse’s Pulse Lab Kampala oriented teams to how big data opportunities could be embedded into their creations to yield important insights into their target populations.
  • On day three, the hackathon concluded with a pitch session, where an expert panel of judges selected the winning app prototypes. Seven prototypes were showcased on issues including reporting sexual harassment, accessing health information and reaching first-time young mothers.
  • The prototypes were presented in a public awards ceremony, presided over by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi, and the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uganda Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie.

The hackathon encouraged participants to think outside-the-box and design unconventional mHealth solutions to address challenges faced by adolescents, based on their real needs and experiences.


Youth as agents of change

Several teams are now developing their ideas from prototype to functional system, in preparation for pilot testing. These mobile apps have the potential to positively impact the lives of young people by helping meet their expressed sexual and reproductive health needs in diverse countries around the world.

Science, technology and innovation can help us meet emerging development challenges. The young people who developed these technology projects are their country’s agents of change. This spirit of innovation is clearly seen throughout the Sustainable Development Goals as described in the outcome document to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Charles Otine Charles is a Programme Analyst for Innovations, MIS and Knowledge Management at UNFPA Uganda. Follow him on Twitter.
Leslie Berman Leslie Berman is Innovation Technical Specialist at UNFPA Innovation Fund. Follow UNFPA’s innovation on Twitter.

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