Big Sis: the chatbot that reached thousands of girls with sexual health advice
- Over 29 thousands people reached by Big Sis
- An impressive 1.2 million messages exchanged by the chatbot by July 2022
- Nominated for Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2022 award in the developing world technology category,
- Big Sis was also shortlised fot the 2022 GSMA GLOMO Alwards in the category: Best Mobile Innovation for Best Mobile Innovation for Emerging Markets
About Girl Effect
Girl Effect is a creative non-profit organization that uses mobile media and technology to empower young girls to change their lives.
Number of employees
More than 180 employees
How many people the business serves
Girl Effect reaches 20 million and counting in 20 countries across Africa and Asia.
- Official API of WhatsApp
- RapidPro infrastructure maintained by Weni
- Enterprise Project
Big Sis is a smart chatbot that offers girls in South Africa reliable information in a safe, private and non-judgmental way about topics they are not comfortable discussing elsewhere – such as mental health, sex, and career.
The project’s numbers are impressive! On the air since 2018, Big Sis has already talked to thousands of girls and is proving to be a great success story in the social impact segment.
Able to change lives, Big Sis is able to connect with girls from diverse backgrounds and of varying ages and life experiences.
Sexual health and reproductive health are super important topics at all stages of life, but especially teenagers, who are at the height of uncertainty and doubt about their next steps
In theory, these subjects should be natural from childhood, but in reality, shame, lack of information, or lack of openness to discuss the subject with parents make these important conversations difficult.
In some places, these topics are not dealt with at school either. For this reason, many girls and boys tend to take the subject to a group of friends, even as a joke, in search of information that will help them understand the challenges of the phase in which they live. But the subject is serious and deserves to be treated properly.
The Springster project, led by Girl Effect, found that girls in South Africa are not allowed to discuss sexual health, contraception, and several other important topics.
Girl Effect’s in-person agony aunt has been answering girls’ curiosities, questions and concerns for nearly a decade. Recognising the limits of how many questions one person can answer, and the popularity of the internet and social media amongst girls, we launched Big Sis in 2018 as our first digital agony aunt.
The project understood that the girls needed a safe communication channel that would pass on information about sex and relationships, in a private and non-judgmental space, and thus Big Sis was born.
“Big Sis provides us with the opportunity to forge closer links between girls and the health services they need, by providing content that helps with her concerns and encourages her to access curated and vetted healthcare providers” — Jessica Posner, Statement from Girl Effect’s CEO, on the project’s official page
The Girl Effect project in practice
In 2018, Girl Effect took an important step in the Springster project. Seeking an innovative way to reach girls, it began testing and building a virtual assistant that could welcome, chat, and advise. Thus was born Big Sis.
Created to help girls learn, test their knowledge, and make smart choices about sex and relationships, Big Sis is the NGO’s first artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot.
Living on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Big Sis gives girls a private online space where they can access trusted, non-judgmental advice on sensitive topics they don’t feel comfortable talking about with others.
The chatbot’s name was not chosen for nothing, taking on the role of a big sister, Big Sis is a safe and reliable tool that is empowering girls over their lives and health.
Knowing that Big Sis could impact lives, Girl Effect conducted several workshops before creating it. So to ensure the safety and assertiveness of the Artificial Intelligence, several girls contributed informative and entertaining content. As a guarantee that the content was passed in the best way, an interactive approach was created through the chatbot.
After understanding the needs and realities of the girls, it was realized that a chatbot could be an excellent channel to engage and increase the reach of the information.
Proving the need for the launch of the virtual assistant and how much young girls yearn to talk about these topics, 85,000 girls clicked on Facebook ads when Big Sis was still a prototype.
In this way, the Big Sis AI was created, tested and refined to talk about the following topics:
To ensure that the project keeps evolving, the Big Sis AI is continuously improved with new questions submitted by the girls. This helps us see how important it is to have an active and connected community inspiring the chatbot’s communication.
Features like comments, polls, and reactions on the project’s social networks help the girls connect and learn together how to deal with taboo topics.
If you want to know more about the project, watch this video where Girl Effect explains how the Springster project drives a new generation of connected girls, including with Big Sis.
How Weni helped Girl Effect
“What happens when you use your cell phone to empower girls to change their lives?”
This sentence, taken from one of Girl Effect’s institutional videos, helps us understand how important technology is in impacting lives. And it was with this thought that the partnership between Girl Effect and Weni began.
Girl Effect made the decision to adopt Weni and begin our partnership to scale the project globally. With over 60 hours allocated for the development of the project, several alignments between the companies were made.
The work on the other side was particularly important for the construction of a good artificial intelligence, an indispensable resource to give life and naturalness to the chatbot.
A dictionary of phrases sent by several girls allowed the AI to be trained, and thanks to this contribution, Big Sis is able to predict the category of a question a girl asks based on this knowledge base. What’s more, the project will continue to evolve, because the more questions are asked, the smarter Big Sis becomes.
Because it is a sensitive dataset with many intersections, several synchronous and asynchronous alignments, revisions in the data classification for the required entities and intentions were required before the actual training.
This is how Weni’s AI, focused on natural language processing, helps Girl Effect spread personalized content that is fully capable of delighting users.
“We started working with Girl Effect when they were looking for a new partner that could help them scale the project globally and support them with expertise around chatbots and artificial intelligence. With the challenge of increasing effectiveness and continuing to evolve their projects, Weni provides technology and project management of the Big Sis build.”
Thousands of girls have already talked to Big Sis to ask questions and get informed about issues that are rarely addressed in the society where they live, and we see this as proof of the project’s success.
The idea of promoting dialogue and opening a space for conversation and exchange allows young girls to connect with each other and, being better informed, to make more informed decisions.
Thus, in just 4 years, the project has added up the following numbers:
Much more than numbers, Big Sis has been impacting lives, as you can see from these testimonials we took from the Girl Effect website: girls who talked to the chatbot felt welcomed and were really helped.
We consider this project a real success for its social contribution. Thanks to Big Sis, several girls are helped to express themselves, to value themselves, and to build healthy relationships.
“We are committed to leveraging Girl Effect’s high standard work and challenging next steps to impact more and more young women through technology.”
On May 3, 2022 Big Sis was named a finalist in the developing world technology category of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2022 award.
Achieving the award nomination indicates that the project is on the right track to impact more and more girls on such important issues as sexuality.
We are very proud to see our technology used in social impact projects, such as Big Sis. This is how we reaffirm our commitment to unleash the human potential with uncomplicated solutions that can change the world.