Throughout Sierra Leone, girls face many barriers to accessing education and opportunities. When COVID-19 hit, this meant thousands more girls were out of school and facing isolation. Local feminist organizations, such as Purposeful, a feminist hub for girls activism rooted in Africa and working all around the world, knew from girls’ experiences during the Ebola outbreak that they needed to create different ways of reaching girls.
At the beginning of the pandemic, staff at Purposeful were hard at work on their Girls’ Circle program, an initiative that uses girl-only spaces, radio programs, and girl-led advocacy campaigns to create transformational change. They were in the process of creating a new girl-centred radio drama and talk show, Karo Kura Konnection and Kompin, which would deliver critical information directly to girls as well as challenge societal stereotypes and spark girls’ imagination and empowerment.
So how would Purposeful continue to connect, communicate, and receive feedback from girls? The reason their content is so powerful and ground-breaking is precisely due to it being girl-led and girl-informed, but now with everyone isolated, they had to think outside the box.
Staff were already using KoboToolbox to collect project data. Now, they went about setting up KoboCollect, the KoboToolbox Android app, on 700 smartphones that they bought for the Girls’ Circle mentors. They knew time was limited and were able to rapidly test their survey forms on the KoboCollect app with a small group of mentors before distributing the phones across the country. This was the first time using a smartphone for many of the mentors and staff at Purposeful ensured everyone received remote training on using smartphones and KoboCollect.
“We were already using Kobo with partners to collect basic project data and it proved intuitive to use, had offline functionality, and came with no cost - so the decision to use Kobo with mentors was an easy one.” - Purposeful Org
At the height of the pandemic, Purposeful was receiving hundreds of survey submissions from over 400 mentors on a weekly basis. Over 15,000 girls are a part of the Girls’ Circle program and they were able to regularly and reliably share their feedback on the program, its content, and what they want to see next with their mentors through KoboToolbox. Mentors were also able to share girls’ stories outside of the program - stories of resisting early forced marriage, gender-based violence and, in some cases, even female genital mutilation. Others shared stories of hope, friendship, solidarity, and inspiration.
While this remarkable effort was not without setbacks and challenges - distributing hundreds of phones across the country taught staff at Purposeful the value of setting realistic expectations for the scale of data as well as the importance of phone covers and screen protectors - the program was a success overall and shows how critical data collection is during emergencies and pandemics. More importantly, it proves that adaptation and ingenuity can lead to even stronger data collection during times of crisis.
To this day, Purposeful continues to use KoboCollect to collect data and feedback from mentors every week, ensuring that the program remains girl-led and relevant. As they enter another wave of COVID-19, they now have the foundation and experience to continue to reach girls during a time they need it most.
To learn more about Purposeful and their programs, visit their website at https://wearepurposeful.org/.