April 8, 2020

Girl Effect chatbot a safe space for young girls

A private space for girls to get answers to questions they feel they can’t ask anyone else


Girl Effect creates virtual and real-world spaces where girls can be inspired, informed, and connected to services, and to others, so they can take action to change their lives. The partnership with Turn.io has evolved over the last four years into the creation of Big Sis, a virtual “big sister” who offers private and trusted advice about sex and relationships.

About Girl Effect and Springster

Girl Effect is an international non-profit working to support adolescent girls in low and middle income countries to make choices for themselves so they are healthier, more educated and financially secure.

Girl Effect’s mobile-first global brand, Springster, digitally connects marginalised and vulnerable girls to online content designed to equip them with the knowledge, confidence and connections they need to navigate the complex choices of adolescence. With millions of girls in the global South now using mobile phones, Springster has been developed to provide the best possible digital service to them, based on an understanding of both their technological and real world experiences.

Partnering with Turn.io

Girl Effect partnered with Turn.io to create a chatbot that would engage with girls aged 13-17. The first rollout has been in South Africa and is aimed at girls with access to WhatsApp, providing a safe space to get the answers they need to the questions which they feel they can’t ask anyone else.

The Solution

Big Sis delivers non-judgmental advice on emotional, social, and practical elements of sex and relationships through a fun and engaging conversational experience. Using the chatbot, girls can choose topics like love and relationships, sex basics and how to protect themselves (including STIs, contraception and pregnancy). All the answers to the questions asked are delivered in a friendly, relatable way. Big Sis is additionally able to detect whether a girl is in need of help, through her interactions with the bot. She can then be directed to an appropriate service to get help from a qualified professional.

The Girl Effect chatbot has its roots in Baza Shangazi, an “agony aunt” who appeared in Girl Effect’s Rwandan Magazine in 2013. Girls were invited to text their questions to her, and, in each issue of the magazine, the most frequently asked questions were answered. The format was so successful that it was replicated in Malawi where it was called “Ask Gogo”. Over time, the volume of questions outstripped the answering capacity of Girl Effect’s human moderators and it became clear that a scalable digital solution was needed. In 2018 , the chatbot was conceived as a “big sister”, with a user experience that included quizzes and more extensive content. In 2019 the ‘Ask Big Sis’ module and daily quiz features were added, showing that being able to ask their own questions and read the responses of other girls significantly enhanced engagement with Big Sis. The latest iteration was rolled out in 2020 and is an AI-powered bot that answers girls’ questions across different areas of their lives.


Girl Effect has tested Big Sis in four countries - Nigeria, Philippines, Tanzania and South Africa. Over 10,000 users have chatted to Big Sis, with 86% of girls saying they would recommend Big Sis to a friend. A further 65% of users have completed at least one significant module, designed to provide an uptake of knowledge. 30% of users have completed at least one evaluation quiz and currently there has been approximately 24 messages sent to each user.

What’s next

In 2021 Girl Effect will scale the chatbot - aiming to start 100,000 unique conversations by May and working iteratively to test and learn what works best to build an audience of girls. In addition, Girl Effect intends to improve the quality of its Natural Language Understanding to ensure girls get the most relevant answers to their questions, and to add more services for girls to take their virtual actions into the real world.

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