Mallah Tabot: “I want to see a change...”
Mallah Tabot: “I want to see a change...”
As a Queen’s Young Leader, Mallah Tabot developed a mobile app that allows people to get honest, open and judgement-free sexuality advice and education.
Talking about sex is taboo in many countries and cultures. Mallah Tabot, and her team at United Vision, are working to break that taboo by leading programmes to deliver sexual and reproductive health education to young people in Cameroon.
“I want to see young people in Cameroon talking about sexuality,” says Mallah. “I want to see a change in the way people are talking about sexual and reproductive health.”
The Leading Change course made Mallah rethink her leadership style. “I’m more of a pusher,” she explains, “and I realised that wasn’t really the right way to go about it, because I find myself chasing people.”
So she started asking her team for their ideas. “And they were like ‘Wow! Really Mallah? Is that you?’” she laughs, adding “All these ideas came to the table and now I don’t have to run behind them anymore.”
For a long time, Mallah and her team had been thinking about how to use technology to give advice on sexual reproductive health. Inspiration struck when Mallah met Alain Nteff, another Queen’s Young Leader from Cameroon.
“He’s running this enterprise on maternal and child health and has a mobile application which reaches expecting and feeding mothers. We talked about the possibility of using that model to target adolescents and young people.”
The beauty of a mobile app is young people get unlimited access to sexuality education on their phones – anonymously. “They don’t need to ask permission from anyone,” Mallah explains, “They can ask all the burning questions, play games, watch videos – get the sexuality information tailored to their age group.”
Using the tools she learnt on the Leading Change course, Mallah refined her ideas. She was able to get technical support from her friend, Emmanuel Nganyu, who played "an immense role".
Initially, Mallah planned to launch the app as a social enterprise offering some paid services that would finance the project.
Ask a sexpert
The mobile app, Ndolo360, was launched in July 2016 and can be downloaded in English or French. As well as playing educational games, users can access information about sex and reproduction.
“We have a user base of about 2,000,” says Mallah, adding that United Vision hasn’t had the funds to promote or publicise the app. “So that’s mostly from word of mouth.”
The most interactive feature on the app, Ask a sexpert is also the most popular with over 300 queries a month.
“We have sexual health experts who work 24/7 to give open, honest and judgement-free feedback to young people.”
Users fill out a form when they log queries with the sexperts, giving their gender, age and the region they come from. “It’s very anonymous,” says Mallah.
United Vision sexual health awareness campaign. Image credit: United Vision
Gathering user data helps the team plan content and is useful when pitching to potential donors and partners. And it reveals surprising information about demand for the service. While most users are aged between 15 and 25, many are much older.
“We’re reaching this whole new demographic of people in their 30s and 40s, and parents. That’s a good milestone as well,” says Mallah.
Another surprise has been the number of male users which is slightly higher than the number of females. Mallah believes this is because social pressures prevent men from talking about personal and intimate issues.
Ndolo360 has had some fantastic reviews on Google Play where it is rated 5-star by most users. “This app will close the gap on sex education,” says one. “OMG! Couldn't ask for anything better for this present generation. Honestly mind blowing!” says another.
One father of four contacted United Vision through the Ndolo360 website. He had never talked about sexual health with any of his kids before but was going to ask his 16-year-old son to download the app.
“That app can at least serve as a starting point for him and his son to have an open discussion around sexuality,” says Mallah.
A learning process
The United Vision team wants the app to reach five million young people by 2020 and so it needs publicity. “That is a big goal and to get there we need to get the right partners on board,” says Mallah.
Publicity costs money and after further market research, it was clear that “young people just don’t have the money in Cameroon to pay for services.”
So Mallah and her team are looking at new funding strategies, including approaching:
- corporates who want to do some social responsibility work for young people
- mobile phone companies who have a direct interest in young people
- companies whose products are related to sexual health, such as those who produce sanitary pads or condoms
- and international and national organisations that work on reproductive health.
Launching the app has been a big learning process for everyone in the team. “I’m not the know-it-all anymore,” Mallah laughs. “Everyday we’re learning and everyday the team gets more and more fantastic. We’re stronger than ever.”