Young women in Kenya can now gain access to tailor-made financial offerings and advisory services following the launch of a new app.
The app, which has been developed by Girls First Finance (GFF) seeks to empower women by providing mentorship, counselling, budget tracking and affordable student loans especially for young women in school who are at the risk of sexual exploitation.
“At Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), we have over 40,000 students at any time seeking emergency funds to supplement their HELB loans,” said Mr Charles Ringera, CEO HELB, and advisory board member GFF.
“Not every student loan product can match government interest rates but, to the extent that more students are taking out predatory mobile loans to bridge their funding gaps, we should encourage private lenders, who can offer sustainable loans at scale.”
Research indicates that the lack of options for Kenyan girls, as well as the boys, allows older adults to sexually exploit them in exchange for financial support in school through the “sponsors culture” that is gaining prominence due to social media influence.
Recent studies suggest that between 25 percent and 50 percent of girls are caught in the “sponsor culture” at some point during their schooling.
Equally, the prevalence of sex-for-grades exploitation within school increasingly affects those fortunate enough to attend. A 2019 Action Aid study indicated that nearly 60 per cent of students were adversely exploited by their professors or higher education staff.
“The exploitation of girls and women is the largest pandemic in the history of humanity and almost every woman and girl has at least one story of gender-based violence,” explains Andrea Pizziconi, Girls First Finance’s founder.
“It transcends class, race, and country and no young person should ever be forced to knowingly compromise her dignity just to manifest her education dreams.”
The app was privately released for Android earlier this week to students of St Therese Vocational Training Centre and will be publicly available starting July 1st with the pilot student loans going out from October.
While students of St Therese will have the first taste of using the app, the pilot will soon expand to involve approximately 3,000 girls from across the country with the public able to sign in after July 1st.
Some of the key features of the app include budget planning tools, daily news feeds and advice from prominent women around the world as well as matching services connecting users to mentors and counselors.
The latter feature is supported through a pilot partnership with the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors. KAPC’s trained counselors will provide deeply discounted therapy sessions for users of the app recognizing how many traumatized and exploited girls now need support to heal.
Members of the public can support GFF’s users by signing up to become a certified mentor or life coach, by joining a “crew” of four to support each young user’s financial health or eventually by posting gigs and jobs targeting young women.
GFF has already recruited several mentors on board the pilot phase with efforts led by GFF’s Program Officer Mercy Kalung’e.