Springster – a mobile first platform to connect vulnerable girls

Springster – a mobile-first platform to connect vulnerable girls to each other and to relevant information and advice.

The world is getting more connected every day. In 2017 there were nearly 5 billion unique mobile users – 66% of the population. Globally there is a much more burgeoning connectivity amongst females, which means that there are more and more vulnerable girls online. In the next 5 years it is predicted that two out of every three new mobile owners is going to be female.

I was delighted to interview Esther Press, who is the Global Content Manager for Springster, a unique mobile-first behaviour change platform, created by Girl Effect, which aims to build vulnerable girls’ confidence, knowledge and skills. One of Facebook Free Basics’ top five most visited sites, Springster is available in 69 countries across the world and translated into 17 languages. Each time Facebook announces that it will be launching in a new country, Springster ensures content is available for that market. Springster is currently launching in Cameroon, Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire.

The project has been designed after extensive research in Asia and Africa with over 350 girls, 100 boys and a number of parents, experts and influencers. Insights from these research workshops enable content to be created that helps girls face their everyday challenges.

Springster has been optimised specifically for low-bandwidth environments so that it is available on feature phones as well as smartphones. The content is inspired by teen media platforms like Buzzfeed and the Khan Academy. Springster currently has around 1.3 million average monthly users and received 30 million unique visitors since its launch in 2015.

Springster has four key ‘deeper dive’ markets – South Africa, Nigeria, Philippines and Indonesia. In each of these markets there are dedicated content teams made up of girl writers, researchers, creatives, planners and account managers.
Esther commented “We have a unique evidence-based approach to content creation. In each of the key markets we carry out extensive research into the cultural and social elements which affect the kind of content that girls want to be delivered. It’s super localised and personalised. The rest of the markets benefit from a global content set and Girl Effect work with global freelancers, where we have a roster of incredible writers who are based across the world. We don’t just work with writers in the UK. In the future we aim to localise and tailor content in more countries.”

Moderation and Safeguarding

In each of the key markets, there are dedicated moderators called “Big Sisters”. Their persona is a trusted, sassy, older sister. All of the Big Sisters are trained in child safeguarding and gender issues and work on the Springster content management system to answer all the comments. In Nigeria they can receive over 3000 comments per month. There’s also a stringent flagging process in place for profanities and risky comments, whereas in the global markets comments are not switched on.
People can only comment on the site once they have registered. When individuals register no personal identifiable details are taken. The big difference from platforms like Facebook is that no personal information is asked for. Individuals are encouraged to set up a username which has no link to their real identity. There is no messaging platform within the site, so no one can contact individuals directly.

Entertainment with a purpose

Springster at the end of the day is a behaviour change product. The site needs to be entertaining to capture girls’ attention, but every single article has a purpose. Girls benefit from the reassurance and advice generated by shared stories and experiences from other girls like them. Content that caters for girls’ needs is often hard to find and topics they want to find out more about e.g. periods, relationships, sex are often not readily available. It is important that articles are culturally on trend, looking at topics of the day such as K-Pop and celebrity culture. As Esther commented “We put the girl at the heart of everything we do. We want to celebrate the diverse, inspirational and convention-defying experiences of girls. We look at the attitudes, knowledge and behaviour that we need to change to impact their world.”

Even the use of imagery is extensively tested so that it is relevant. In Indonesia girls responded mostly to quirky drawings and cute illustrations, whilst in South Africa the research showed that girls would find photography more appealing and engaging.
Measuring Impact
Springster has a custom-built dashboard to measure the impact of its activities. Using a range of measurements such as surveys, comment analysis, site analytics and interviews with girls who have used the platform they are aiming to measure changes across all of the impact areas that they have identified. This data also informs what kinds of stories Springster need to focus on in the future.

Future Plans

In the future Springster intend to extend their reach in the social media ecosphere. They are currently researching options to introduce YouTube and Instagram in their key markets, but are also considering BBM, WhatsApp and Dark Social.
Crucially, the team are working on plans to better utilise the incredibly rich data related to reach, engagement and participation on Springster, by launching a new measurement dashboard in 2018. This dashboard will not only measure how girls use the platform, but to what extent it has helped shift girls’ knowledge, attitude and behaviour in the offline world too. This innovative approach has seen the brand featured as a best practice case study by DIAL, the Digital Impact Alliance at the United Nations Foundation, as part of their series on the ‘Principles for Digital Development’.

To find out more about Springster click here: http://www.girleffect.org/what-we-do/springster/

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A social media guide for volunteers and travelers

Many of you will already have seen the fantastic Instagram account Barbie Savior which critiques voluntourism – well now she has teamed up with the equally fantastic Radi-Aid to develop a social media guide for volunteers and travellers. With the rapid rise in voluntourism over the last 10 years, many of us will know someone who has travelled overseas to volunteer in a developing country. Whilst overseas, these volunteers will often document their experience by taking photographs and sharing on their various social networks. These images will usually be innocent portrayals of their everyday lives whilst volunteering, other times they can be potentially insulting or reinforce stereotypes of people living in poverty.

This new guide warns volunteers of the damage that images can have on the representation of distant others. The illustrated guide follows four main principles:

1. Promote dignity
2. Gain informed consent
3. Question your intentions
4. Use your chance – bring down stereotypes

There is also a handy checklist – see below cheklist

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A guide to filmmaking for charities and NGOs


Duckrabbit are well known in the charity/NGO sector for both their filmmaking and their superb training courses. They have just produced an excellent introduction to filmmaking which is packed with tips. The guide takes you through the process of pre-production right through to post production with advice of budgets. storyboarding, editing etc. The guide also links to examples of films which is really handy.

A few years ago I wrote a quick blog post Top 10 tips for making an NGO video – this new guide from duckrabbit is ten times better and packed with some really simple advice which is often overlooked. A must read for anyone wanting to maximise their film budget in the development / NGO / charity sector!


To download a free copy visit their website



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How can we use Instagram more to support development?

I’m afraid this is a genuine question that I don’t know the answer to – so please help me answer it. How can we use Instagram more to help development?

Earlier today I met with a youth group in Alexandra, Johannesburg to talk to them about the use of images in NGO fundraising campaigns. After the discussion I noticed several of them get their mobile phones out to check for “updates”. I had already taken up a lot of their time, so quickly asked if they used social media on their phones. “Of course we do” one of them said. I asked which social media channels they use the most and it was a unanimous response of “Instagram”. What about Facebook and Twitter I asked, “We use Facebook, but not Twitter, Instagram is much better.” So I asked if they thought Instagram could be used for development. “Definitely – Instagram is a great way of finding out what’s going on in the world and for learning about different things – it’s so easy to share information with friends too.”

I was so intrigued by this response, but really didn’t want to take up more of their time. I’ve seen several semi-successful campaigns by NGOs, one of which I mention in my blog post earlier today. I’ve also written about Instagram accounts such as Barbie Saviour and Everyday Africa, but I’d love to learn more about grass roots initiatives on Instagram that have been successful for development.

Please share any examples you have found.

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New Research seeks to improve imagery in NGO campaigns

Critics have often accused NGOs of using pity in their fundraising campaigns. Negative images used in campaigns to evoke empathy and guilt have been labelled as poverty porn, others accuse positive campaigns of stereotyping, oversimplification of stories or failing to highlight structural causes. Sometimes it seems as though NGOs can’t do right for want of trying.

With NGOs under constant scrutiny from organisations such as Radi-Aid, which seeks to minimise stereotyping in fundraising adverts there has been a gradual shift in narratives in recent years. Save the Children have recently released an informative piece of research called The People in the Pictures. This research is the first time that “contributors” or the protagonists of NGO imagery and stories have been asked about the process of image making and their portrayal in the communications.


The research included 39 interviews and 21 focus groups across four countries: UK, Jordan, Bangladesh and Niger. In total there were 202 research participants. Findings are grouped into three main areas: motivations, process and portrayal.

Informed Consent

I found the section on informed consent particularly interesting, especially that contributors in Jordan, Bangladesh and Niger “only had a vague idea of the purpose” of the photo shoot. Having commissioned photography for a large part of my career I sympathise to some extent, but it worries me that large INGOs who have established country offices and local partners are still unable to successfully implement informed consent.

Is it a language / translation issue or are the people in the pictures simply unaware of the myriad of communications that INGOs are using the imagery for? I was pleased to see in the recommendations that Save the Children are reviewing their guidelines. Surely a simple solution is for photographers to take examples of previous campaigns and for these to be translated so local communities can understand how their images might be used?

The reasons for not contributing were social stigma, fear of reprisal, the permanence of the portrayal, lack of confidence or self-esteem and lack of direct benefits. All of these reasons confirm why stringent implementation of informed consent is fundamental.

Local Photographers

Some of the problems associated with informed consent include the photographer not speaking the language of the contributors and the lack of media literacy. The problems with hiring local photographers is a recurrent theme when I talk with communication professionals in the sector. I have recently encountered similar problems myself. This is one of the reasons I am an advocate of WaterAid’s Voices from the Field initiative which I have witnessed first-hand in both Madagascar and Nepal. I know that other NGOs have considered this approach to gathering images and case studies, so why hasn’t it happened? I can’t imagine that cost is the issue.

Participatory Photography

It is encouraging to see Save the Children have utilised participatory photography in their portfolio of image making. Participatory photography projects are becoming more popular and this is to be applauded, but how successful are these projects in reality? The dissemination of these images is not particularly widespread. Take for example the Inside Zataari project, which has just over 1600 followers on Instagram. In fairness it has received some very positive media coverage which is a different indicator of success. I do wonder which INGO will be brave enough to use images taken during a participatory photography project and use then in a national or international advertising campaign rather than using them on an Instagram account with a relatively insignificant audience?


The recommendations in the report are commendable but how many will be implemented in reality? Giving copies of the images to the contributors is relatively simple with portable printers, but it is not very practical. Who will be accountable for this? The UK office? The Country Office? The Photographer? More importantly how will the process be managed and at what cost? It would be more appropriate to provide the contributor with the image used in its final state e.g. adverts, poster, video. This is even less practical, and whilst I’d love to see this happen I’m not holding my breath.

I’m really intrigued about the proposal to develop location and language specific resources to communicate image use more effectively. This is an excellent idea and something that could be developed collaboratively across the sector. I’ll be bold – is this something that DFID or DEC could facilitate?

In publishing the People in the Pictures and inviting a range of guest from across the sector to a formal launch, Save the Children have reinvigorated a discussion that is often buried in the to-do list of well meaning communications directors. Please don’t let this important discussion fade away – use this research as a catalyst to further improve NGO communications and dignified representations of distant others.

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