FemTech Founder: An Interview with Aurat Raaj Founder, Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid is the Founder of Aurat Raaj an award-winning social enterprise from Pakistan with a mission to empower girls and women from the Global South with sexual health information using the power & scale of technology. As part of our FemTech Founder series, FemTech.Live interviewed Saba about her mission to make period education accessible to all.

So Saba, tell us a bit about yourself and Aurat Raaj.

We are a youth-led, women-focused brand aligning with all other FemTech players in South Asia. I focus my work on Pakistan not only because I’m Pakistani, but because gender inequality is deeply internalised here and technology-based interventions can help countries like Pakistan achieve their UN SDG commitments.

Our mission has been to empower girls and women from the Global South with sexual health information using the power & scale of technology.

Aurat raaj test

We came up while we were screening our local-language cartoon series focused on various taboos in rural classrooms. We realised an innovative, non-judgmental, private solution that could answer questions around reproductive health 24/7 anonymously was needed. With mentorship, we turned our animated character into a chatbot so girls could have a two-way conversation.

Available in local languages focused on menstrual health, our chatbot is already deployed in 5 non-profit urban schools and used by 3 community centres in Sindh. During Covid-19, nonprofits have used it to remotely train lady health workers around reproductive health guidelines.

While many women of colour happen to be FemTech innovators, I’ve come to notice that women like myself often go unnoticed.

While Femtech in Europe or the US is currently breaking barriers around female pleasure, conversations on our side of the globe are still circling around basics like period poverty, confusing menarche experiences and the lack of reproductive choices available to women.

What motivated you to set up Aurat Raaj?

Growing up in a conservative household in Pakistan, I knew what it felt like to have limited agency over one’s body, choices and health.

I knew that building a reproductive health education chatbot for Pakistan would be challenging. But, I also saw how curious girls were about learning about their bodies & how schools, parents and society failed them on that front.

With 64% of the population under 30 & increasing tech adoption rates, I envisioned our product Raaji could tip the scale for a digital sexual health revolution in developing countries.

As a company what are Aurat Raaj passionate about?

Adolescent girls living in rural & urban areas are excluded not just from health conversations but also from accessing technology.

We focus my work on users like 8-year old Yusra. Living in a low-income settlement & attending a non-profit Karachi school where she learnt to speak & write in Urdu, Yusra remains hesitant to inquire about her changing body. Her experience with her first period was nothing short of confusing and traumatic. However, today through Raaji, she now knows about chatbots, menstruation and sanitary products and is changing the situation for other girls in her neighbourhood.

We design for and with girls, and take anonymised feedback before, during & after pilots. Our interviewees have reported a decrease in school absenteeism, higher confidence, inclusion in daily activities during periods, moving from unhygienic menstrual products e.g cloth, decreased vaginal infections.

What are your dreams for Aurat Raaj?

Aurat raaj test

Scaling Raaji to at least 5 countries across three different regions.

Going beyond grant funding to sustainable revenue streams will be difficult with an impact-first product.

I see impact investing growing in the future and products like mine leading the way.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned since starting your company?

Aurat raaj presenting

I have more resilience than I give myself credit for!

My proudest moment overall has probably been pitching at the UN General Assembly Week in front of a prestigious judging panel hosted by MIT Solve and winning the Vodafone prize & entering the MIT Solve class.

If you were able to create ANY kind of technology what would it be?

I’d create a game for mental health where you could manage a fictional person’s work decisions, sleep schedules, personal relationships, exercise routines, meals and entertainment options on a daily basis.

Aurat Raaj are part of FemTech Lab’s Spring 2021 Cohort. You can keep up to date with the latest updates via our news page.

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