Despite rapid economic growth over the last decade, Ethiopia still ranks in the bottom 20 countries worldwide in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. Our belief is that this challenging economic reality impacts the young population’s access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Over the past two years, we have addressed these joint issues with an approach that includes increasing access to, and demand for, SRH products and services.
Since the programme’s inception in July 2021, 15,923 adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) have been enrolled onto Tiko, our digital membership platform that connects youth to health services and products. The AGYW have accessed 10,576 SRH services including contraceptives, HIV tests, and counselling. Our team on the ground in Addis Ketema connected with four of these young women and teenagers who are involved in the Tiko interventions, which are funded by the Dutch philanthropic organisation, Sint Antonius Stitchting Projects.
Selam Kara (18) has been a Tiko member for three months. She heard of the programme through a conversation with her neighbour in Addis Ketema. Selam’s service provider walked her through ‘all the different types of contraceptive methods’ available to her, and since beginning to take the prescribed oral contraceptives, she says, ‘There has been a positive impact in my life, and I am happy with the service I got from the clinic.’ Selam has four younger siblings and no children of her own. ‘My parents are the ones who are taking care of them,’ she says. ‘I usually help them with household chores.’ Selam completed the ninth grade of her schooling, but is no longer being formally educated. ‘However, I aspire to complete my education and start my own small business,’ she says.
Ayush Omer (24) used to be a Tiko service user, but has since become a mobiliser and now reaches out and connects with other young girls in her neighbourhood to spread the word about the platform. ‘Most of the communities that live in these areas are living in extreme poverty and can’t afford these services,’ Ayush says. ‘Whenever there is any opportunity to create awareness, I will let them know about the Tiko platform and how they will benefit from it. They usually show a great interest and refer more friends to join the programme.’
Tiko’s innovative technology and seamless integration into the lives of young people in Addis Ketema has given Ayush confidence for the future and her own ability to harness the potential of tech. ‘Tiko has inspired me and shown me it is possible to have an online business in this country,’ she says. The Tiko Miles she gets from the platform are already helping her to build a foundation of a business. ‘With rewards, I buy products from the stockist and sell them for profit in my community. For instance, I buy wigs and sell them to hair salons,’ Ayush says.
Hana Desalegn (18) is married and has been a Tiko service user for a year, accessing oral contraceptives as her primary service through the platform. She joined through an interaction with a community mobiliser, who reportedly continues to have a positive impact on Hana’s life. Through her growing knowledge of family planning methods, Hana is much more equipped to prevent unwanted pregnancies. ‘Before, I didn’t have any information with regards to contraceptives,’ she says. ‘Now I understand the advantage of taking any type of contraceptive method and how it can help to plan your family size.’ Hana has a son who’s two years old, and now has the confidence and resources available to grow her young family with her husband at their own pace.
The fourth Addis Ketema local we connected with is Demeku Dameta (35). She has worked with Tiko as a mobiliser for four years now. ‘I have experience in creating demand with other organisations working in this area so for me it was easy,’ Demeku says. ‘I was born and raised here so I love living here. Nothing makes me happier than helping others.’ She is outspoken about the positive impact created by Tiko in her neighbourhood: ‘The way the platform helps the community should be recognised by the government.’
Along with raising two children of her own, Demeku runs the restaurant at her local youth centre. ‘By using my Tiko Miles I buy many of the ingredients I need. Even when business slows down, I am usually not affected by it since I buy many products using my Miles,’ she says. ‘For me it feels like I am saving my money on my phone and I can do my work without worrying about losing my business.’ Even though she dropped out of school in the tenth grade to have her first child, Demeku has remained resourceful. By taking advantage of the alternative income stream that Tiko offers, she supplements her income and protects her business from the fluctuating economy.
This snapshot of life for four different women in Addis Ketema is encouraging, and we are grateful to be partnered with Sint Antonius Stichting Projects in implementing this programme. Through access to Tiko, all these women reap the benefits of taking control of their sexual and reproductive health. For the Tiko members, empowering knowledge and protection from unwanted pregnancies are taken up, and Tiko mobilisers are rewarded for investing into their communities and enjoy the benefits of microentrepreneurship. We are seeing patterns of positive behavioural changes, increased levels of happiness and confidence, and growing awareness of contraceptive methods and economic opportunity.