Bol Behen, colloquial Hindi for ‘Speak, Sister’, is Girl Effect’s chatbot in India, offering girls a private, online space where they can access trusted, non-judgmental advice about sex, STIs, contraception, relationships and other sensitive topics they may not feel comfortable talking to anyone else about.

Every time an adolescent girl from a vulnerable background has a question about her health – we want her to turn to Bol Behen and leave the chatbot feeling confident about making a decision related to her health and body. Not only that, our ambition is that by supporting girls to understand the value of their health as adolescents, they will be primed to act and seek out support from doctors for themselves and their families in the future.

Bol Behen is unique to the Indian digital healthcare space – facilitating a crucial link that builds up a girl’s confidence on one hand and connects her to important health services on the other.

And in recognition of all this, Bol Behen has just become a Bronze Winner in the 2nd annual Anthem Awards. I’m so proud of our team and what this award stands for – there’s much more to come!

Here are 5 ways we designed our chatbot to drive positive behaviour change:

1. Answering girls’ curiosities through our public content to encourage private questions via our chatbot. We know girls are looking for trusted spaces to learn about sex, puberty and relationships. Our Chhaa Jaa brand (reaching 23 million+ users) provides just this – fun and relatable social media content that normalises conversation about otherwise ‘taboo’ topics with an informal, non-medicalised style that validates girls’ curiosities and encourages them to ask questions. The role of the chatbot as part of our social and behaviour change product mix is to give girls a 1:1 space where they can explore very private questions without judgment and get answers 24/7. And as a result, girls feel more confident to ask questions around more explicit topics than you would see on our social media posts. Questions like: Does sex have to bleed?

2. Meeting girls on the social platforms where they already exist. Traditionally girls experience a lot of guilt and shame associated with talking about sex and relationships. Most girls don’t have anyone they can trust or talk to about periods or their bodies. Many don’t know what sex is until they get married and even then might not know what contraception is. Girls in the Hindi Belt are hard-to-reach with health messaging but 87% of our target audience use WhatsApp daily as their preferred chat channel. WhatsApp has 400+ million users in India, even those hardest to reach across urban and rural areas.

3. Speaking to girls in their own language to build trust. We trained our chatbot to speak to girls in the way they speak to their friends on social media – in Hinglish (a mix of English and Hindi script). But it’s not just about language, Bol Behen is relatable because she quotes Bollywood and uses simple life metaphors to break down complex topics like fertility cycles and body autonomy. We know that girls don’t separate sex and relationships – they can ask our chatbot everything from “should sex hurt” to “how can I tell if he really loves me”. Through in-bot quizzes, we have been able to show that Bol Behen positively shifts knowledge and attitudes around key sexual and reproductive health topics.

4. Connecting girls seamlessly to services within the chatbot. From our research we know that the barriers to girls accessing a health service go beyond affordability or knowing where a clinic is located. With the chatbot, we are able to take a girl on an entire journey from arming her with information, building her intention to access a service and nudging and connecting her to a clinic. All while boosting her confidence to speak up about health concerns and improve her experience by preparing her for what to expect. Chat-flows like“Can young girls visit a doctor alone?” or “Tips to prepare to speak to a doctor” normalise accessing preventative healthcare. We link to a telemedicine website, clinic information, helpline numbers, counselors and an emergency helpline. This year we ran a campaign through WhatsApp’s Incubator Program which proved that bringing together information, tools and access to vetted health services in one place does increase girls’ intention to take action: 8 in 100 girls chose to talk to a health service after using the chatbot.

5. Empowering girls to take action to protect their health. We have proven that Bol Behen can create demand for sexual health services and our users are primed to act to protect their health. Now we are ready to scale by enhancing our artificial intelligence (AI) to become more conversational and explore more service connections. Through a new messaging framework, we will also be able to better understand the sentiment of girls’ messages to help us to deliver more seamless, personalised healthcare journeys from booking appointments, getting reminders and sharing feedback all within Bol Behen.

Read more about how we’re using the power of chat to connect girls to health services in India here

Get to know Bol Behen by watching this video