Ufulu Wanga: Ending Violence against Women in Malawi Through Smart Innovation

Eve is one of the coordinators of Ufulu Wanga’s daily activities. She brings her experience and research into the social development and human rights issues in Malawi, to deconstruct the justice issues women in particular face. Ufulu Wanga means ‘my rights’ or ‘my freedom’. I interviewed Eve about this justice startups’ vision and enterprise model.

“In African culture, not just in Malawi, there is a culture of silence, submissive fear, not speaking up.” Eve tells me. “The biggest challenge in Malawi are cultural practices that, even in 2017 I am sad to say, are still practiced.” The cultural practices Eve describes are detrimental to the human rights of women and girls, for example forced child marriage or gender-based violence. Ufulu Wanga exists to address these challenges faced by Malawi society. A team of three women; Rachel (founder and CEO), Eve and Monica, assisted by a team of software developers and community manager, Vincent, created an innovation that advocates the rights of women and girls. Through awareness campaigns they raise the profile of rights in rural areas, increase availability of information, and use information technology to puncture the culture of silence.

Ufulu Wanga developed a means for citizens to access information and help in a convenient, affordable way in real time no matter where they are based in Malawi. “When they are faced with cases of gender-based violence, women should know where to go, what to do and how to go about it.” Rights awareness is low in regions across Malawi, so it is of fundamental importance that Ufulu Wanga provides women with free information. Information is available on the web portal, via SMS and USSD – for very basic phones. “So if a woman is in a situation where her husband is drunk and beating her, she can send an SMS message and get a response providing her with information about local services available to her” Eve explains. “Many hear about legal protections or services the state can provide for the first time from Ufulu Wanga.” Information is power, and Ufulu Wanga provides it in the most efficient and accessible way.

It’s so simple, it’s a wonder why it hasn’t been tried before. Rachel is a ‘techy’, Eve tells me. “She is a PhD candidate in Computer Science, but she wanted to use her skills for good.” Rachel founded mHub, Malawi’s first technology hub committed to creating innovative technological solutions. I ask them how they met, “Rachel is smart, driven and ambitious and working hard to change Malawi for the better. It was natural we were drawn together to work on Ufulu Wanga. When she told me about the project I couldn’t wait to work on it,” Eve says. Eve’s previous working life brought her into direct contact with the injustice faced by women and young girls all across Malawi. She hopes Ufulu Wanga will be successful in reaching all women, empowering them by creating a culture of rights talk around women’s issues. For this reason, they take the message of women’s rights to communities, organising awareness campaigns with societies of human rights lawyers, targeting areas with high levels of gender-based violence and child marriages.

Developing a business model for a service like Ufulu Wanga is tough; the team is absolute on the fact that this information should be free to women. They exist for social impact rather than for profit. But is this sustainable? This is what the HiiL Accelerator Program can do for them; as one of the winners from the Innovating Justice Awards 2016 they have started HiiL Accelerator Program. Thereby hold regularly discussions about potential funding revenues with HiiL experts, as well as receiving seed money to launch the platform in March 2017.