Kenya Top Stories


Girls First Finance Launch App That Target Girls At Risk Of Sexual Exploitation

A new app is being launched this week to provide mentoring, counselling, budget tracking and affordable student loans that target girls at risk of sexual exploitation from sponsors in Kenya.
Girls First Finance is an initiative that supports the education and professional development of the girl child in her transition to womanhood. The app is being privately released for Android today to the students of St. Therese Vocational Training Centre and will be publicly available on July 1st. The first pilot of student loans will start in Kenya in October 2022. 
Poverty and access to education are major challenges for African youth, especially young girls. Students are particularly excluded from higher education because of the lack of student loan financing options outside of government. 
“At HELB, we have over 40,000 students at any time seeking emergency funds to supplement their HELB loans. Not every student loan product can match government interest rates but, to the extent that more students are taking out predatorial mobile loans to bridge their funding gaps, we should encourage private lenders who can offer sustainable loans at scale.” Charles Ringera, CEO HELB, and Advisory Board Member of GFF.
Research indicates that this lack of options for Kenyan girls (and increasingly boys) allows older adults to sexually exploit them in exchange for financial support for school through the “sponsors” culture that has proliferated Kenya with social media. Recent studies suggest that as much as 25% to 50% of girls are enveloped into the sponsor culture at some point during their schooling. 
Equally, the prominence of sex-for-grades exploitation within school increasingly affects those fortunate enough to attend. A 2019 Action Aid study indicated that nearly 60% of students were adversely exploited by professors or higher education staff. These issues of access and exploitation are what GFF seeks to solve through its mobile app being launched this week.
“The exploitation of girls and women is the largest pandemic in the history of humanity. Almost every woman and girl has at least one story of gender-based violence. It transcends class, race, and country. But no young person should ever be forced to knowingly compromise her dignity just to manifest her education dreams.” says Andrea Pizziconi, Girls First Finance’s founder. “Sugar daddies and sponsors have become a culturally accept norm around the world. But the practice is tantamount to child abuse causing profound damage to girls and boys lacking alternatives to fund their education.”GFF is launching the app first for private distribution to the girls of St. Therese Vocational Centre in Karen. Through the generosity of a private foundation, GFF is able to build a cohort of test users this week before making the app available to the public on July 1st. While students of St. Therese will have the first crack at using the app, the pilot will soon expand to involve approximately 3,000 girls from across the country. And after July 1st, the general public can sign up to gain access as well. 
New features of the app will be rolled out over the coming weeks and months with early features offering budget planning tools, daily news feeds and advice from prominent women around the world as well as matching services connecting users to mentors and counselors. The latter feature is supported through a pilot partnership with the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors. KAPC’s trained counselors will provide deeply discounted therapy sessions for users of the app recognizing how many traumatized and exploited girls now need support to heal. Director of KAPC Elias Gikundi decided to partner with Girls First Finance out of recognition that mental health access must be democratized urgently to serve our most vulnerable youth. 
The public can support GFF’s users by signing up to become a certified mentor or life coach, by joining a “crew” of four to support each young user’s financial health or eventually by posting gigs and jobs targeting young women. Mentor training is easily available online for those who sign up with GFF. Pilot mentors have already been recruited by GFF’s Kenyan team with efforts led by GFF’s Program Officer Mercy Kalung’e.
Through this app, Girls First Finance will begin to connect Kenya’s most vulnerable girls to the world and will soon prove that, regardless of what has happened to a girl in the past, she can be empowered back to full mental health all while showing that unbanked vulnerable girls given the right support are likely the most responsible loan borrowers the banking sector has far too long overlooked. 

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