How a Digital Response Can Help Ensure Hard-Won Gains for Adolescent Girls Are Not Lost to COVID-19
How a Digital Response Can Help Ensure Hard-Won Gains for Adolescent Girls Are Not Lost to COVID-19

How a Digital Response Can Help Ensure Hard-Won Gains for Adolescent Girls Are Not Lost to COVID-19

Girl Effect and Nutrition International recently piloted an innovative digital programme to tackle malnutrition with teenage girls in Indonesia. What they learnt is laying the foundations for their COVID-19 response.

As the world deals with an unprecedented global health emergency, there’s a real risk that hard-won gains for adolescent girls in recent years could be lost.  The COVID-19 pandemic means not only restrictions to girls’ education, a reduced ability to meet their health and nutrition needs, and economic hardships, but also a negative impact on their mental health and physical safety. We’ve heard this directly from girls across our programmes.

In order to continue the progress we’ve made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must put girls and their needs at the centre of our response and make them active participants in shaping the COVID-19 recovery. Digital gives us the opportunity to do this. For the last two years, we’ve been working with Nutrition International in Indonesia to use digital channels to reach over 15 million girls with information and support to address a very real and often invisible threat − malnutrition.


Nutrition International has extensive expertise in building nutrition-related programming, and Girl Effect brought our understanding of gender in a digital context. We also know how to make health issues relevant to a notoriously difficult-to-reach audience: teenage girls. When approaching a topic like nutrition we don’t talk about it in isolation. We talk about girls’ lives, about school performance, energy levels and puberty, and we use ideas and characters that engage and entertain whilst delivering powerful messages. And we meet them in the online spaces where they already are.

For us, this meant using Springster, Girl Effect’s digital brand − available in eight languages worldwide − to reach girls on our website and via Facebook and Instagram. Through articles, Q&As, quizzes, videos and polls we employed a range of hooks to engage girls in making healthier nutrition choices. An independent evaluation by M&C Saatchi said “Girls directly attribute a deepened understanding of nutrition and changes in their behaviour to Springster content which they find to be inspiring, engaging and informative.” Our internal evaluation showed that our audiences had a 32% higher intention to make healthy food choices.  One girl shared:

“Springster really opened my eyes and now I tried to change my habits step by step. Thank you Springster!”

Now that we’ve seen what works, the Nutrition International and Girl Effect model for Springster can be easily replicated. Lessons from this digital partnership can help the sector approach the response to the pandemic and the recovery period − ensuring that girls’ needs are central to this.

Three things we’re keeping in mind whilst developing our digital COVID-19 response are:

  • Use the rapid feedback loop: Springster tracks real-time comments and social media data so we continually make sure content is relevant, that we answer girls’ most burning questions and that our spaces are safely moderated. Real-time insights about how girls are using our content is vital; do they share it with friends or save it to refer to later? What are their comments telling us? In this programme, healthy recipe posts proved popular with a variety of engagements so we launched a favourite recipe competition to deepen engagement. Tracking data from platforms outside of our current ecosystem is also vital. When girls migrated from websites to Facebook and then Instagram, we went with them, adapting our content and measurement for new behaviours.
  • Wrap COVID-19 content in a variety of topics: We address issues holistically rather than allowing one to dominate our content. We believe that targeting a specific topic (like nutrition) from multiple stand points creates a more engaging experience for audiences and strengthens its delivery, with knowledge, attitudes and confidence working together to support positive decision-making. A core topic that always has a part to play is digital literacy. Teaching our audiences about myths and source verification has been vital and we’re reiterating these messages now during COVID19. Unless your audiences know how to read the media and understand what makes a trusted source of information, they won’t be able to navigate − and benefit from − the internet safely.
  •  Pilot before you scale: Using Springster in our partnership with Nutrition International was designed as a pilot to test how to deliver behaviour change communications about nutrition differently, at a low cost, and with a potential large reach − a first step where we could test various hypotheses and develop small-scale innovations to learn and strengthen our programming before taking it to scale. Mobile-led programming is particularly helpful to use in a changing context, it allows us to rapidly test, learn and adapt (at a relative lower cost) meaning we can now deftly expand the programme across our geographies.

What we now know about behaviours, content, formats, measurement, and an agile approach can also be leveraged to get the right information to girls to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our best chance to not fall behind in the face of this challenge but accelerate progress towards the SDGs and meet the changing needs of girls.