In February, designer Yves Béhar announced his involvement with Spring, a small business accelerator created by the Nike Foundation, USAID, and the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID). The program launched with a goal of supporting 18 startups a year whose services benefit girls in East Africa. Spring would provide them with financial and technical expertise, as well as design consultation from Béhar’s industrial design studio, fuseproject.
This week, an exhibition at Design Miami/ celebrating Béhar’s work gives us the first glimpse of the program’s inaugural group of entrepreneurs. All from Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, the startups address a range of social issues that affect adolescent girls in their local communities. The Nairobi-based Kidogo, for example, provides childcare for working mothers, while AfricAqua tackles the problem of fluoride-polluted groundwater with a clean water delivery system. Other companies provide reusable sanitary pads for girls in Uganda, maternity “starter packs” for women in Kenya, and a training program for young women aspiring to work in finance in Rwanda.
A departure from the donation-funded charity model typical of social good initiatives, Spring aims to help make these companies self-sustaining and profitable so they can boost local economies without relying on outside funding. Béhar says that women in these areas often instigate cultural and social change, but they need support. “Girls and young women are the focus of Spring, because in these countries they’re an underutilized, undereducated and under-supported resource,” he says. “So while these entrepreneurs needed to build a successful business and have the potential to be self-sustainable and profitable over time, its also important that they support women.”
To do that, many of the businesses involved in the accelerator are working to make sure that girls have access to the fundamental things they need. Béhar points to Find a Doctor, an app that connects doctors with patients and allows them to set up a phone consultation for $6. While this is a service that benefits men and women (Béhar notes that 50% of Kenyans have never seen a doctor), it’s especially important for young girls who might be too embarrassed or intimidated to talk about their condition otherwise.
For Béhar, who has long been a proponent for using design as a catalyst for social change, SPRING brings together three of his core beliefs: that design is good strategy for businesses; that it’s important for entrepreneurship; and that it’s universal. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to combine strategy, entrepreneurship and social, and it’s is very exciting,” he says. “I’ve perused all three in separate projects, but never at the same time.”
Click through the gallery above for more information on all of the inaugural Spring startups.