Anosele Kotu is the founder of Femconnect, a South African femtech that provides access to reproductive healthcare for women. After leaving her job at a software development company, she was determined to not look for employment elsewhere but to focus on working on a vision she’s nursed for a long time, Femconnect.
The company launched in 2020, and she was determined to make Femconnect a localised product that was tailored for South African girls like her. Kotu believes that girls and women deserve to navigate their sexual and reproductive health with dignity, which includes having proper information and materials.
Kotu’s work with Femconnect has earned her multiple recognitions, including the Digital Woman category at the previously concluded GovTech SITA awards. TechCabal had a chat with Kotu about what challenged her to begin her startup and where Femconnect is headed.
What experience(s) shaped your decision to start Femconnect?
Anosele Kotu: I was raised in a small community with a small hospital where I saw that having access to sanitary products or contraceptives was limited. People had to queue for hours to access these products, and sometimes, when it finally gets to your turn, they’re out of stock. Other times, young girls couldn’t even go to the clinics for contraceptive needs because they were scared that they would run into someone they knew. As I grew older, I realised that there’s a lack of access to quality services when it comes to reproductive health in South Africa, especially within black communities.
Tell me about Femconnect and what your operations are focused on
AK: We’ve got three major areas that we’re currently focusing on. The first one is menstrual health management which is linked to reducing period poverty. We have a period tracking feature and we also link young people who are in need of sanitary products with people who want to donate. We collect all the data through our website.
At first, our period campaigns were mainly supported by NGOs running projects in communities or schools, but that was inconsistent because the NGOs typically donate once and then the pupils would have to wait until the next batch of donations came in. So, we came up with a more sustainable means of providing underprivileged girls with pads: we connect girls with donors who are willing to pay for their pads for a longer period.
Secondly, we provide family planning services to individuals. People can access virtual consultations with health practitioners who can help with family planning-related issues via our app. After the talk, we get the family planning recommendations delivered to you.
The third area we’re focused on is digital advocacy where our aim is to eliminate period poverty for South African girls.
What has the reception been like?
AK: The reception has been quite good. In 2019 when we planning to launch, a lot of people were skeptical as to whether or not it was a good idea. Thankfully, that has somewhat changed and people now love the idea and are even impressed that something like this exists in South Africa. People are now more open to using the platform for various things —whether it’s to explore the family planning bit, or just donating. Femconnect brings all the roleplayers onto one platform and ensures that there’s something for everyone. We’re currently working to get it rolled out into public health facilities and get more health practitioners to sign up to offer virtual consultations and to reach more people.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve experienced or that you faced in running a femtech?
AK: The number one challenge we face is financing. Growth has been slower due to this major drawback. There’s so much that you can plan to execute, but there are a lot of limitations when you don’t have the financials to back the plans. At the time that I started, a lot of investors weren’t keen on entering the reproductive health and femtech space, because they were unsure about the market.
We’ve done a lot of training and accelerator programmes and while they have been instrumental to our learning, they’re often overwhelming. As a woman in the African tech space, we sometimes get overtrained and underfunded, which is a huge challenge for us because you can only do as much training. What is key for all of us to thrive in our respective spaces is to have financial backing.
What are the next steps for Femconnect?
AK: The next step is to expand and collaborate with healthcare providers as a telehealth platform for them. We already work with direct consumers but we want to collaborate with family planning clinics, hospitals and private practitioners. We’d like to bring Femconnect as a telehealth platform that can help them shorten service times, do consultations virtually, and also have them be part of this community.
We’re also working to expand beyond South Africa. These issues are not unique to South Africa, but to African communities as a whole. We’d like to have a footprint in different African countries. This means having our product available in the different languages or vernaculars of the countries.