21 Apr 2016
Girls Health Champions
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Girls Health Champions is an initiative that trains girls as peer educators and health leaders. Team members: Priya Shankar, Ricky Sharma

How did the idea for your company come about?

Our Founder, Priya Shankar (HSPH ’16), was inspired to start Girls Health Champions as a result of her experiences in India over the last decade. While living in India as a Fulbright Scholar, Priya realized how entrenched gender inequality was in Indian culture and society and how it adversely impacted the lives of girls and women. She met many girls and women who had been married at an early age, had been victims of sexual and domestic violence, or had dropped out of school early due to menstrual issues.

Disappointingly, she noticed a complete lack of dialogue in India's schools regarding these issues. Utilizing her medical and public health training, Priya wanted to find a solution that would provide adolescent girls with the health education they needed to cope with these challenges. More importantly, she wanted to give these girls a voice in their own education by training the girls themselves to become peer health educators and leaders, as well as encouraging them to become champions of their own health and well-being.

Our Co-Founder, Ricky Sharma (HKS ’18) decided to get involved because he recognized that overcoming gender inequality in India would also require male engagement and leadership.

What does your company do? How is it distinct in its product/service category?

Girls Health Champions is an innovative, evidence-based peer to peer training program in which adolescent girls are trained as peer health educators and leaders in their schools and communities. Adolescent girls are taught about critical health topics such as nutrition, mental health, gender-based violence, menstruation and reproductive health, which they then teach to their peers. We chose to work with adolescent girls, as adolescence is a critical yet widely neglected demographic. Very few organizations focus on adolescent health, despite adolescence being a time of rapid physical and mental change given that girls are on the cusp of womanhood. The organizations that do focus on adolescent health often do so using top-down knowledge dissemination, rather than capitalizing on the innate voice and leadership potential of young girls.

Where do you hope to take it in the future?

We hope to expand over the next five years into thousands of schools across India. Ultimately, we hope to hope build a network of adolescent female health leaders who will influence the health behaviors and outcomes in schools and communities all over the country.

How has your time at Harvard influenced your efforts on your company?

We are tremendously grateful for the support, mentorship and encouragement we have received across the university. We were able to pilot Girls Health Champions in January 2016 through a grant Priya received from the Maternal Health Task Force at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Through coursework and involvement in the Innovation Lab, were pushed to think about how we can develop Girls Health Champions into a scalable and sustainable social venture.

Any advice you’d offer to other young entrepreneurs?

Follow your passions and do not be afraid to take risks. Remember to listen to your own calling and voice first, before listening to others.

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