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UNFPA Mental Health And ASRHR Hacklab 2023 For Young African Innovators

Both Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRHR) and mental health and well-being are essential components of adolescents and young people’s health and well-being. They are closely linked and a bidirectional relationship exists between them. This means that they can influence each other’s health outcomes in a positive or negative manner.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as the state in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Wellbeing is a broader psychological, emotional, social and economic construct that encompasses mental health, but recognizes the need for a holistic approach to wellness. Mental health and well-being occur on a continuum, from feeling completely well to feeling distressed to the point of experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition. Mental health and wellbeing are universal phenomena – each person exists at a point along the continuum at any given time of their life.

Mental health and ASRHR are interlinked in many ways, for example, early and unintended pregnancies can lead to emotional distress due to denial and societal rejection. A positive HIV status, gender-based violence or stigmatization of members of the LGBTIQ+ community can also have negative impacts on the mental health of a young person. And at the same time, mental health challenges can increase substance use and risky sexual behaviours, lower adherence to HIV treatment, and increase the risk of HIV transmissions and STIs.

Due to this interlinkage, the mental health of adolescents and young people is closely linked to the achievement of UNFPA’s three Transformative Results (TRs) by 2030, these being (a) ending preventable maternal deaths, (b) ending the unmet need for family planning, and (c) ending gender-based violence and harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation. In light of this, UNFPA in collaboration with Youth Connekt Africa (YCA) implemented by AfriLabs is launching the Mental Health and ASRHR HackLab, which will explore innovation as an approach to accelerating efforts towards achieving the three TRs and ensure protection and fulfillment of adolescents and young people’s rights. The HackLab will target young people who have aspiring innovative solutions that when taken to scale can make impactful change on the mental health and ASRHR of young people in the region.

The HackLab will also identify intermediaries including accelerators within UNFPA Country Offices (COs), incubators, investors, marketers etc, who can support young innovators to thrive and become leaders of societal change. The HackLab will identify innovators and connect them with technical support through UNFPA COs to assist them with aligning with UNFPA’s mandate to develop their innovative solutions in addressing issues related to mental health and ASRHR. This will help to raise awareness of the bi-directional interlinkages between mental health and ASRHR and help mitigate the consequences of both negative mental health and ASRHR outcomes in adolescents and young people.

This HackLab will be an avenue for UNFPA to facilitate opportunities for young people to innovate and create solutions on SRHR while creating jobs for youth.

Format of the challenge

First Phase – SYP CO calls for innovations

This is where you come in! We invite you to apply for the call, and submit your innovations. Once the call for solutions has closed, UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) will make a long list of all submitted solutions, and then send the applications to the corresponding Country Office (COs) and AfriLabs. After receiving the long list of solutions from ESARO, the COs and Afrilabs are responsible for the selection of one innovative solution in their country (which aligns directly to the Country Programme Document – the key document which articulates UNFPA’s contribution to achieving national priorities, goals and results) to participate in the “startup bootcamp” to improve their knowledge and social enterprises.

Second Phase – Technical capacity building for innovators and COs and final pitch event

A shortlist of 12 solutions will proceed to a ‘startup bootcamp’ to be facilitated by AfriLabs to improve their business management skills. UNFPA and partners will also provide the innovators, at the virtual bootcamp, with SRHR and mental health technical support to ensure alignment of their solutions to the global best practice.
The bootcamp will assess the solutions against standard business practices, review the project teams and alignment to the opportunity areas identified for this HackLab. Identified business coaches/trainers will support the alignment and revision of the structures to determine the solutions that best aligns to the UNFPA mandate as well as has the most potential to scale.  A bootcamp close out pitch event will be organized to shortlist 6 solutions to proceed to the final pitch event to be organized at the Youth Connekt Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.
Two emerging solutions from the final pitch event will benefit each from a seed fund of USD$15,000 seed fund and another $5,000 in business and investment readiness in-kind support each.

3. Third Phase – Investment Readiness preparation

Two emerging solutions will be connected to Business incubation hubs in their local communities to continue with their business growth support. This investment readiness support is in line with UNFPA’s plan to support scalable solutions.
AfriLabs together with UNFPA RO, CO and partners will provide continued support to align the solutions, identify new customers, facilitate adoption and mainstreaming in country interventions in the Country Programme.

Timeline of Challenge

Call for applications opens: 11 July 

Call for applications closes: 17 August

Longlisting and shortlisting of submitted innovations: August/September

Technical capacity building for innovators: Mid September

Final pitch event at YCA summit: October

Investments readiness preparation for winning innovations: October-December

Opportunity Areas for innovative solutions and ideas

We welcome ideas and solutions which address both mental health as well as ASRHR challenges. The opportunity areas include:

  • Ideas and solutions aiming at improving the mental health of pregnant adolescent girls and young women and/or young mothers and young parents.
  • Ideas and solutions aiming at addressing the interlinkages between HIV and mental health of adolescents and young people.
  • Ideas and solutions focusing on mental health of adolescents and young people who are GBV survivors.
  • Ideas and solutions on preventing mental health issues and improving mental well-being of adolescents and young people of the LGBTIQ+ community
  • Ideas and solutions on drug and substance abuse and its interlinkages to mental health and ASRHR.

For the above mentioned opportunity areas, potential interventions are (not exhaustive list):

  • Promotive and preventive interventions (including stress and anxiety management, emotional regulation, problem-solving and interpersonal relationship skills)
  • Online tools (digital information regarding ASRHR and mental health and the interdependent and bidirectional relationship)
  • Awareness raising and reduction of stigma of both Mental health and ASRHR
    New, creative peer models for support and prevention
  • Interventions that reach caregivers to improve the mental health and ASRHR outcomes of adolescents and young people

Eligibility Criteria

To participate in the Hacklab, the selected innovation solution must meet the following criteria:

1. Ideas must be new, innovative and respond to any of the opportunity areas identified above.

2. Be based in an UNFPA SYP Programme country (Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe);

3. Demonstrate that the idea or solution is novel in the SYP programme country;

4. Demonstrate capacity with a clear plan for incubating the idea or solution to scale;

5. The innovator must be 35 years or younger (African Union definition for youth). Women and girls and people with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply;

6. Innovations can be submitted by individuals, or teams. Innovation teams cannot be represented by more than 3 members;

7. Align with the UNFPAs transformative results and/core mandate;

8.  Align with the UN principles of innovation;

9. Be scalable and commercially viable solutions. Solutions that are adaptable to other contexts with little financial injections required;

10. Have a demonstrable capacity to empower women and youth;

11. Teams must be willing to adjust their idea or solution if advised by their Country Office facilitating their technical capacity building;

12.  Willingness to showcase their idea or solutions through communication platforms to be determined by UNFPA.


1. Each of the two emerging solutions will benefit from a seed fund investment of USD$15,000.

2. Another $5,000 in-kind investment readiness business support will be provided to each winning solution by the identified business incubation hub. The acceleration support provided by Afrilabs will include business support services – exposure to investment opportunities, business coaching, customer acquisition, brand positioning and awareness, financial management, team building, product development and augmentation etc.

SUBMIT YOUR IDEA HERE. Deadline is 17 August, at 23:55 PM CAT.

Source: UNFPA

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