graduated early period
Founded in 2018 by
Lu Suarez Battán & Nico Ferrario
Talk2U’s mission is to leverage the power of psychology and technology to enhance the lives of young people, improving their social, emotional, and mental well-being. As they come to the end of their year-long mentorship programme with the Venture Fund, they reflect on key achievements, highlight initiatives to combat online hate speech and address other crucial issues, and outline future goals and collaborations.
The world is witnessing an alarming rise in anxiety and mental health challenges among the younger generation. Gen Z, in particular, faces significant struggles, with higher levels of emotional and social well-being issues compared to previous generations. Shockingly, rates of suicide ideation and attempts are 2 to 3 times higher among young people today. The global anxiety disorder has also seen a worrisome increase due to COVID-19, painting a grim picture of the challenges faced by youth, many of whom often lack access to affordable and stigma-free mental health services.
Talk2U’s purpose is to leverage the power of psychology and technology to enhance the lives of young people. They have developed a groundbreaking digital therapeutics solution that combines AI chatbots with therapeutic conversations, offering effective strategies to empower youth in navigating life's challenges, building resilience, and fostering well-being.
Talk2U’s solution aims to foster a sense of belonging and equip youth ages 18-29 with the necessary skills to navigate and combat online hate speech.
Use of Frontier Technology to Mitigate the Impact of Online Hate
During the past year, the team’s collaboration with the UNICEF Venture Fund focused on combating online hate speech and its detrimental effects on youth well-being in Brazil. One of the most critical challenges faced by young people today is the alarming rise of online hate speech. In Brazil, reports of hate speech online have increased dramatically in 2022 alone, with xenophobia, religious intolerance, and misogyny being prevalent forms of hate crimes. The impact of such speech on the mental and emotional well-being of young individuals is profound, leading to low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety, and diminished levels of trust.
Talk2U’s solution aims to foster a sense of belonging and equip youth ages 18-29 with the necessary skills to navigate and combat online hate speech. In collaboration with UNICEF Brazil, Weni (another Venture Fund graduate), Viração Educomunicação, Redes Cordiais, members of the Brazilian Ashoka Young Changemakers, psychologists, scriptwriters, and a youth committee representing their peers' voices, they co-created the Como Se Eu Fosse chatbot journey. This was successfully soft-launched and reached over 600 users with personalized and therapeutic chat conversations aimed at equipping them with the necessary skills and strategies to mitigate the harmful effects of hate speech.
To ensure the effectiveness of their approach, Talk2U engaged with 144 participants in user testing, incorporating valuable feedback to iterate and improve content. They also designed and executed a pilot research programme in Brazil, reaching over 300 participants, which allowed for refinements and validation of the efficacy of their interventions. The preliminary results indicate the potential of these interventions to promote positive behavioral change and provide individuals with effective coping strategies to deal with hate speech and its effects.
Milestones Beyond the Initial Product
While working on the Como Se Eu Fosse, the team has been actively validating the impact of its solution in addressing other crucial issues as well. Below are some noteworthy milestones:
1. Promoting Mental Health and Peer Support: In collaboration with esteemed institutions like the University of Oxford and the Universidade de Brasília, they launched Cadé e Kaue?, a therapeutic, gamified chat conversation to promote peer support and collective action for mental health. This initiative aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and foster a supportive environment for young individuals. To date, this experience has reached more than 5,000 young people, with an efficacy trial anticipated in early 2024.
2. Addressing HIV-related Stigma: Recognizing the importance of combating HIV-related stigma, Talk2U partnered with UNICEF Brazil and UNAIDS to develop KEFI, a therapeutic chat conversation aimed at providing valuable support, guidance, and resources for individuals living with HIV. KEFI is scheduled for launch by the second half of 2023.
Furthermore, during the funding period, the team successfully productized their Talk2U B2B offering to enhance reach and impact. This enables them to provide modular solutions that can be easily scaled and deployed internationally, and positively impact the lives of more young people regardless of where they are.
As the field of generative AI rapidly grows and becomes a mainstream tool, the team recognize the need to stay up to date with advancements in the industry. Developing their own technology seems like a natural progression to maintain their innovative status. However, they do find it essential to navigate this tech territory with a strong commitment to ethics, privacy, and security. They also recognize the need to work proactively to reduce biases, particularly in content targeted at low- and middle-income countries, underrepresented audiences, and historically neglected communities.
They are actively working on potential solutions by partnering with developers and AI specialists who share their vision and values. Developing as Open Source has also opened doors for them to contribute to existing platforms and the Open Community. Establishing and growing their own Open Community still pends, but being part of other Open communities has already provided the team with valuable insights and lessons on community-building. Collaboration with experts and creatives and ongoing youth engagement will continue to be the cornerstone of their product development, and finding sustainable funding to support these efforts remains an ongoing challenge.
Their initial focus with the Como Se Eu Fosse journey had been on Brazil, but they aspire to expand reach and adapt their interventions to other regions where young people are vulnerable to hate speech. By leveraging existing partnerships and collaborations, they can tailor their solutions to specific cultural contexts and effectively support youth worldwide.
While privacy regulations and the delivery of their solution via WhatsApp present some limitations in effectively addressing parental consent, they are actively seeking partners who can help offer their learning experiences within school systems while prioritizing ethical approaches that include informed consent and complementary human support for affected young people.
Below are some key aspirations for the future:
1. Launching a Subscription-based Model: The team is excited to introduce a subscription-based Mental Wellbeing Journey, expanding reach and providing accessible support to a broader audience. By adopting a B2C business model, they aim to extend their impact and empower more young people to prioritize their well-being.
2. Fostering New Collaborative Partnerships: The team actively seeks purpose-driven catalysts and partners who share their vision to develop three new chat conversation journeys and culturally adapt existing content, expanding the breadth of their current impact and addressing critical societal challenges. They are currently finalizing details on a global collaboration for a “People on the Move” journey that will be disseminated in English, Spanish, and Ukrainian.
3. Fundraising and Efficacy Trials: To drive innovation and validate the impact of their tools and content, they have set a goal of raising USD 1.3M in equity-free funding. These funds would let them develop the Talk2U app, providing a safe and secure private space for insightful conversations, and conduct efficacy trials to ensure that the solution, firstly, does no harm, and that it delivers measurable and meaningful results for young people.
4. Scaling Safely: Amid efforts to expanding their reach and continuously refine their approach, a sharp focus remains on protecting individuals' rights while offering personalized journeys.
Appreciation for UNICEF Venture Fund Support
The team extends their deepest thanks to the UNICEF Venture Fund for their invaluable support throughout the yearlong journey. Beyond the financial assistance, the mentorship and constant support helped shaped their business and improved their ability to showcase impact, as well as overcome challenges in the entrepreneurial journey.
Their commitment to improving youth well-being remains steadfast; and with continued support of partners, collaborators, and catalysts, they are confident in their potential to create even greater impact in the years to come.