Femtech meets NGO: how VIYA is going all the way with women’s health

By Andrea Novella, Social Business Global Digital Advisor, PSI and Emma Beck, Strategic Communications Manager, PSI  

Introducing VIYA, PSI’s first global sexual wellness lifestyle brand that’s using #TheVWord (ahem, vagina) to put the power of health choice into women and girls’ hands.  

From periods to pleasure, the only way to normalize women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is to freely talk about it.  

Population Services International (PSI) is going all the way – starting with one word: vagina. 

The global health NGO just launched VIYA, its first global sexual wellness lifestyle brand, igniting a movement under #TheVWord aimed at disrupting the narrative around women’s healthcare and supporting women to make and own their health choices throughout their lifecycle.  

Harnessing technology including artificial intelligence, e-commerce and telemedicine, VIYA plans to deliver SRHR information, products and services across the stages of their lives – from menstruation to menopause – to women across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

It’s Femtech meets NGO; VIYA leverages private sector tactics while building on a foundation of sustainable impact through a social business model. 

Unreliable markets, siloed approaches and entrenched taboos too often stand between women and their reproductive health choices. The impact reverberates; 218 million women and girls in LMICs want to avoid a pregnancy but are not using modern contraception.  

VIYA responds. 

“Up for discussion is everything women’s health. Masturbation, contraception, pleasure, STIs and more – you name it, VIYA’s open to talking about it,” says Marcie Cook, PSI’s Vice President of the Social Business Unit. “VIYA will close the loop in women’s health by reimagining the way we deliver healthcare and putting the consumer at the center. Firstly, by expanding on PSI’s existing health products and services to include a comprehensive, digitally enabled platform. Secondly, by igniting a movement that normalizes women’s sexual health and wellness.” 

VIYA is delivered through PSI’s Social Business and funded through a blended-finance model, including grants from PSI’s Maverick Collective, the Swedish International Development Agency, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Australian Ethical Foundation and income earned from PSI’s nine business units that operate in 21 global markets. VIYA exemplifies how donor investments into pilot research and innovation can lay a foundation for financially viable social impact at scale. 

Pleasure-Forward, Evidence-Backed 

For women from South Africa to El Salvador, the journey to sexual wellness is confusing, unreliable and stigmatized. They need an alternative that is trustworthy, discreet, AND fun, which is exactly what VIYA aims to deliver.  

Evidence emerging from PSI pilot projects indicates that when women and girls feel confident in embracing sexual health and pleasure, they are more likely to communicate contraceptive needs with a sexual partner, and seek out clinic-based SRHR care.  

In Kenya, for example, PSI and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) tested a “pleasure-bot” to understand if and how integrating pleasure-forward content into a chatbot could motivate SRH-seeking behaviors among Kenyan youth. 

The team learned that young women didn’t feel they had confidential sources and spaces for SRHR questions and care. They only went to clinics when health risks presented, opting for Google to self-diagnose. They said they wanted sex-positive content but didn’t have access to curated content from credible sources. Instead, they turned to porn sites to learn about sex and encrypted social media platforms like Telegram to share X-rated content. 

“Up for discussion is everything women’s health. Masturbation, contraception, pleasure, STIs and more – you name it, VIYA’s open to talking about it.”

– Marcie Cook, Vice President – Social Business, PSI
Femtech meets NGO 

Marrying digital privacy with relatable, sex-positive educational content, VIYA equips women with the tools to choose and own their health journeys. The platform spans women’s lifecycles, going beyond standard siloed approaches that focus on one health area at one point in women’s lives.  

For now, the brand leverages popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok, to provide a safe space for women to connect and engage with information and support around all things sexual wellness —  from periods to pleasure. It delivers trusted, high-quality, accurate information—backed by research —on sexual health and contraceptive methods so women can make informed decisions about their bodies. 

VIYA creates opportunities for women to get informed, take control and advocate for themselves. 

Over the next four years, VIYA aims to cover all aspects of the sexual wellness journey for increasing access to sexual wellness products and services, through a “Glocal” model – blending efficiencies around global technology and content development, with the flexibility for in-market adaptation and local-led ownership and execution. This includes: 

  • An AI-enabled chatbot that will provide personalized health information and signpost to product and service delivery outlets  
  • Personalized follow-up and support 
  • E-commerce and alternative delivery options  
  • Telemedicine to offer a full range consultation, prescription and online sales  
  • Referrals to nearby clinics and/or pharmacies 

VIYA launched in South Africa in Dec. 2021, building from donor funding for pilot projects in Kenya and South Africa. By 2023, the platform aims to be available around the globe, in markets including Africa, Southeast Asia, India and Latin America.  

“It’s clear: standard ‘family planning’ programs are simply not enough,” says Cook. “It’s time to go beyond the functional – like preventing unplanned pregnancies and STIs– and link to the emotional ride of consumers’ lifelong SRHR journeys.” 

Questions? Want to work together? Get in touch. Email Andrea Novella ([email protected]) and Claire Stokes ([email protected]).

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