Based on the child’s age and stage of development, the Afinidata virtual assistant shares weekly tips to support children’s development across areas of health, nutrition, and education. Afinidata works in six countries – the United States, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and Peru – across three languages, Spanish, English, and Portuguese. The tool intentionally uses minimal text and data-intensive features in order to better serve these populations. While any user can access the main virtual assistant, Afinidata creates different versions of the messenger service for partnerships with government and NGOs.
Active since 2019
- Mobile/tablet app Tool based on a self-contained and installable program on a mobile or tablet device.
- Text-based chatbots Tools designed using particular algorithms (including AI) which trigger a response based on user input and can be delivered over different messaging platforms like Facebook messenger, SMS, and WhatsApp.
- Target audience
ECD Focus areas
- Responsive caregiving Parents/caregiver’s ability to observe, understand, and respond to children’s cues appropriately.
- Health and nutrition Support for children’s physical and emotional health and access to diverse nutrient rich food. This also includes maternal health and nutrition including during pregnancy.
- Developmental milestones Skills and tasks children are able to perform during a certain age range.
- Safety and security Safe and secure environments for children free from physical or emotional harm.
- Caregiver well-being and mental health Support for caregivers own emotional, social, and mental well-being by supporting development of required skills to identify, manage, and cope with stressors and providing counseling support.
- Early learning Opportunities for children to engage in activities that promote early literacy, numeracy, motor, and social-emotional skills.
How it works
Afinidata allows parents and caregivers of children ages 0-6 to to interact with a virtual assistant through Facebook messenger, WhatsApp or the Afinidata app. After signing up, users typically receive weekly activity suggestions across the areas of health, nutrition, and education. For example, these messages may include suggestions for talking, singing, and/or engaging with a child. Engagement varies across settings and partly depends on internet connectivity. For example, in rural communities, users may engage with the materials shared by the Afinidata virtual tutor every few weeks, downloading materials when connectivity is possible, and then using them offline afterwards.Read more
Users are prompted to share optional information on their child’s developmental progress across domains on a periodic basis. Through artificial intelligence (AI), the tool then adapts the weekly activity suggestions based on user needs and interests.
In collaboration with NGO and program partners, Afinidata customizes activities and content based on needs and considerations such as language. For example, some program partners may have greater interest in health promotion while others may place emphasis on play activities, which will then translate into the content shared by that customized messenger service.
User engagement strategies
- Customized messages Sharing resources and content based on user needs (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, age of child). This also includes sharing personalized content based on short user assessments (e.g., activities shared based on child development assessments).
- Nudges and reminders Sharing messages to encourage users to take particular actions (e.g., appointment reminders, nudge to complete an activity).
- Flexible tool experience Providing flexibility and choice for users to determine their use of the tool (e.g., frequency of messages, content, sequence).
- Tracking ECD milestones Supporting tracking of developmental milestones and immunizations.
- Providing referrals to service providers Directing users towards more specialized support (e.g., mental health professionals, child services) to address needs.
- Sharing tips and resources Sharing knowledge and activities to improve practices, behaviors, and skills in different ways (e.g., short messages, videos) to support child development.
Reach and relevance
Technology and access
Afinidata relies on artificial intelligence to power its virtual assistant, which is available through an app, WhatsApp, or Facebook messenger which users can access through a smartphone. Activity suggestions can be downloaded and used offline.
- Connectivity requirements
- Device types
- Cost model
In partnership with international researchers from from Harvard, ETH Zurich and SwissTPH, Afinidata completed a feasibility trial in Peru to understand the potential of the virtual assistant for reaching low-income communities. This feasibility trial found that two months after baseline, 84% of mothers in the study reported using the platform at least once, with 87% rating it as useful to very useful.
Afinidata uses parent surveys on an ongoing basis to understand the impact of the tool on promoting awareness of child development. Afinidata also collects optional information on child development from families which it uses to measure impact of interaction with the virtual assistant.
Two RCTs are underway in partnership with international researchers to measure the impact of Afinidata in Peru and Brazil. In Peru, the trial measures the impact of Afinidata in relation to a control (no intervention), and a home visiting program. In Brazil, the evaluation focuses on the impact of adding Afinidata to an existing large-scale home visiting program and explores the effectiveness of various features, including frequency and dosage of messaging.
With funding from UNICEF Innovation Fund and other private foundations/NGOs, Afinidata works in collaboration with NGOs and government partners to customize messages to particular target communities. These partners include: UNICEF Peru, Ministry of Health in Peru, UNICEF Bolivia, Ministry of Health Bolivia, Municipality of El Alto, Bolivia, Municipality of La Paz, Bolivia, Foundation Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal, Brazil’s Criança Feliz (Happy Child) Program, Municipality of Ceará, Harvard Graduate School of Education, World Bank, Swiss TPH, Botnar Research Center for Child Health, USAID- Guatemala Proinnova- Popoyan, Foundation Isabel Gutierrez, Guatemala, Foundation Familias Power, Chile, and United Way Guatemala.