[Originally posted on the Womennow site here.]
Ramya Kancharla is the Program Manager for CycleTel India at the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University. She leads the implementation and management of the CycleTel™ service across India.
Ramya holds an MPhil in Public Policy from Bocconi University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore. She started her career in management consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers before moving into the public health space. Her consulting work with various government health departments led to an interest in public health. Ramya worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and with ACCESS Health International before joining IRH. Womennow recently had the pleasure of an interaction with her:
Womennow: Penetrating with a communication solely based on mobile phones would have been challenging. What were the struggles faced by the company it its initial days?
Ramya: CycleTel is an innovative product, which means that people must be educated about how it can help them and their family. When we first started, we struggled to communicate with women, to explain to them that they could use CycleTel as a family planning method. Now, we have adopted a multi-channel approach, where we work through digital media, billboards, mobile vans, street events, and most importantly NGO partners to conduct outreach. .
Womennow: You have made family planning easier like never before. What are the strategies you follow as a team?
Ramya: We always try to have our customers in mind. For example, when we started, registration was done by SMS. But we found that our users preferred to register through our trained female call center counselors. Based on that preference, we changed our marketing to emphasize our toll free number.
Womennow: In a country like India, where a doctor’s advice is considered final, CycleTel has not only won people’s trust but has also eliminated the heavy costs that people incur for regular check ups. How did you manage to do that?
Ramya: At CycleTel, we want to give women information about their bodies and their fertility so they feel empowered and can make the best choices for themselves and their family. But that doesn’t mean that they should never see a doctor! We encourage women to see a health care provider if they want to explore other methods of family planning or have other health questions.
Womennow: People’s response has been extremely positive and welcoming. How did you know that CycleTel was the need of the hour?
Ramya: Our staff has had many years of experience in family planning and reproductive health, particularly in India. We knew that over 30 million women in India have an unmet need for family planning, and we knew that many women around the world prefer to use natural methods. That need, combined with the growing number of mobile phones, sparked the idea for CycleTel.
Womennow: Not everyone is eligible for your service. Please elaborate about the criteria.
Ramya: CycleTel is not for everyone. It can only be used by women who regularly have menstrual cycles between 26 and 32 days long, who have not used hormonal contraception recently, and who can manage their fertile days with their husbands. The call center counselors help women figure out if they are eligible during the registration process.
Womennow: Does your system cater its services only to Indian cities, or does it have international extensions, too?
Ramya: At this point, CycleTel is only available in India. However, there are other ways to use the Standard Days Method® in other countries. Many women around the world use physical CycleBeads® or the CycleBeads app for Android smartphones. Both products also help women know their fertile days. But CycleTel is unique to India.
Womenow: Do you offer services in different Indian languages?
Ramya: Right now, CycleTel is available in Hindi, English, and Hinglish.