As part of our Tech For Good series we had a chat with Dr. Chen Mao Davies, Founder & CEO at Anya. Anya uses smart technology to provide parents and parents-to-be with vital support on their breastfeeding and parenting journey, anytime, anywhere.
The purpose of the Tech For Good series of interviews is to create a platform that showcases and champions companies, products and technologists who are using technology as a force for positive change in the world.
Hello, I’m Dr. Chen Mao Davies, and I developed a unique breastfeeding and parenting app called Anya. You may not be aware but there is a global problem with the uptake of breastfeeding or chestfeeding for newborn babies. In some countries, including the UK and the USA, the rates of initiation are at their lowest ever. This isn’t good news, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding or chestfeeding for at least 6m up to 2 years; it comes with so many benefits for mothers and other parents and of course for babies! Our app supports expectant parents with preparing for parenthood, and also gives them practical help with initiating feeding in the right way so it’s less stressful, painful and more enjoyable.
Anya is a pioneering app utilising 3D technology to help women learn breastfeeding skills intuitively from 3D avatars; virtual support groups to connect parents to peer-support networks; tailored antenatal and postnatal contents according to mother and baby’s ages and stages, and an AI-powered virtual supporter chatbot leveraging 1-2-1 expert support to provide personalised expertise and companionship 24/7 for the first 1001 days.
I’m a mum of 2 now but when I had my first child, I discovered first-hand how difficult and painful breastfeeding was and how there was little or no support for me to learn it and get better. This led to me experiencing pain and postnatal depression. At the time I was leading an Oscar and BAFTA award-winning visual effects team at Framestore and I realised when I had my second child, that I could dedicate my skills to developing something of true value to society and to all families. A phone-based tool that is accessible, inclusive and with innovation and empathy at its heart, that can be used anywhere, anytime, even at 3am.
Clearly, developing anything worthwhile, useful or ‘good’ takes time. I spent a long time seeking advice, support, learning about what support was already out there and making connections whilst also building the LatchAid 3D breastfeeding tool and the AI-powered virtual supporter feature and testing those features.
A real breakthrough was getting funding from various partners including The Health Foundation and Innovate UK, which meant I could take the product to market, and also set up our all-important NHS pilot project which tested the app with actual healthcare professionals and parents to demonstrate effectiveness and highlight any weaknesses. Feedback from experts and users is what drives the best improvements and we’re lucky to have been chosen to work on the latest SBRI Healthcare and NHS England feasibility project to tackle health inequalities in maternity care in the UK. The barriers can be overcome if your technology is truly groundbreaking and delivers the outcomes society needs. We’re working to make the product more inclusive and tailored to support all parents especially parents from ethnic minority groups, young parents (under 25), and parents from lower social economic groups to tackle health inequities in maternity care.
We live in a hyper-connected world where technology has immense potential to do harm as well as good. Many of the world’s problems are now so visible so it makes sense that technologists would turn their attention to trying to solve them, and people make and use technology, not the other way round. And clearly, it also makes sense for healthcare systems and other agencies to implement technological solutions to problems that jump barriers such as location, language, visibility and inclusivity, that allow them to focus their resources on the most critical tasks.
Technology can spread positive impacts globally and for many generations to come. Tech professionals are more and more conscious of the role they play in making a positive impact to the world and people’s lives.
It was great to see that the UK Government recently launched its MedTech strategy which is exciting for companies like ours seeking to solve public health problems. It gives me immense pride every day to read our user feedback on how we have helped with mental health, pain, sleep, everything!
Prioritising the business models and planning as an impact-driving business will benefit the business in the long run.
We’ve learnt so many things along the way, and I have found that there is an immense interest in tech solutions that do good, that work, that deliver something unique. We know that parents (and babies!) are literally crying out for this sort of support. It’s not about replacing face-to-face support but enhancing it, being there when others can’t be.