Breaking Taboos: Empowering Youth through Innovative EdTech

Karin Stierlin is the initiator and founder of the taboobreaker Association and brings extensive expertise in sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Her educational journey includes a degree as a pre-primary education teacher, a qualification in Learning Therapy, and a Diploma of Advanced Studies in SRH education. After fifteen years of professional experience in teaching and lecturing at the University for teacher education in Zurich, she founded her own business Taboobreaker. Read our Q&A with Karin below!

Q: Tell us about taboobreaker and why are you sorely needed in this world?

taboobreaker unites a diverse team of experts including sexual and mental health, research, law, and psychology. In alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which recognises young people as catalysts for positive change, taboobreaker is committed to empowering them to realise their full potential and actively contribute to shaping a sustainable world for future generations: Despite the global acknowledgment of the pivotal role young people play, the subjects of sexual and mental health education remain taboo, with far-reaching consequences for countless children and young individuals worldwide. taboobreaker endeavors to address this critical gap by offering globally accessible, gamified, and multi-channel learning programs. These initiatives aim to foster the holistic development of children and young people, unlocking their untapped potential and paving the way for a brighter future.

Our collaborative efforts extend to working closely with the South African Game design Team, Loud Rabbits, alongside professional storytellers and voice actors. Through this partnership, we aim to create engaging and impactful educational programs that break down barriers, break societal taboos, and contribute to the well-being and empowerment of young minds across the globe.

Q: Where did the business concept originate and how has the journey been so far?

At the beginning it came from a frustration at the lack of innovative and effective evidence-based learning programs for children and adolescents that prompted the establishment of taboobreaker. We wanted to address the absence of modern, digital tools supporting young people to transition into adulthood safely and confidently. The commitment to empowering young people’s mental and sexual health and wellbeing reached new heights during a successful project in Indonesia, where I piloted one of the SRH education programs I personally developed. Motivated by this accomplishment, I ventured into entrepreneurship, establishing my own organisations taboobreaker SA NPC and taboobreaker Association Switzerland dedicated to creating innovative teaching programs and tools that support children and young people on their journey. So far taboobreaker has developed two multi-channel programs: Love Land – supporting young people to safely transition into adulthood and Safeland – empowering children’s mental health and wellbeing (currently under construction).

Q: What’s the latest news at taboobreaker?

We are currently dedicating substantial efforts to enhance our Love Land multi-channel program. This involves the expansion of our app, incorporating additional topic islands, languages, and game levels to provide a more holistic learning experience. The app is available for free download on both Google Play and iOS stores. Furthermore, the newly developed Train-the-Trainer program for teachers and youth coaches is undergoing adaptation and industrialisation based on feedback from the evaluation conducted with the University of Cape Town. Our objective is to scale up its availability and offer it on a large scale. Simultaneously, we are actively engaged in fundraising initiatives to facilitate the targeted and efficient implementation of our activities. Additionally, we are fine-tuning our social media campaigns to optimise outreach and engagement.

Q: What is taboobreaker looking for to aid growth in the future?

Concerning Love Land, taboobreaker aims to establish collaborations with corporations, particularly those involved in the production of condoms or hygiene products. This strategic direction is geared towards expanding Love Land’s reach to a more extensive, international audience, providing them with the opportunity for a healthy and opportunity-rich life.

Additionally, I envision a more direct involvement with young people in the future. While recent years have seen concentrated efforts in building taboobreaker, fundraising, and developing the content of multi-channel programs, I am eager to re-engage with young individuals personally. This reflects our commitment to fostering positive impacts on the lives of youth, both through direct interaction and innovative educational initiatives.

Our ultimate goal is to secure partnerships with one or more prominent international organisations capable of disseminating our programs on a massive scale. This strategic collaboration aims to extend access to sexual and mental health education for children and young individuals globally.

Q: Can you give us an example of how the Love Land app works?

The Love Land app seamlessly combines entertainment with education, offering direct accessibility to interested players: It can be freely downloaded and independently played, allowing users to take charge of their learning experience. Players have the autonomy to choose the knowledge they wish to acquire by selecting theme islands within Love Land. Upon entering an island, players must navigate obstacles and conquer the “Fogglets,” symbolic antagonists representing taboos. The Fogglets can be defeated through the application of knowledge.

Each island presents a non-playing character with a pressing issue that requires the player’s assistance. For instance, Johnny on Goomi Goomi Island is in love with Kim, and they both wish to engage in sexual activity, but Johnny is unsure about proper condom usage. The player’s task is to seek information on the island, that is stored in their logbook, and subsequently test their acquired knowledge in a mini-game.

Upon successfully completing multiple islands, players can challenge the FOGG on FOGG Island, demonstrating their knowledge and earning their own island on Love Land. This innovative approach encourages interactive learning and empowers players to overcome challenges while promoting a positive and informed perspective on taboo subjects.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a startup?

To be clear: Sexual and mental health are universally considered taboo subjects. Securing sponsors for initiatives addressing these issues poses a significant challenge, not only in South Africa. Additionally, the recruitment of game designers with the talent and sensitivity to effectively transform such sensitive topics into a gamified learning app was a demanding task.

Q: Who or what has been your most helpful ally?

My life partner! When I initially presented my idea in a start-up training program, he was the only lecturer who saw the global potential. From then on, he has supported me over the years and to this day, with his wide-ranging expertise and experience in the areas of start-ups, pitching and finance. And he always encouraged me not to give up when times were really hard! We have been a couple for a few years now and live in Cape Town.

Q: What is your take on doing business in South Africa?

We experience a lot of openness and interest from NGOs and people in our programs, which often leads to promising collaborations. The collaboration with our game design team is also extremely enriching: we have never received a “No, that won’t work!” to my sometimes rather unrealistic ideas ;-). There is also a wide range of niche or one-man businesses here that realise special designs, such as for our train-the-trainer box, cost-effectively and with a lot of creativity and passion!