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BehanBox

In-depth reporting on women’s issues drives change in India

News start-up BehanBox grew its audience by 300%, raising awareness of gender inequalities, shaping public policy and achieving financial sustainability
BehanBox reporters in black and white

A mission to make India gender equal

Public policy researcher and journalist Bhanupriya Rao was already working to raise awareness about women’s issues when COVID-19 hit India in 2020. Realising that the pandemic was only going to deepen existing inequalities, Rao and a team of investigative journalists launched BehanBox – 'voices of sisters' in Hindi – a digital media platform whose mission is to make India gender equal through in-depth, data-driven reporting about public policy.

The platform’s first offering was an investigative series on female health workers putting in long hours without protective gear or adequate compensation.

'The coverage received widespread attention, even from the highest levels of government,' says Rao. 'The series proved that there was a real appetite for our stories.'

BehanBox quickly developed a reputation for high-quality reporting on issues such as women’s political participation and gender-based violence. They also offer a podcast, Local Diaries, to reach women in rural India.

'We work to give women the information they need to become equal participants in our democracy,' says Rao.

BehanBox employees having a discussion in black and white
BehanBox employees having a discussion

Sustainability through a product mindset

As BehanBox became more established, its founder realised that they needed to focus on building a sustainable business model.

'At first, our main concern as journalists was ensuring the accuracy of our reporting, not thinking of it as a product,' Rao says. 'But when you head an organisation, you have to approach the business from another level.'

A Headshot of Bhanupriya Rao, the founder of BehanBox
'Since participating in GNI Startups Lab, our value proposition has transformed. Now we don't look at ourselves as just providing information or telling stories: we look at ourselves as catalysts in the change-making process. People look to us for that.'
Bhanupriya Rao
Founder, BehanBox

In 2021, BehanBox became one of the first start-ups selected for the Google News Initiative (GNI) Startups Lab India, a programme created with global innovation lab Echos and the DIGIPUB News India Foundation to help Indian news start-ups achieve financial sustainability.

In the programme’s initial phase, BehanBox worked to better understand their audience. The team conducted in-depth interviews with loyal readers to learn what they wanted most, then designed offerings that would meet those needs.

'That first design and product development phase, building an audience-centric model, was the most crucial because everything else flowed from that,' Rao says.

In later phases of the programme, BehanBox explored ways to create revenue-generating offerings and identify investment sources.

'GNI Startup Labs gave us much-needed tools to understand our audience better and develop relevant and engaging products,' Rao says. 'I can’t stress enough how valuable the programme’s support was.'

Significant audience growth in Q1 2022

As a result of the insights gained during GNI Startups Lab, BehanBox has ramped up its outreach – particularly to younger demographics – through new offerings such as a newsletter and podcasts.

  • 300% increase in newsletter subscribers
  • 200% boost in Instagram followers
  • 142% rise in Twitter followers

Their efforts have paid off with significant audience growth over the first three months of 2022. Using Google Analytics, BehanBox saw newsletter subscribers increase by 300 per cent; monthly unique visitors to the website grew 10x. Meanwhile, engagement with BehanBox’s Instagram and Twitter channels increased by 200 per cent and 142 per cent, respectively.

Looking ahead, BehanBox is exploring a membership model, hopefully launching by early 2023, that would generate revenue and engage readers more directly.

'Since participating in GNI Startups Lab, our value proposition has transformed,' Rao says. 'Now we don't look at ourselves as just providing information or telling stories: we look at ourselves as catalysts in the change-making process. People look to us for that.'

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