“A woman’s body is a powerhouse. It can do extraordinary things.” -Kate Roberts, Founder of The Body Agency.
Cultural differences and religion create a gap in sexual health for women. In this episode, Kate Roberts, Founder of The Body Agency, shares a new narrative on women’s health offered by the agency. Kate shares how their website morphs into three parts to help fill the gap with health products, services, and education. She also explains the importance of their partnership with Inspire to become women’s health and sexual wellness partners where they have a safe space to have these conversations and education. Tune in to this episode now!
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The Body Agency: A New Narrative In Women’s Health With Kate Roberts
Education, Conversation, And Validation.
Here’s our Hot Flash. Researchers at a hospital in Cambridge, England went about some research to understand the misunderstandings about healthy anatomic terms in the female anatomy. Their survey found that nearly half of UK women don’t know how many openings they have down there.
One of the things that still fascinates me over the time that I’ve been in this space, and certainly in the time that I’ve had the privilege of doing the show with you, is there’s always something new to learn. There’s always a new conversation, a new solution and efforts that are being undertaken. I wish I had a magic ball so that I could put the right hand and the left hand, all the pieces together so that all the elements of the ecosystem could work in concert.
Absolutely. We’re going to be speaking with Kate Roberts, and she had a really unique approach to the way she’s building her platform, which involves partnerships, whether it’s partnerships with celebrities, industry, and charities. I found that to be incredibly interesting.
One of the parts of her model that is interesting is she has a nonprofit piece, a for-profit piece, and an education piece, and the partnerships help her do all those things. Some of her partnerships help her get the products to the actual people who are going to use them. As she mentioned, she’s been in over 100 countries around the world in the course of her career. Others are potentially looking to her to come up with solutions for women’s health questions that they can’t answer for their employees.
I think she relies on the reach that these larger partners may offer. Frankly, it’s very beneficial for the global view, so let’s tune in.
We are so excited to have our guest, Kate Roberts, who is the Founder of The Body Agency. She has worn many and still wears many different hats, including social entrepreneur, podcast co-host, and global philanthropist. It’s wonderful to have you on. Thanks for being with us.
Thanks for having me, Rachel. It’s a thrill.
Given all the many things you do, we’re going to focus a little bit about The Body Agency, but I’d love people to understand how you got to this chapter given all the many different fields you’ve been in.
I have worked in global development focused on women’s health and family health for about 25 years. I have founded various organizations over the years. I traveled the world up to about 111 countries, was the last count. During my work with an organization, I founded with Melinda Gates and the Crown Princess of Norway, together with this organization, PSI.
I recognized a gap in sexual health and specifically, health for female bodies. It didn’t matter where we went or who we visited, the story was always the same. Sexual pleasure was almost extinct. A lot of women that we spoke to around the world didn’t even know what that was. We had to translate the word orgasm. The translators often said to us, “There is no word for that. I won’t be able to translate that.” It’s not just about pleasure, although, as we all know, there is an orgasm gap.There is a gap in sexual health and specifically health for female bodies. The story across other countries is the same; sexual pleasure was almost extinct. Click To Tweet
I know we all want to fill that, but it’s also the basics. Access to contraception and products that help with vaginal dryness or vaginismus. I decided that if marijuana was going to be sold all over the world, why couldn’t we have an organization that was focused on getting these much-needed health products and services into the hands of people who need it? Whether you live on $1 a day, $1,000 a day, or whatever your economic standing is. Making these health products that are designed for women by women into the hands of people who need it.
You had said in the earlier conversation that you’ve been to 111 countries. Our experience is, it almost doesn’t matter. The lack of education is so pervasive and oftentimes an inability to have a vocabulary. Regardless of socioeconomics, educational background, or country of origin, are you seeing the same lack of knowledge, whether it’s the language or how to experience pleasure if it’s one of the thousand things that go into being a woman?
I would say that there is still a big challenge. The challenge is cultural differences between religions and families. I went to Saudi Arabia because I was invited. I was super curious to understand how women who are essentially covered go to the gynecologist to talk about these issues and talk to each other. Being a predominantly Muslim culture and religious background, I think it’s very challenging to be honest. You could also say that about the Jewish religion, and other cultures where it’s conservative, including the US. The fact that we now have another ban on getting an abortion has taken us back 50 years. We have to now work to repair the damage that’s been done. The solution is making these products accessible, affordable, and often using technology through the mail. I believe that it’s challenging.
I’m fascinated only because you have such a perspective on all these different countries and cultures. For sure, there are big differences in upbringings and value systems. I feel that US women are a little bit more uptight when it comes to sexual health than some of the other countries that I’m not sure you’re involved with like the Latin-American and South American countries. I’m wondering if you’ve also appreciated that.
I think that some countries are more open than others. As Rachel knows, we made a vulva puppet, and these are made by ladies in Southeast Asia who are disabled. We made them because first of all, they didn’t exist. Nobody talks us the way around vulva or vagina. We felt like it was a good educational tool. These wonderful ladies in Laos, Southeast Asia didn’t even bat an eyelid when we asked them to make these puppets, which they often make with their feet, because they can’t use their hands.
I have been waving this puppet around for a long time now with different cultures. In fact, I took it to The World Economic Forum and I did a talk. I handed them out to 70 young global leaders to see their reactions. The first reaction is to laugh, which is ridiculous because it’s a very important body part. Why is that funny? It’s good, though. Humor is good.
I would absolutely agree with you that there are some countries that are much more open to this. Countries like Brazil, and definitely Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also for different reasons. We have done some incredible work across Africa around HIV AIDS where we’ve talked about sex and the risks and we’ve gone through the motions.
For that reason, the community of organizations like us that do work there, we’ve removed stigma, because it really is all about stigma, taboos, and shame that your mother passes onto you. You’ll shame the family if you get pregnant or if you have sex too young. It’s all of this shame and taboos over the years everywhere that create these barriers. I would absolutely agree that Latin cultures are much more open to this than others.
I’ve seen that in my practice for sure. As a follow-up to this, of course, I perused your website, which is incredible. I see the two main gift baskets of products. I’m curious how you vet the products. Also, do you find that they are universally approved since it’s present in so many cultures and countries?
We have bodyboard experts like doctors and menopause specialists. We went out before we started building our product portfolio. We wanted to curate easy package kits around certain issues. We first went about this by thinking, “What does a parent need to talk to her young daughter who’s shortly going to get her period?” We developed a first-period kit.
We thought about her, the mother, who probably is either looking to have more children, so she needs help with fertility or she’s going into menopause so she needs help with hormones. We worked with our bodyboard experts to pull these products together, and also put them together. Not just in a box, but also with guides, op-eds, and things that have been written by our bodyboard members on why this is happening.
Alongside that, I also started a podcast, more or less the same time that you guys did, which has been quite interesting. It’s called Sex, Body, and Soul. We have a lot of these experts come on and talk about the root and cause. Why do you have hot flashes? Why do you have brain fog? Why can you not sleep? It’s for people to understand that we delve deep into the issues on how to prevent and treat them.
I’m going to go back a little bit to ground people in what the business is. Tell us a little bit about the business of The Body Agency and what the business model is. How you will continue to grow and hopefully make money, whether as a for-profit or a nonprofit. Describe the structure, who you’re selling to, and through what vehicles.
Since we last spoke, Rachel, we’ve morphed into a social enterprise. We have our nonprofit, which is called The Body Agency Collective. I’ll explain that first because then the model of The Body Agency will make a little bit more sense. Within the collective, we have a host of NGOs and nonprofit organizations that are grassroots around the world who can deliver these kits to people who can’t afford them.
We want to make sure that these products get into the hand of anyone who needs them. That social impact and that give-back component was very important to us. TheBodyAgency.com is in three parts. We have eCommerce, which is these health products. It starts at puberty and being a parent. We’re targeting parents and children owners.
It starts at puberty, how to guide your teens through that puberty stage, through fertility and contraception, and then of course, the menopausal years. That’s the first part of products. The second part is services. What we found was that people knew that they needed these products, but they wanted a confidential place to go to seek an expert out.
We started building links to services with gynecologists and with menopause experts. As we know, the healthcare system is lacking in specialists like sex coaches. You don’t have to leave your house. You can log on. You can book a consultancy, and as I said, do not leave your house. The third part is knowledge, learning, and education. We now have very big partnerships with communications and media organizations that help us to disperse this information. We tap into our bodyboard members, again, all qualified doctors in their space. They are constantly churning out up-to-date and scientific-based information.The Body Agency started building links to services with gynecologists, with menopause experts because the healthcare system is just lacking in specialists like sex coaches. Click To Tweet
I noticed your amazing community, the Inspire community. Is this the education arm or is that something separate? It looked like a lot of the questions that were being posed were relevant and answered by experts. I’m sure people feel quite comfortable with that.
We do have an official partnership with Inspire. We are their women’s health and sexual wellness partner. They have millions of subscribers. They didn’t have a sexual wellness space to go, and they had all these questions coming in. Just to educate your audience, Inspire, it’s like WebMD meets Facebook. It’s a private community where you can talk to one another, you can talk to experts, and you can get the information that you need to know.
To get back to Rachel’s question about the business model. Like any startup, we built the car whilst it was running. Just trying to understand what the need was in the way that people wanted to get help and information. We built it in that way. eCommerce is a very hard business to build. There’s not a lot of money in it. You have to invest millions of dollars to build that funnel.eCommerce is a difficult business to build. There's not a lot of money in it. You have to invest millions and millions of dollars to build that funnel. Click To Tweet
We did a turn and decided that we were going to build the company on these big partnerships. I’m very excited to announce that we have a new partnership with Equinox. Fitness and nutrition is one of the pillars that we’re focused on. Equinox has selected us as their new charitable organization for girl’s and women’s health. We’ll be doing yogathons around the world to both promote the fact that we all need to be fit and healthy, but also, it’s going to raise money for us to send Dignity Kits out to vulnerable girls around the world in war-torn countries like Ukraine.
I’m a fan of Equinox, so I think that’s an amazing partnership. Obviously, you’ve got a lot of differentiating factors in your business. I’m wondering, what is your real sweet spot? We have menopause, girl’s health and menstruation, fitness, nutrition, and stress reduction with yoga and whatnot. There are so many other platforms that are either telehealth-related or menopause-related, even for tweens and teens. How are you standing out?
I would say, first of all, menopause. We are talking to women who are 35-plus. That’s our customers. They tend to be parents. I would say that anything menopause-related is very popular. I would also say that how we stand out is through these curated kits. The partnerships that we’re building with other companies, whether they’re a company that we would curate a kit with and get that out, Procter & Gamble, for instance.
It’s these kits that are the core of our business. That’s where we’re going to focus on moving forward because people like them and have taken a lot of work to create. We want to distribute them around the world and make them as affordable as possible, so everyone can still make money, but also sample their products.
We love women-led brands. We also love helping these very large organizations do the right thing for women. For instance, we have talked to Starbucks about they want to build a policy for menopausal employees. I call myself a social entrepreneur because we go where the need is and we go where the volume is. We try to change behavior in these large corporates and startups of great products for women.
I have to laugh at the Starbucks. Again, I’m a huge fan of Starbucks, but that is a perfect population. Of course, you drink one of their huge caffeinated beverages, and you start hot flashing all over the place. Your products will be quite helpful.
Along those lines, I know there are a couple of steps between the creation and the curation of a kit until it gets into the hands of the ultimate user. This is hard work, we know. Building in the space, doing it globally, and talking about women’s health are the things that you’re doing. You’re at the heart of the storm of being a fish-swimming upstream. What have been some of the testimonials or feedback that you’ve gotten either from the distribution partners, like PSI, or the companies where you’re helping to educate them? Are you able to hear from a young woman who got a Dignity Kit and had a huge impact on her life?
We have. I would say that the two that we’ve had the most impact with and The First Period Kit and the Dignity Kit.
Talk a little bit about what is in each of those.
It’s constantly changing based on need. We’re listening to the end user who receives it. The Dignity Kit mostly has sanitation products. Reusable period underwear, wipes, soap. We even put chocolate in there because they’re going to families who’ve lost their homes in Ukraine. They’ve walked from Ukraine to Poland to Warsaw to go into a refugee camp. They have nothing.
It has a tote bag, so they have a bag that’s reusable. We’re going to be putting in things like yoga bands and stretch bands, so they can have some exercise. It’s things like that that go in the Dignity Kits. We’re building them all the time with more stuff that comes in that large corporates donate. Even scrunchies for your hair. Things like that that we just take completely for granted.
When you’re doing things like that, I know from the business perspective, lots of people have started out curating other people’s products, the margins get squeezed quite a bit, and they do their own. Are you effectively able to do a combination? When you’re using someone else’s brand, does the nonprofit piece help you with negotiating?
Yes, definitely. That’s why we moved the model to more of a social enterprise model because we can save a lot of money by getting donated products, and also, cut the price down significantly. We again are reliant on these partnerships. These large partners that we’re building also have distribution channels, and they also have products that they’re not using.
We’re not partnering with them yet, but I know that Hilton saves all their soaps, and then regurgitates them. The soaps that you’ve used one time in your hotel room, repackage them and want to get them out there. That would be a perfect thing to go in the Dignity Kit. Your other question was what’s in the Period Kit.
The First Period Kit is meant and designed for parents anywhere in the world to talk to their vagina-owner children about getting their period and being hygienic. There’s everything that you can imagine. There’s a cup, tampons, pads, reusable pads, and reusable period underwear. We also put a vulva puppet in there, so a parent can teach their child how to put a tampon in. Where your clitoris is for a later conversation when they get a little older. We’re getting great feedback. One thing that the mothers are saying is, “My child won’t use all of this at once, but it’s good that she has it because she might want to use the cup on sports days.” We’re getting really good feedback. Actually, the kits are doing well in Africa as well.Your first-period kit is meant and designed for parents anywhere in the world to talk to their vagina owner children about getting their period and being hygienic. Click To Tweet
I’m sure your clientele has lots of questions, and you have all these amazing experts on board with your program. Is there a connection between providing some sort of health advice, or is it not working that way? I’m imagining that people have medical issues that might need to be attended to?
We are not a medical-based organization. Our body board members are extremely active. We have just formed a great partnership with a very large media company that owns a ton of magazines that you would know is designed for parents and women. It’s very exciting. The bodyboard members will be contributing to those publications with health advice, frequently asked questions, and op-eds on certain subjects.
We’ll also be doing events that these bodyboard members will come to as well as our celebrity ambassadors, and so on. The bodyboard was a really good idea because it also keeps us very honest. I’m not a qualified doctor. I’ve just worked in women’s health for 25 years. We don’t put anything out there unless it’s had the stamp of approval.
Again, it’s based on need. It’s what we’re hearing from our customers and our supporters. We’re scaling with these partners rather than raising more money to put in the company to scale in that way. Very early on, I decided I wasn’t going to do that, and we were going to scale organically as much as we can through our partners.
How does the podcast fit into all of this? It looks like you’ve got lots of episodes and amazing guests that obviously complement your board and your mission.
With the podcast, I produced it myself. I’m not a co-host. I’m a host.
You’re a jack of all trades.
I don’t know about you guys, but I absolutely love it. I feel that it’s so important to get these heroes and heroines on the show, to talk about the work they do. I seem to find these guests who speak so openly about themselves and the issues. It gives me so much joy. The feedback that we get. I mix it up with a few celebrities here and there. I just did one on the reality of reality television and how women survive being on a reality show. It’s fun. I don’t do anything that doesn’t bring me joy.
I like that adage. Do you have a favorite episode? I’ll put that on the spot.
There are so many, but it has to be the one with Ashley Judd. She’s an old friend of mine. We’ve traveled the world together. The show is all about those travels and what we got up to visiting brothels, hospitals, and villages, and sitting with all the remarkable women that we’ve met along the way. As usual, Ashley is an incredible speaker and ambassador.
That probably would be my favorite, but there’s a lot in the pipeline that is coming up that will maybe be my new favorite. Be sure to watch or listen Sex, Body, and Soul. Have an opportunity to get educated. I’m sure you hear the same thing with your show that people write in and say, “I never knew. I did not realize that.” We’re now listened to in 32 countries.
We’re finding it interesting because we both do a lot of things, and this is a whole different business. What keeps us so encouraged is the conversations with guests, the responses that we get, and the people who are interested. They send in suggestions of who they’d like to hear. People reaching into us, we’re getting inbound inquiries for being on the show.
I want to ask you again, because you have such a broad platform, and because I’ve had the opportunity to work with you in the past. There’s so much you want to tell the world. There’s so much you are telling the world. For people who are reading, who are entrepreneurs and are frustrated about the state of women’s health on a global basis. There are so many different dimensions to be concerned about. If you have one piece of galvanizing and motivating advice for people who say, “I want to do this, but I don’t even know where to start.” What would that be?
Before I answer that question, I do have to say thank you to you, Rachel, because in the very beginning when I was starting the podcast, you advised me. I said, “Who’s going to listen to little old me? Maybe I should pair up with one of our celebrities.” You said, “Kate, don’t do that. You do that podcast all on your own. Mark my words. Just you do that.”
Your words have rung in my head all along. Thank you for that piece of advice. I appreciate you. What I would say to entrepreneurs looking to start their own thing is a couple of things. The first would be don’t reinvent the wheel. Figure out what’s out there and fill a gap. It’s hard to do because you get seduced by this and that.
If you see my platform, it’s got a lot of things. We’re chopping. We’re going to chop and focus. I would say, “Don’t reinvent the wheel and form good partnerships from the get-go so you’re not out there alone.” You are the partnership queen, Rachel. You know this better than anybody. Fail fast. Failure is absolutely fine. You’ve got to fail in order to be a success.
Part of it is I feel like when you’re an entrepreneur in many spaces, you have to be on the balls of your feet. When you and I first talked about this, you could build a business direct-to-consumer in the ways that we had talked about, and then the world and the opportunities change. Whatever happened with the vulva coaster, did that ever go anywhere? That was one of my favorites. You said, “Do you know anyone who can make a vulva coaster?” I said, “You know what, I do.”
Yeah, we have a vulva coaster, and I love it. It’s mine. I went down there and sketched my own. The vulva coaster is doing well. We put it in the First Period Kit because again it’s all about education. It’s gimmicky. It’s a stocking stuffer. It’s fun. We do some cool social media around it. I don’t think it’s ever going to raise $1 million, but it’s a fun thing to have. The ethos of everything we’re doing is, “Let’s get rid of this stigma and discrimination. It’s ridiculous.”
If there’s one thing that I’m thrilled about is that people are going to know the difference between a vulva and a vagina because they get misunderstood all the time. That puppet is not mistakable.
As Rachel is saying, we have a vulva coaster. It’s a diagram. It’s like, “Here’s where you pee from. This is where babies come out. This is your clitoris.” It’s a diagram that’s no-nonsense. Again, we’re half of the world. Vagina owners are half of the world, so we need to take them seriously. They produce life. What’s there to be embarrassed about?
I couldn’t agree with you more. On that note, I think we will wrap up. It’s been an absolute pleasure to speak to you. We are watching with bright eyes to see what’s next to come down the pipe for you.
Thank you so much. Please come to my art show on February 8th, 2023 in New York City and maybe do a benefit yoga class with us.
Sounds terrific. Thanks so much. It’s great to see you. Have a great day.
- The Body Agency
- The World Economic Forum
- Sex, Body, and Soul Podcast
- The Body Agency Collective
- Procter & Gamble
- Ashley Judd – Sex, Body, and Soul podcast episode
About Kate Roberts
Kate believes that by investing in women, we will change the world. A global social entrepreneur, multiple business owner, women’s advocate, philanthropist, fundraiser, artist and public speaker. She has had a 30 year career of championing women’s leadership, public health, a focus on women’s sexual reproductive health, sexual wellness and exponential philanthropy. Together with PSI, Melinda Gates and HRH The Crown princess of Norway, Roberts founded Maverick Collective, a $100M ground breaking philanthropic initiative led by women for women, innovating and scaling women focused public health solutions across 60 developing countries.