Visible Connect #TeamTuesday: Meet OkaySo

In 2021, Visible proudly announced the third cohort of our annual Visible Connect Accelerator Program, which supports nonprofit organizations changing their communities using mobile technology. In partnership with Uncharted, Visible Connect awards each nonprofit in the accelerator a $15,000 financial grant and free mobile devices with one year of Visible service. We and Uncharted will work alongside these game-changing entrepreneurs to help them elevate their organizations and connect them with the resources, services, expertise and relationships they need to accelerate their impact. Over the next few weeks, we'll continue to introduce all six of the inspiring nonprofit within our cohort, honing in on how they’re using mobile technology to create meaningful change in our community.

Elise Schuster is the executive director and Francisco Ramirez is the co-founder of OkaySo, a nonprofit building a world where young people can live authentically as themselves by connecting teens with questions about sex and identity to experts who provide support and information.

Why did you decide to launch Okayso?
Elise Schuster: Both of us grew up in environments where we didn’t have access to support or information about sexual health, relationships, or identity and were left to figure everything out for ourselves. I know both of us had times, especially as LGBTQ-identitied teens when we felt really alone in navigating our lives and could have really used a trusted adult to talk to.
Francisco Ramirez: It could have made all the difference. And that’s what brought us both into this field. We’ve both worked in a lot of different areas of the sexual health world but what we saw was that despite a lot of amazing programs, there were still huge gaps for young people, both in how they could get the information they needed and what information was available to them. I was meeting people every day who had questions about identity, about navigating relationship dynamics, about pleasure that were never addressed by anyone in their lives.
Elise: Exactly. I worked in the direct-service nonprofit space for over a decade and we provided incredible services where we actually did talk about some of these things, but only if a young person could make an appointment and show up in person, which most young people just cannot do. When I talked to young people about where they learned about these things instead, porn and Google were at the top of their lists. Both of those, plus general societal/cultural stigma and misinformation about sex and identity means that young people are often making decisions from a place of shame and fear. We wanted to do what we could to get rid of that. That is why we started OkaySo - the two of us imagining a world where an entire generation of young people can make decisions about themselves and their relationships without shame, fear, or misinformation because the support they need is available whenever they need it, wherever they are.

Who are you trying to reach and why?

Executive Director of OkaySo, Elise Schuster
Executive Director of OkaySo, Elise Schuster

Elise: Any young person who has questions - which, let’s be real, is nearly everyone - but especially young people who are marginalized due to location, race & ethnicity, or identity. What we’ve found is that almost every young person has at least one moment in their lives when they have a question and need a trusted answer. For marginalized youth, this is even greater because they are often left out of traditional sex ed, have no sexuality education, or aren’t able to access services.

How does OkaySo work?

Co-Founder of OkaySo, Francisco Ramirez
Co-Founder of OkaySo, Francisco Ramirez

Francisco: Young people create anonymous accounts, then pick a team of experts based on topic areas and ask their question, in their own words, to the team. All the experts on the team receive a notification about the new question and whoever is available first responds. The conversation goes on for as long as the young person needs and we follow up to see how things are going. So far we’ve answered over 11,000 questions from folks across the country.

How do you curate your experts?
Elise: As long-time sexuality educators, we started with our own network, folks we knew we could trust. That has expanded over time via word of mouth to a group of about 35 amazing volunteers who spend about 15 minutes each day answering questions. All of our experts have some kind of training from a peer health education program to a PhD, and we have an application, interview, and training process everyone goes through. Having all of our experts working in teams also helps - the more experienced folks can jump in if a less experienced person needs help answering a question.

How does mobile technology help you achieve your mission?
Francisco: There is no world where OkaySo can work without mobile. We need to make it as easy to open OkaySo as it is to Google something. Being on mobile is the way to do that. For our experts, mobile means we can utilize micro-volunteering. Experts open OkaySo while waiting in line or during a commercial break. It doesn’t feel like a volunteer shift. It feels like giving back a little bit throughout their day. It’s why we have experts who have been with us since we launched.

Have you ever had a question that stumped your experts/volunteers?Elise: Oooh, great question. The thing that really stumps us is less of a question and more of a situation. A lot of the things we’re talking with people about aren’t just facts, they’re more about how we see ourselves or what we believe we deserve. It’s less about giving someone information and more about helping to shift someone’s worldview. Someone in a toxic relationship doesn’t need me to tell them the relationship is bad. They need someone who can help them believe they deserve to be treated well and that they are capable of leaving the relationship.
Francisco: We know we won’t always do that in one conversation so sometimes it’s about planting a seed and hoping they’ll come back so we can try again, and again. As I think we all know but sometimes forget, change is hard!

How can Visible Connect help your organization reach the next level?Elise: We are so thrilled to be working with everyone at Visible Connect. We’re currently getting advice on various aspects of OkaySo from product to finances to data from their incredible mentor network and the sessions we have with our cohort seem like they were designed for where we are in the process. Our time with Visible Connect is going to help OkaySo get ready to go from answering 11,000 questions to answering 500,000.