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STARTED: Incubation Program 2022


Rachel Abbott


SEED GRANT: $110,000

TEAM SIZE: 2 + 1 volunteer, and 1 short-term consultant

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Shen Javier


Kaya Guides aims to reduce depression among youth in India through a guided self-help program delivered by WhatsApp.


  • Kaya Guides offers youth a guided self-help program, delivered by WhatsApp, that teaches them effective tactics to reduce depression. Over the course of seven weeks, youth independently engage with video, audio, and text content, and have a short weekly call with a lay counselor. A meta-analysis of 21 RCTs demonstrates that guided self-help has comparable effects to face-to-face therapy in reducing depression, making it highly cost-effective.

  • Kaya Guides aims to reduce depression for 500,000 youth by 2030.


  • The team estimates that Kaya Guides could be 45x more cost-effective than direct cash transfers in LMICs at increasing subjective well-being.

  • Once at scale, the marginal cost of helping an additional person could be as low as $3.93.


  • Completed a thorough geographic assessment and selected India as Kaya Guides’ focus country

  • Honed the design of their intervention, including identifying WhatsApp as a high-potential mode of delivery for guided self-help that could drive much higher user engagement than mental health apps

  • Traveled to India for a scoping trip in Mumbai and Pune to meet with mental health nonprofits, therapists, youth organizations, and other stakeholders

  • Began qualitative research with youth in India to test key assumptions and gather information about our target population, preparing to conduct one-on-one interviews with 30 youth and broadly disseminate an online survey

  • Initiated hiring process for a head psychologist to train and supervise lay counselors


  • Received certification in designing and scaling mental health interventions in LMICs through an intensive course run by one of India’s leading mental health organizations

  • Developed relationships with mentors and advisors with experience in digital mental health and/or developing and scaling cost-effective interventions in LMICs

  • Formed strategic relationships with stakeholders in the mental health sector in LMICs


  • Kaya Guides’ current funding enables them to run a pilot in 2023. The organization requires additional funding to launch and build out the program post-pilot. Formal launch is expected to take place in September 2023 and will set the stage for incremental scaling, with the goal of reducing depression for 1,000 youth in 2024 and at least doubling Kaya Guides’ reach year on year from that point onward.

  • Donors may contact Kaya Guides directly ( to learn more about what these funds would enable them to achieve. 

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