Global Health Expert Launches Company To Revolutionize Access To Sexual Wellness In The Femcare Space

When it comes to women supporting women, few have done it with more heart, soul and strategy than Kate Roberts, CEO of  The Body Agency, based in Washington DC. The Body Agency was created to be a one stop shop revolutionizing the way health and sexual wellness is taught, communicated and shared across cultures, genders and generations. The company’s objective is to normalize the conversation around women’s health and care from girls’ first periods to the post menopause years. 

Kate, who originally hails from England, has more than 25 years of experience working in global health, philanthropy, the arts and business. She has founded organizations with PSI, Melinda Gates and The Crown Princess of Norway to build the Maverick Collective. Hers is a fascinating personal and professional story that at times will make you jaw drop, and other moments make you raise your hands in a feminist salute to this powerhouse woman.

With The Body Agency, Kate and her team are working to fill a gap in the business and funding world that has looked at femcare as less important or valuable than other male-driven companies. But as she details below, when VCs and funding agencies choose to ignore women’s health companies, they are not only losing out on businesses that statistically earn better revenue than male counterparts, but also the opportunity to revolutionize the world by empowering women through sexual health, wellness and bodily autonomy.

Read on to get familiar with Kate’s fascinating story, and learn about the inspiring and necessary work The Body Agency are doing today.

We’d love to learn more about where you began in your career! Tell us about starting out in the UK, and working in health and philanthropy? 

I was born in the UK and grew up sailing the world with my father who was a sea captain working for the Merchant Navy on supertankers. This was my first exposure to poverty and the underserved of the world. 

As I launched my own career, I continued to travel as a young adult and ended up living and working in eight different countries from Burma to Holland, mostly working in marketing and public relations for the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. My career led me to Eastern Europe and eventually to be kidnapped by the Russian mafia during a three-year stint in Russia. I did not know it at the time but this experience of being held against my will and not having control over my own body led me to discover my passion to protect and invest in women and women’s health.  

After a life-changing trip to Africa and an epiphany that I could use my marketing savvy to end AIDS, I started my own organization and emigrated to the US. That organization was called YouthAIDS implemented by the global healthcare giant PSI. I used my marketing experience and skills to develop cause-related marketing campaigns together with brands such as MTV, Kiehl’s, Anthropologie, Coke and one significant campaign where we partnered with ALDO Shoes. Together, we engaged some of the top musicians and actors such as Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Salma Hayek, Pink and others with our SPEAK, SEE and HEAR no evil campaign which was sported on dog tag pendants and sold through the High Street stores. 

The campaign raised more than $5 million and led to us being able to invest in life saving HIV innovation across 50 countries. One of the significant interventions was to implement male circumcision in Africa (men are 60% less likely to contract HIV if they’re circumcised). Our work led to an investment of $50M directly from Bill Gates and The Bill and Melinda Foundation and there started my relationship with the Gates’s.

You teamed up with Melinda French Gates and the Crown Princess of Norway to create the Maverick Collective. Can you tell us more about this organization?

The Maverick Collective was the first of its kind to create a collective of bold, risk-taking women redefining what it means to be a philanthropist. We teamed up again with who implemented the programs with the support of the Maverick members to bring promising innovation surrounding big health issues. 

Girls and women make up the majority of the 700 million people living in extreme poverty. The fast way to end it is to invest in them. When girls are healthy, safe and educated, they will help transform societies and lift up their own communities and therefore the world’s economy. Traditionally, philanthropy is about giving money, but we believe that it goes beyond just money to solve problems, it’s about learning, failing fast and people lending their talent and voice to generate impact. Melinda French Gates is a prime example of someone who has done this, and the Collective was built and designed on this model. 

I have since gone on to take the learnings of Maverick Collective to form other philanthropic collectives surrounding conservation and climate, healthcare, micro finance and more recently, sexual wellness.

Today you are based in Washington D.C and are the founder of The Body Agency. Why did you decide to create this company, and what are you focusing on? 

I created The Body Agency because of the lack of products, information, education and services surrounding sexual wellness and particularly female health. Anything pretty much surrounding our bodies such as periods to menopause is either misunderstood or taboo. I also learned over my career that parents lack the tools to talk to their kids about puberty and first sexual debut. Being a parent myself of an 11 year old girl, I see firsthand how important it is to educate in these stigmatized areas, especially with the lack of sex ed in our schools.

There is also a big gap in men’s education pertaining to women’s bodies. If we are truly to create change and remove the stigma, we need to develop tools for both men and women to be able to talk to their kids and understand their own needs. Men can play a huge part in this change. Sexual wellness and sexual equality are human rights and there is such a thing as an orgasm or pleasure gap

One of our medical experts, Dr Laurie Mintz, argues that the primary reason for this form of gender inequity is due to “our cultural ignorance of the clitoris”, both from men and women. We also find it incredibly hard to communicate around the normal functions of our bodies, so they just remain a mystery. In certain parts of Southeast Asia, girls are locked in the cow shed at their time of menstruation and after giving birth as they are considered ‘dirty.’ Half of the world’s population will enter into peri-menopause and not know what’s happening to their bodies or how to go through it painlessly. The Body Agency is going to change that in a systemic way, using medically accurate information and products and services procured from all over the world.

Why is it important to see more health and wellness companies being founded by women? 

First of all, nobody understands women’s bodies better than women themselves. Only 2.2% of women-founded companies got funded in 2020, and thankfully The Body Agency was one of them. This means that all-male teams received the majority, however businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue – more than twice as much per dollar invested, than those founded by men.

Recently, there was a company in Europe formed by men offering a pink glove to remove our tampons! It raised millions of dollars in funding (from men) but then was forced off the market because, well, do I even need to tell you why? It’s insulting and we don’t need it. 

As I stated before, men will play a huge part in fem tech and are often still the decision makers in funding AND need and want the information. Women still have to fight harder in the board room or at the funding table to be heard, but we are trail blazers and there are VCs right now who are just focused on funding women-led companies as we get the results. We are proud of the medical advisory team we have built on The Body Board who are working with us to bring the latest scientific facts and guidance to The Body Agency.

Fem tech is a highly stigmatised sector as its seen as sexual. We are often banned from social media companies. Men still being most of the funders out there, find it incredibly hard to even hear about it, however women make up half of the world’s population so there is a massive financial opportunity.

We are seeing such an entrepreneurial boom for femtech and sexual health empowerment, which feels fitting given the regression for sexual and reproductive health and rights in politics in many ways. What are your thoughts on the current landscape for women’s bodily autonomy? 

Indeed, there is a boom in fem tech, which is really based on need. The menopause market alone is a $600B marketplace, and it’s still underserved. We have been fighting for our sexual and reproductive rights now for decades and our time is really now. Under the Bush and Trump administrations, we have seen The Mexico City policy (often referred to as “The Global Gag Rule”) continue to defund governmental orgs offering abortion counseling, referrals, and often other reproductive health services. This has led to many deaths, unwanted pregnancies and for us to go back in time on our access to much needed health services and products. 

I would, however, like to point out that there are no restrictions of offering Viagra and it’s often funded by the government. The solution is the private sector making reproductive health services and products available in a way that can be accessed, that’s affordable and desirable, without stigma attached.

From first period kits, to education around menopause, there is something for all ages at The Body Agency. What are some of the best-selling kits/most popular? 

Our most popular products are Katie the Vulva Puppet, The First Period Kit and The Menopause Power Kit. We make it easy to have those awkward discussions with your daughters and sons at the time of puberty and also look after the needs of the women hitting peri-menopause. The Body Agency is a one stop shop!

Given your wealth of experience, why do you think there is still so much fear and taboo about women’s sexuality and empowerment around the world today? 

It’s mostly about ignorance. We have never taken the time to educate ALL audiences including the men and politicians. I do believe however, it’s also about power. I will never forget the image of the Trump administration signing the Mexico City Plan policies a day after the Women’s March on the Mall and the smirks on everyone’s faces. 

I am terrified that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ could be a reality one day and we will lose our democracy. People think my concerns and that idea is far-fetched, but I say, take a long, hard look at history, especially as it relates to women’s rights, and you’ll see – it’s much closer to quickly becoming our reality than you think. It’s when the masses aren’t paying attention and when the powers that be are able to distract and confuse the voters that swift and far-reaching laws are enacted and when those truly affected by it finally pay attention, by then it’s too late.

Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in the late 1980s using only existing theocratic and totalitarian political situations as examples. Right now, there are absolutely no safeguards in place that would prevent American women from experiencing dystopian and authoritarian measures even though we’re a democratic republic. 

One of the popular sex ed items from The Body Agency is the Vagina puppet! Can you tell us more about the puppet, as well as the organization in Laos where it is made? 

The Vulva puppet is made by the incredible artisans of The Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre in Southeast Asia. We are honored to be working with them to make our puppets, totes and pouches, which are all unique with handmade, weaved cotton. Our handmade orders allow them to continue to advocate their rights and have sustainable employment.

I am excited to announce also that we are launching our foundation where proceeds from all sales will go into the give back part of the company. We will be focusing on our next generation and making sure that underserved populations have the access to much needed education and health products, as well as generate the data needed to supply the demand. I’m excited to be partnering with George Washington University in this endeavor.

If someone is looking to buy a Body Agency kit for Valentine’s Day, or Galentine’s Day, what can you recommend? 

It depends on the age group of the audience; we have kits starting at puberty and going all the way up to menopause. There are many items to spoil your significant other, such as our lavender bath salts, Sex and Good condoms, SweetSpot Labs Rescue Balm, “Oh Mega” Yummy Gummies, and The Good Chocolate (zero sugar, delicious Himalayan Salt) making up your perfect Valentine’s Day package. The Sexual Wellness Kit is a no brainer, it’s our partner from Tabu and we love how it’s been designed by a mother daughter duo.

If you’re looking for an altruistic idea, a great Galentine’s Day gift could be for a young woman you don’t even know halfway around the world. You can also donate a First Period Kit to girls in Afghanistan. 

Be sure to find your perfect Valentine’s Day kit by heading over the The Body Agency now!

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