Former Uber South Africa exec Alon Lits in new app venture

Former Uber director and general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Alon Lits, and founder and former CEO of Akeso, Allan Sweidan, have launched a new app – Panda.

The Panda App makes it easy for people to access mental wellbeing resources and engage with a community of other app users who may be facing similar challenges.

Users can use assessment tools to measure their mental wellbeing and monitor their progress on their mental health journey.

Should users want to speak to a mental health professional, they can book up to seven 30-minute text-based chat sessions over 14 days.

MyBroadband asked Lits and Sweidan about their decision to create the Panda app and what they would like to achieve.

Sweidan said he has always been interested in the challenge of making mental health care more accessible.

“As the founder and CEO of Akeso, we built seven new psychiatric hospitals in a period of about seven years, in areas where there was no access to inpatient care,” he said.

He added that more than 75% of people who experience mental health problems have no access to care.

“When I met Alon, I realised that together we could create something very powerful — an app that provides mental health care and support, that scales well, and can offer access to first-line, primary mental health care.”

A big benefit of the app is that you sign in anonymously, which means almost all the care you get on the app is anonymised, so there is significantly less fear of stigma or being identified by peers.

Lits also has strong links to the mental health industry. His mother is a social worker, and his wife is a clinical psychologist.

Another driving force for Lits in creating the Panda App was his desire to get back to ‘building’.

“I worked with various founders over the last year, and I have loved this experience. I will continue to support these founders, but I have missed being operationally involved in a business,” he said.

As with Uber, Lits is positive that Panda has the potential to deliver the same positive impact on the mental health industry and in the lives of millions of people experiencing mental health challenges.

The project is currently funded by Lits, Sweidan, and a closed group of shareholders.

They have global ambitions and hope to raise capital from local and international investors to help support their growth into new markets.

The Panda app has five main features available for free in October, which is mental health awareness month.

  • The Bamboo Forest — a platform where Panda users can engage with peers who are going through the same issues as them in a safe, anonymous, audio-only environment. It is offered to users for free.
  • Chat support — users can chat to a registered counsellor up to seven times over 14 days. If you still need help after these 14 days, the counsellor will suggest the next step. Over time this will become a paid-for service.
  • Life-skills content — users can access videos, exercises, and easy-to-read explanations of how to practice mindfulness, have better relationships, develop resilience, and manage difficult feelings. It will become a paid-for service.
  • Screening assessments — users can access scientifically based screening tools that are free and easily scored. Most assessments will be offered for free.
  • Connect with a mental health expert — a feature that will come soon is for users to connect to a mental health expert and make an appointment. Users will pay the mental health professionals for their services.

Now read: Build a new smartphone app for your business – the easy way

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Former Uber South Africa exec Alon Lits in new app venture