Linkage Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
by James Walker
Violence against women and girls is a global issue with which many societies are struggling. Within the last few years, Trinidad and Tobago has witnessed an increase in the number of reports of women and girls of all ages and backgrounds being abused or killed. No matter how many times these incidents occur, the impact is always the same. Citizens around the country have expressed their anger and condemnation over these senseless acts of violence mainly perpetrated by men.
The data seem to back up the collective concern. A Women’s Health Survey funded by the Inter-American Development Bank in 2017 estimated that 100,000 women in Trinidad and Tobago between the ages of 15 to 64 have experienced one or more acts of physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by male partners. And that’s just women in relationships. Clearly, there is a lot more we could be doing to protect our women and girls.
Experts point to a range of interventions that could enhance safety and protection for women and girls through the implementation of awareness campaigns, universal access to sexual and reproductive health, specialised training for hospital staff to screen for violence during routine services, and greater social support services for survivors and their families, inter alia. Some of these interventions require a systematic and long-term approach, and their delivery requires support from government, business, and the established social sector stakeholders. Nonetheless, there is a quiet ground swelling of activity in Trinidad and Tobago, comprised of individuals and groups looking to make a difference in a way that excites them. We see this manifest today through technology-enabled interventions that can provide support to victims and go a step further to prevent violent acts from occurring in the first place.
The Andrea Project is an example of one such group that shows how community-based intervention can create the necessary changes we want to see in our society. Born out of the pain and tragedy stemming from the brutal murder of an innocent young woman in early 2021, over 25 individuals representing a broad range of sectors and professional backgrounds came together to identify how a range of tech-infused opportunities can help keep women and girls safe in our society. The group generated ideas that ranged from creating a crowdsourced registry of public transportation vehicles to gamified training for young people to recognise and address abusive situations.
The Andrea Project is currently focused on building awareness through the creation of stimulating videos that highlights simple features that already exist on our mobile devices to enhance the safety and security of women and girls. It's a known fact that most people aren't even aware that these features already exist on their mobile devices nor is it activated. The good news is that some of these features don’t even require a data connection, which can be a lifesaving measure for someone trapped in a dangerous situation.
The Andrea Project shows how we can transfer pain into purpose to not only save lives, but to create a safer society for all citizens. Yet, they are but only one group. There are many others that have mobilised recently in the wake of such heart-breaking tragedies to combat violence against women and girls. Many of the persons involved nationally are young people who were raised in a tech-enabled and mobile-first environment. They have seen the impact of data, connectivity, social networks and media on our day-to-day lives.
One such individual is Joel Houlder, founder of TTWeSafe. As a recent graduate of the University of Greenwich in Electrical Engineering, Joel was motivated after seeing a post by a young lady on social media, suggesting that female commuters should take photos of taxis before entering them. Joel relates, “I thought her idea was great, but I felt that our Trini culture may make taking pictures of cars awkward for the user. I figured there was a better way. I used to work in a gym where we would scan QR codes affixed to the equipment which would bring up information relevant to the machines. I was able to make that mental link to use a technology that is widely available to quickly verify and validate a taxi.”
Joel Houlder, Founder of TTWeSafe
Joel then went on to develop TTWeSafe, a commuter safety and security mobile application that allows the commuter to verify the taxi driver and the vehicle before entering the vehicle. Commuters can do so even without having data or Wi-Fi on the go. Commuters can share information about their rides with their emergency contacts, such as the time and location they entered the taxi. Commuters can also share their live location with their contacts if they have access to data.
During the commute, the user can program in and receive safety prompts. When a prompt is received, the user will be asked to respond updating their safety status. If the user doesn’t respond within a set amount of time, a message would be sent to their emergency contacts. Another feature is the panic code whereby the user can respond to the prompt with a panic code that alerts her emergency contacts. A panic button built into the app also triggers these alerts. For those without data on the go, an estimated commute time can be input, and the app will prompt the user to confirm that the commute has safely ended.
Key to the success of any development in technology is knowing your user base and forging partnerships with key stakeholders. In this case, the TTWeSafe team has developed deep relationships with the Trinidad and Tobago Taxi Driver Network, which comprises approximately fifty taxi associations and represents more than half of all registered taxi drivers. According to Joel, “taxi drivers are interested because they too recognise the challenges faced by female commuters and want to make them feel safer in their vehicles. By now, I have met with hundreds of taxi drivers and I am amazed at how committed they are to protecting the wellbeing of their female customers. Furthermore, the app is also designed to protect the taxi drivers and there are many female drivers out there who will benefit.” The TTWeSafe team is also focused on educating “PH” drivers on the process and benefits of becoming a registered taxi.
Joel is an example of a young entrepreneur who has been able to see an opportunity and quickly move from idea to concept design to build and (soon to) launch. The very process of looking first to where technology can be applied to solve even complex social problems bodes well for Trinidad and Tobago and for our business and societal landscape going forward. We have a cadre of engineers, scientists, project managers, IT professionals, lawyers, creatives who are pivoting into tech. Our economic diversification and job creation in an “Industry 4.0” landscape depend on continued pivoting and growth for our micro, small and medium enterprises.
The business community in Trinidad and Tobago can play its part too. Businesses can support the entrepreneurs and companies behind the pro-social developments that we critically need. Many of these "early-stage" companies require funding and/or the collaboration and endorsement of a bigger, more recognisable brand. Supporting these initiatives also means promoting the deployment of the technologies among their staff, suppliers, customers, and community stakeholders. For example, once fully launched and operational, businesses could partner with and promote a safe commuting app amongst their employees who take public transport daily.
Ultimately, what matters most is keeping us all safe as the apps, website, games and campaigns that individuals and groups are working on will benefit not just women and girls but society at large. I am personally excited by the developments happening in our own society amongst concerned citizens and the way in which a new cohort of entrepreneurs are turning first to tech solutions to address the sticky and complex issues that our society faces.
James Walker is the Business Development Leader at Heritage Petroleum Company Limited. Prior to joining Heritage, he was a consultant at McKinsey & Company based in London and Panama and worked in a range of sectors around the world focusing mainly on strategy, transactions, and operations. A development economist by training, he is passionate about social justice and education, and founded a social enterprise focused on youth leadership and volunteering called Marti Expeditions building off his experience on similar projects at National Geographic.
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