Women suffering domestic violence in Albania may soon be able to access an app that allows them to find legal, psychological, and medical resources—and can immediately connect them to an emergency hotline in times of crisis. The app, called GjejZâ, also features a daily educational program that dispels common myths about victimization, offers meditation and breathing exercises to reduce stress, and shares empowering success stories from people who’ve left abusive relationships behind.
It’s a pretty big lift for one app to make. But in Albania, an estimated 50% of women suffer abuse and often don’t report it for nearly a decade. The developers behind GjejZâ spotted the problem because they live there.
The team behind the app, D3c0ders, is a group of three high school-age girls. They just won the senior division of the 10th annual Technovation Challenge, a 12-week program that encourages young women from around the world to learn to code and build a mobile app that fixes some problem in their own community. The teams with the best ideas and execution get flown to Silicon Valley to pitch their idea in front of a judging panel of tech funders, researchers, and top executives.
Roughly 7,200 girls from more than 57 countries participated this year, and the winner of the senior division received $15,000 to continue their work and education. Girls between the ages of 10 and 18 are eligible to form teams and apply. A total purse of $50,000 was spread among top finishers in the senior, junior, and fan-favorite division.
This was the tenth year of the challenge for Technovation, formerly Iridescent, a nonprofit that works to empower young female entrepreneurs in underserved communities. The group has received funding from Google, Salesforce, Oracle, and Uber, among others.
“[It’s] not just learning how to code but really understanding sort of the full spectrum of product development, innovation, decision-making, systems thinking, collaboration,” says Technovation founder and CEO Tara Chklovski. “That’s the entrepreneur’s journey, which is very unique to what we do.”
Employees from different tech companies can also sign on to be mentors for these teams. “One point that I want to draw attention to, especially for educational organizations but also for funders, is that complex social issues like this don’t get fixed overnight,” she says. “If you’re just teaching how to code, it’s only one as a part of this whole story. . . . It takes a lot more work and effort to provide practice in real world problem-solving, complex decision-making, systems thinking, and working in a team. All these skills the World Economic Forum talks about as the skills of the future workforce.”
Here’s a look at the pitch video for GjejZâ. “The apps are judged on technical sophistication, the scale of the problem, and the scale of the impact. Whether the app actually does address the issue in a way that the mentors want it too, and then the ability of the team to execute,” Chklovski says.
A team named Social Relay from India won the junior division. The participants, who grew up in an orphanage, designed a work management app called Baton, which allows nonprofits to better track and maintain their community work. Organizations can upload project descriptions alongside what kind of funding and volunteers they need. At the same time, universities and companies trying to get their students or employees to do volunteer work can use the app to sign up for projects looking for resources.
Social workers provide in-app progress reports, so nothing goes overlooked. That can be important when multiple NGOs are working in the same communities but often unaware of what other social workers are doing, or when one social worker will only be available for a limited time before another replaces them.
The competition included a People’s Choice award for the entry that received the largest number of online votes. That honor went The Brain Squad, a Nigerian collective with an app called Hands Out that allows donors to improve in-country education by contributing money for children’s school fees, food, and books.
“It’s a small amount of money, but it can have a huge impact and can help these children stay in school and build an intellectual economy,” Chklovski says. These homegrown solutions can be powerful, because while U.S.-based sites like GoFundMe and DonorsChoose help in similar ways, that doesn’t mean their look and feel would necessarily translate everywhere. “If you look at the [user interface], a lot of these apps are very, very, different because they appeal to that particular culture.”
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