A handful of opportunities can lead to newfound insight into our perspectives and actions. One of those experiences was the Alumni TIES seminar I attended in November 2019, as an alumna of the International Visitors Leadership Program, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This seminar afforded me the chance to connect and interact with journalists, videographers, and media entrepreneurs from across South and Central Asia and inspired me to want to redefine digital media for women’s security, empowerment, and skill acquisition. After the seminar, I was awarded an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State. Through this grant, I developed the “Women Hackathon and Women Summit: Finding Technology Solutions to Solve Women Security Issues.” The project aimed to find effective solutions through technology for the issues faced by women in the digital era and organized a three-day summit with speakers and mentors from the media industry, start-ups, and government. A one-day Hackathon followed the summit in order for summit participants from start-ups to suggest solutions for women’s critical issues with the aid of technology.
Project plans materialized quickly with stakeholders in January and February and we set a date in late May 2020 to implement the three-day, “She Power Women Summit” and the one-day Hackathon in Kochi, a Southern port city in India in late May 2020. However, in March 2020, the novel Coronavirus spread all over the world. Along with other nations, India headed into a national lockdown. Project execution and the necessary readiness to gear up for the summit and hackathon came to a temporary standstill. All the preparation and logistical planning halted. We canceled the hotel bookings for the summit and the speakers’ travel. With the realization that the public health and safety restrictions were now the new normal, I connected with the U.S. Department of State and World Learning teams to receive guidance on the next steps. With their help, my team was able to successfully convert this in-person program to a virtual one, connecting the summit’s attendees with speakers and participating organizations.
From December 16–18, 2020, the “She Power Women Summit” took place virtually, and participants took part in substantive discussions with women leaders, digital experts, policymakers, and technocrats on how media and technology have historically led to online violence, internet harassment, exploitation, and compromised security for women in South India. Following the summit, a mentoring session and pitch competition was organized for all the attendees, led by the founders of the Kerala Startup Mission, the nodal agency of the Government of Kerala. The winners and first and second runners-up were awarded additional opportunities and support to incubate their ideas with other professionals and organizations. After the mentoring and pitch session, the virtual She Power Hackathon was held on December 20. The Kerala Startup Mission worked with us to organize the hackathon, and the officials of the organization, Startup India stood as the judges. In the search for new technology-based innovations that uplift Indian women, approximately 100 start-ups and enterprises focused on women’s issues, such as security, hygiene, re-skilling, etc., took part in the hackathon and developed various ideas, products, and prototypes.
All of the hackathon winners and runners-up were presented with prize money and incubation mentoring support from the Kerala Startup Mission. “Star in Me,” a women career advancement platform, headquartered at Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, won first prize; “Karma,” a start-up that presented reusable sanitary napkin solutions for women, won first runner-up; “Eco Rich Technologies,” a start-up that creates smart napkin incinerator solutions won second runner-up; and “Pinkpal,” a group of female students from Fisat Engineering College who created a security system for women, won an honorable mention from the judges.
As a media professional and entrepreneur, I can confidently say that we were able to successfully organize a massive campaign and hackathon to find solutions to the issues faced by Indian women in the digital space, especially at a time when many parts of the world are grappling with technological disruptions and consequences during the quarantine. Despite the issues that arose with national restrictions because of the pandemic, my team and I were able to navigate these problems with strong monitoring and evaluation plan and work plan. Additionally, to ensure that attendance at the “She Power” events remained high, I created a website, www.shepower.in, and engaged social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, etc. to ensure that the “She Power” message reached tens of thousands of people in South India. “She Power” has truly proven itself as an innovative program that has shed light on the expansive, ground-breaking work to empower women in digital spaces across the nation.