Friendwatch

A better buddy system for college women.

Photo of Gitika Pahwa
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Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

October 24th, 2001.

Where are you located:

CA: San Mateo (94403) | CA: San Jose (95117), Palo Alto (94301), Portola Valley (94028), Foster City (94404)

Date Started

February/ 01/ 2017

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

I care about ending campus sexual assault not only because I am a young woman approaching college, but because of an event that greatly affected my community. In 2016, the Bay Area– and entire nation– was outraged by the actions and lenient sentencing of Brock Turner, a Stanford University student. He had sexually assaulted another female student, who was unconscious at the time, behind a dumpster. The survivor, who remained anonymous, released a deeply emotional statement in which she described her trauma in vivid, frightening detail. After speaking with other female college students, both at Stanford and elsewhere, I realized just how common her experience was. The systemic and cultural perpetuation of this issue was disheartening, but it made it even more essential that I step up to make change. I want women to feel empowered and safe on college campuses.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

~25% of female undergraduates are sexually assaulted each year. There are many reasons why this issue persists, including rape culture, poor consent education, & binge-drinking. These societal issues place an additional burden on women to adapt their lifestyles and protect themselves; if they do not to take heightened safety precautions, many feel unsafe & fearful. An easy, effective safety precaution can empower women with less compromise.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

When conducting research and interviewing 37 female undergraduates about campus sexual assault & safety, I made the following observations:
1. Most sexual assaults/unsafe situations arise after events & parties where there has been alcohol consumption & the victim is alone.
2. Female students often rely on their friends to take care of them, but also say they do not want to be overprotective/awkward when checking in with their own friends, or that they sometimes forget.
3. When asked about safety precautions that they had used in the past/currently use, many mentioned the phrase "text me when you get home safe". From there I realized this is a concept that people are comfortable with that we can build on.

Our free app, Friendwatch, was made with these observations in mind. Using GPS tracking, our app automates check-in texts to friends such as "I am home safe" but, more importantly, messages friends when the user is not marked home safe by their ETA. In the latter case, other friends have access to the user's location on a shared map & are given options on how to proceed, such as calling and texting. Prior setup & automation allows users to have an enjoyable, safe experience.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Say I am going to the same party as my friends, Sophia & Bea. I will send them both an invitation for a Friendwatch, entering the details of the event (friends invited, date & location). On the day of the event, we all get a pop-up asking us where we are going after the party & how we will get there. Using this information, the app can calculate the amount of time it should take for the me to get to my destination safely. I plan on walking home, which takes 10 minutes. After I have left the party, I walk home within 10 minutes and they get a message saying that I am home safe. Bea, however, gets lost and is too intoxicated to find her way home. Once her ETA passes, the app asks her if she is okay. If she replies no, then a message will be sent to Sophia and I. From there, Sophia or I will call/text Bea & go to her location ourselves if needed. Our app helps us take care of each other.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Find My Friends is a social app that people use to see the locations of their friends. Our app is different as it is tailored to the needs of college students/safety, events-based (tracking centered around arrival and departure from specific events) & fully automated beyond setup.
Life360 is a tracking app that can be automated. However, it is heavily marketed to parents (which is not focused on/deters students), not events-based, and is not entirely free.
Circleof6 is an app that allows students to share their location with (& contact) close friends. It is not events-based or automated.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We have not officially launched our app yet, but we have gotten feedback from students, professors, and parents. We have talked with at least 50 female college students and 5 university professors over the course of a year and three months. Though our original prototypes received lukewarm to negative feedback, we continued to confer with our users/stakeholders until we found a solution that worked. The feedback on our current prototype has since been overwhelmingly positive! I am confident that we will make a difference because of how much attention we paid to the needs of our target demographic.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Our app will be completed and on the app store by the end of June. From there, we will begin beta testing and promoting our app on college campuses. Our hope is to connect with influential college students, such as RAs, and on-campus Offices for Title IX/Sexual Assault that can promote our app to students at the beginning of the school year. We are currently in discussions with folks from Stanford University, and will actively seek contacts at other midsize universities over the summer. We will also begin building our online presence through a website and social media.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Our team is made up of five members, including myself. We believe that we currently have enough membership to execute our plans. We have been granted $99 from our school for App Store fees.

What we need are more university connections, funding, and guidance. While we have a small network of college students for user research, we are looking to create partnerships with students and faculty who can become "Friendwatch Ambassadors" and promote usage of our app. We hope to receive funding in order to offer a small compensation for our partners, buy a domain for our website, and operational expenses. We would also like to explore the option of applying for a patent, and would need guidance from lawyers and experts who understand the process.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Donations less than $100

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

I brought my idea to my school's Invention Studio and teamed up with four of my classmates– Rachel, Sophia, Merritt, and Beatrice– to make my idea a reality. Our Invention Studio faculty advisor, Connie Liu, helped me lead the team through obstacles and successes. I hope to continue collaborating with them in the coming months. I have also been conducting user research and interviews with friends, family, and school alumni who are currently in college; their perspective has been crucial in the designing of this app.

As mentioned earlier, we hope to partner with students and organizations committed to the same cause as us. This is so that we can promote our app, but also to understand how others are tackling this issue. Sexual assault is a multifaceted issue, and it is important that we solve the issue in a variety of ways. While we focus on safety precautions that individuals can take, we are interested in our app being used in conjunction with other initiatives (such as improved consent education, easier reporting processes on college campuses, etc.).

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

My teacher, Connie Liu.

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Photo of Claire Fallender
Team

Gitika, this idea is great! Sexual assault is such a serious and prevalent issue on campuses and you are very smartly designing a solution that is relevant and focused. I like the iterative way you have been seeking input and advice, testing and then trying again. I have had little experience with the other aps you mention but this seems fresh and different. Would love to see this idea go far. Congratulations and keep up the inspiring work!

Photo of Gitika Pahwa
Team

Thank you! I use principles of design thinking to guide our work; the process emphasizes collecting feedback from users and trying again until you have the most optimal product.

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