Safe & The City: a personal safety navigation app that is transforming the way we get around the city

WeWhoDo sat down with Jillian Kowalchuk, founder and CEO of Safe & The City, to discuss how this personal safety navigation app is transforming the way we get around the city.

How does Safe & The City work?

Jillian: Safe & The City is a personal safety navigation app, which routes, shares and rates your walks. Not only does it allow users to get to their desired destination, but it also sends you notifications while walking through any areas the police have flagged as historical streets for crimes.

Our focus is on public transport and walking. For us, this is where someone’s personal safety is most at risk  and where the least amount of technology for protection exists. At least with ride hailing apps, we have clear processes for reporting a driver, and signposting areas that need to change. With our app, we allow users to signal problem areas, find the nearest emergency service, and have built a 2-click in-app process to quickly contact 999: integrating your safety into a navigation system. Our main aim is to keep people safe and our app is completely free. 

We work closely with London city officials, the police and other key partners to demonstrate the value to scale to other cities worldwide. We had early backing from the experienced police officers like Peter Barron, ex-head of Crime Performance and Strategic Risk at the London Met Police, and partnerships with several key organizations, including UN Women U.K. This has given us a great platform to start to bring about meaningful change in London. Last year, we were able to alert our users of the London Bridge attack within 10 minutes of the incident and this begins to show the real power in protecting people around the city with real time data.

Where did the idea come from? 

Jillian: The idea for Safe & The City came from a personal experience. I had just moved from Vancouver to London to complete my public health Masters degree. I always used the typical navigation apps to get around and hadn’t really thought about how they never seemed to work right for me, However, one day I used Google Maps and was led into an alleyway, where I was approached by two men. They blocked my way and threatened to sexually assault me. This was a really scary experience, but unfortunately not an uncommon one. U.K. Government research showed that 85 percent of women experience some form of harassment in their lifetime, with 90 percent of the incidents remaining unreported. 

From that experience, I began to think about what the solution could be and what I could do to help. To my mind, there were loads of apps that could get you from A to B, but none that were tailored to my personal safety. This is when the early idea for Safe & The City came about. I started to think how data could be used to prevent my kind of experience from happening to others and use my report as something that could shape the communities as we move through them.

What do Safe & The City do in the sustainability space?

Jillian: The fact our app is solely focused on walking and public transport means that sustainability is kind of built into the fabric of Safe & The City. We are also part of the Better Future programme, which works with businesses across London to help create a hub for low-carbon and circular industries in the city. 

Additionally, we are looking at how we can explore carbon footprint in the future versions of our technology. Whether that be carbon-free zones, or efficient and safer green ways to get around the city. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

Jillian: We just launched a Crowdfunding campaign on September 28th: The Most Dangerous Word is ‘Just’. This campaign is focused on the important issue of street and sexual harassment. The campaign centres on the fact that millions of these experiences are minimised, not reported, as we tell ourselves it was ‘just’ a comment, or ‘just’ a joke but how this can also change how we dress, or whether we feel safe to walk alone at night.

We exist to make it easier than ever to report incidents of harassment and act on that data. I didn’t want women to just have to rely on texting their friends when they feel intimidated: we need a more robust solution. We’re raising £15,000 to build a tool that will help charitable organisations, use Safe & The City’s insights to make safer streets, schools and workplaces. 

Where do you see Safe & The City in 5 years?

Jillian: Although we have teams in London and Berlin, we would like to be located in all major cities, with local partners, and be driving to create change. We see ourselves as a global data company. We want to be one of the leaders in the field to help enable the design of smarter and safer cities. 

We want to signpost how people can report, and actually bring about meaningful change in local areas. In a period following #MeToo, we are confident that the tide is shifting and we can help protect people who need it most.

Find out more about Safe & the City here and how you can support their crowdfunding campaign.

This article has been posted as part of the Sustainable Start-up Series run by WeWhoDo:  building a community of world-leading experts to help sustainable businesses thrive.

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