UN Women - UNICC Design Thinking Event
Photo: UN Women and UNICC

UN Women – UNICC Workshop for Safer Public Spaces

Incorporating the voices of women and girls in Guadalajara for innovative urban solutions

On 25 and 26 August, over 25 women from the city of Guadalajara and its metropolitan area, in Jalisco, Mexico, engaged in a design thinking exercise to ideate and prototype solutions to make their city safer for women and girls. This event followed up on the Safe Cities for Women Thinkathon organized in November of 2020 by UN Women and UNICC, an event that aspired to amplify women’s and girl’s voices and need for access to safe and inclusive public spaces during the pandemic and beyond, within the framework of the Safe Cities Programme.

The goal of the two-day design thinking workshop was to develop and test solution prototypes, taking the best of the ideas to create a viable product created by UNICC for use in the field.

UN Women recognises the importance of incorporating the voices of all women and girls in their diversity to not leave anyone behind, as well as generating multisectoral alliances through initiatives like this one. Now, we intend to make this innovative proposal into a reality so that it is replicable and scalable in order to guarantee that women and girls from Guadalajara and its metropolitan area can exercise their right to the city free from all forms of violence.

Andrea Cházaro, Coordinadora del Programa Ciudades Seguras en México

The design thinking workshop was a collaborative problem-solving activity leveraging the results of a cycle of interviews with local key actors in innovation and public policy, as well as a survey applied to a variety of women and girls who use public spaces in Guadalajara and its metropolitan area.

Members of civil society organizations, academia, private sector, local government and technologists were invited to the event to learn more about this area of concern – safety for women and girls in public spaces by observing, engaging with women and girl protagonists and to better understand their experiences and motivations.

According to the scoping study carried out in 2018 by UN Women on the situation of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces in Guadalajara:

  • 81% of the women surveyed admitted to having suffered some form of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence at some time in their life while walking at downtown
  • Around 64.5% of women feel unsafe or very unsafe in the public space of Guadalajara
  • For fear of being sexually assaulted or harassed, 82.8% try to walk with someone; and 57.9% have stopped going out at night or very early and a significant percentage (7.6%) claim to have stopped working or studying due to insecurity
  • Only 7.9% of women who were victims of some form of sexual violence reported it. Which means that more than 90% did not report to a public institution. The reasons for not reporting are multiple: 22.6% did not know that they could report; 17% did not report because it was something unimportant and 16.8% responded that they do not trust the authorities.

Brainstorm, prototype, test. Repeat.

On the first day, 24 participants were assigned into four groups, representing four different personas: refugee women, persons with disabilities, indigenous women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, many of them vulnerable in public spaces.

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Credit: UN Women and UNICC

The starting point for the groups were the creative solutions proposed at last year’s thinkathon. The groups worked with a design thinking coach who stimulated and guided the participants through the definition of the problem and ideation process, with two rounds of brainstorming and idea selection, using an innovative and collaborative technological platform known as Miro.

Experimenting fast and cheap is one of the pillars of design thinking. The prototypes resulting from this experience are a first approach to solving a real and important need in terms of safe cities for women.

Isabella Stranger Stranger, Design Thinking Coach

The only constraint was that solutions had to be either web-based or mobile apps. Stakeholders such as members of the local government, policy experts or technologists were present to clarify assumptions, and members of UNICC’s Data and Analytics team based in Valencia, Spain, offered support throughout the event.

The second day revolved around prototyping and testing. The returning participants designed low-fidelity prototyping using basic models of examples of the product. Each group was then joined by two real user test volunteers, who identified as the specific persona of each group.

After the testers provided feedback, each group moved from the breakout rooms to the main room for a final team presentation, where all participants were able to learn about each other’s solutions and engage in a fruitful conversation.

Credit: UN Women and UNICC

From a prototype to the app store

While the main goal of last year’s thinkathon and this year’s design thinking workshop was to inform investment in public safety and infrastructure with a gender perspective at the local level, UNICC has committed to developing one of the solutions for UN Women.

The UNICC Data and Analytics team will work together with the organization’s Applications Delivery team to design and deliver a mobile application that includes the most prioritised, applicable and common features that all women mentioned in their proposed prototypes such as emergency calling and alerting.

Guadalajara is home to 1.3 million people with 51.9% being women. As we hold a mirror in front of us today, we give chance to women who are not here with us and to make their voice louder as their champion. Let us open our minds so we could talk about our relationship with public spaces.
The most useful part of our thought process today will be how our design elicits empathy and compassion and will force us to look at technology solutions differently. The experiential and qualitative data along with the prototype we will envision today can change the way women perceive safety issues. Data can play a positive role in changing the way we interact with public spaces. Let us design one Guadalajara at a time
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Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics Unit, UNICC

Incorporating a gender perspective, along with a responsible, empowering and creative use of technology is a powerful tool to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls.

UNICC is looking for allies to make the prototypes generated through this design thinking exercise a reality to provide digital solutions for women and girls in Guadalajara and elsewhere.

UN Women and UNICC are making a call to action to educational institutions, the private sector, governments and civil society to contribute to having safe public spaces free of sexual violence and harassment of women and girls. The power of change lies in collaboration and the community. See the UN Women Mexico version of this story in Spanish here.

un women
Photo: UN Women/Amanda Vard

Columbia University – UNICC Thinkathon

Team Agritech wins with its ozone-based disinfection system to address Disaster Preparedness and advance human welfare

Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) and UNICC have collaborated to bring students and alumni together to advance human welfare, accelerate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and confront the great challenges of our time in the first-ever Columbia University SPS – UNICC Thinkathon. Teams proposed solutions to three social challenges:

  • Gender equality: Using data and technology to address violence against women during and beyond COVID-19
  • Cyber security: Understanding risks that arise from our reliance on the Internet, focusing on regulatory, policymaking and/or technological solutions in areas of Artificial Intelligence, personal data, automatic decision making and victims of data breaches
  • Disaster preparedness: Reporting on the manner in which COVID-19 has impacted vulnerable populations, to inform solutions and strategic planning to recover and reverse deterioration trends.

A summer-long Thinkathon to advance human welfare

Seven teams have been working all summer on real-world solutions with live data, mentored by subject matter area experts from Columbia, the private sector and UN Agencies.

In June, 17 teams of 3 to 5 people submitted their proposals with a statement of interest, with answers to one of the three challenge prompts and optional supporting documents. Among the initial participants there were 45 Columbia University students or alumni from five different schools, with 38 external students or professionals. Up to ten countries on four continents were represented.

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A review committee studied the submissions and selected seven final teams that moved forward to the Thinkathon competition. These teams have been working throughout July and August together with expert university, private sector and UN mentors to refine their proposals and final presentations.

Three of the teams selected the Gender Equality challenge, two teams worked on the topic of Disaster Preparedness and the last two teams chose the Cybersecurity challenge. Mentors who provided guidance and support included:

  • Edna Chun, Lecturer, Human Capital Management Department, Columbia University
  • Shouryadipta Sarkar, Information Management Senior Specialist, UNDP
  • Shahryar Shaghaghi, Chief Technology Officer, Quantum Xchange
  • Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC
  • Lizzette Soria, Women’s Policy Expert, Safe Cities, UN
  • Jay Kesavan, Data Science Expert and Partner, Bowery Software.

Final presentation and winners

On 24 August 2021, finalist teams had the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a global audience and a panel of preeminent judges, in a live event that featured initial remarks by Columbia University SPS Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Zelon Crawford and presentations from UNICC’s Chief of Data and Analytics Anusha Dandapani and Data Scientist Dishti Gurnani.

Then each team had five minutes for their final pitch, after an introduction by their mentors. The judges had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. After long deliberation, UNICC’s Chief of Data Analytics Anusha Dandapani announced the winners.

Team Agritech was the first-place winner, receiving a $3,000 cash prize, with its solution of a newly-developed, sustainable, proprietary ozone-based disinfection delivery system to tackle the disaster preparedness challenge. The system addresses the matter of food loss and food safety by dramatically minimising the effect of malicious pathogens on agricultural products across the entire supply chain, while at the same time considerably increasing shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood, meats and edibles greens.

Our unique ozone delivery system is designed extensively to be applied in the form of dry or wet methods determined by sensitivity, delicateness, fertility of the treated products.

Agritech Team

Logista Emergency Response was the runner-up. Their solution addressed the Disaster Preparedness challenge with a rapidly deployable and scalable field-based logistics system that gives emergency responders accurate, data-driven insights in order to make the right choices when time and resources are in demand. The cash prize for the runner-up team was $2,000.

The audience-chosen team was The Bulb, which was awarded a $1,000 cash prize for their Gender Equality solution of virtual networking against violence. The team proposed a virtual networking solution to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Their solution contains two major networking platforms, a group chat using a popular communications app and a blog site.

The teams were evaluated for their clarity and innovation, the social impact of their solutions, the capital requirements and financial forecast, the viability, both operational and technical, feasibility and sustainability of the solution, as well as the presentation delivery. The panel included the following judges:

  • Pavan Pidugu, Chief Technology Officer, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Rodrigo Hernan Prado Cordova, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Primus AI, RPA
  • Reda Sadki, President, The Geneva Learning Foundation
  • Ursula Wynhoven, United Nations Representative, International Telecommunications Union
  • Friederike Schüür, Fellow, AI Ethics and Digital Governance, United Nations.

Solutions proposed by other teams were also great:

  • The SafeTeal team proposed an inter-sectional mobile app for gender-based violence prevention and response. The app is intended to engage across the educational space, advocacy circles and the healing space.
  • The Merakhi team also had a solution to the Gender Equality challenge, proposing a smart jewelry and education program.
  • The CV2 team proposed a global, encrypted communications platform to tackle one of the biggest challenges in the cyber security space, by collecting and dispersing information in a timely and secure manner
  • The World ID team proposed a distributed ledger Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providing digital identity solutions designed to immutably protect sovereign, institutional, and citizen-level data and information, increasing scale and integrity in global information systems.

Thanks to this Thinkathon to advance human welfare, participants have been able to sharpen their critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. The challenges have heightened their awareness of global challenges, allowing them to build capacity and share knowledge, and work in collaboration with people with different perspectives.