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Women's Safety Challenge Community Champion Update #1

Photo of Karolle Rabarison
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Karolle Rabarison is our current volunteer Challenge Community Champion. You'll see her popping up across the Women's Safety Challenge with handy tips and words of encouragement – and posting community updates here like a true champion!

We must be setting records with the Women’s Safety Challenge. Just a little over a week into the Research phase, we are fast approaching 300 contributions from the community!

A bus in Bandra, Mumbai, wears a painting of a woman and the appeal "Be Free."
(Photo by Karolle Rabarison)

Part of my role as the Challenge Community Champion is to feature challenge highlights here on the OpenIDEO blog. This week I want to focus on a specific category of contributions: interviews.

Anyone who knows me even just a little bit is already tired of hearing my praises for the internet, for online interaction and collaboration. But! – In addition to all the things we can learn here, there is nothing like detaching from the keyboard and going outside to engage with the individuals who might benefit from our efforts, as well as with the field experts already working with them.

Already OpenIDEATORS are synthesizing and sharing great insights from interviews. Here are three contributions that really got me thinking:

Radha the empowered maid: Aditya Brahmabhatt interviewed his maid Radha about how she spends her day. He shared observations about what an empowered woman from the low-income demographic looks like. Aditya’s observation on the connection between empowerment and financial independence echoes several other contributions shared this past week (examples: a, b, c, d). I’d love to see more portraits of other empowered women as the Research phase progresses.

What women fear most: Justin Koufopoulos interviewed a friend about what it was like to live in Amman, Jordan, and outlined insights on design aspects that make public spaces feel safer. Design aside, what’s most striking about Justin’s contribution is how he was surprised to learn that when his friend felt unsafe, her main fear was always rape or sexual assault. She was not concerned about other crimes like murder or theft.

“Apps don’t make sense in India”: Shauna Carey interviewed Delhi-based nonprofit Breakthrough with’s Amplify Team. Shauna learned that there are lots of people using smartphones in India relative to in other countries, but there are far more Indians who don’t. Apps can’t reach low-income populations without smartphones. Shauna asks, “What other smart social network approximations exist that do not require internet access?”

Among the things I’m looking forward to in the coming weeks is the diversity of insights from interviews conducted in different communities around the world.

Your turn:
If you’re a newbie at conducting interviews or are unsure how to start a conversation on safety and empowerment for women and girls, familiarize yourself with the Interview Toolkit. It even includes three sets of guiding questions: for interviewing people in your community, for urban planning experts, and for experts on women’s and girls’ issues.

Here are additional quick-and-dirty tips for interviews:

  • Probes are your best friends. Probes encourage interviewees to elaborate and describe the how and why. Probes can take a number of forms, including as clarifying questions (neutral, not leading), gestures (leaning forward to hear more), or even sounds (that discreet but powerful ‘mmhmm’). One of my favorite ways to probe is simply to ask for an example: “Can you describe to me an example of a time you didn’t question your safety?”
  • Use a sound recorder, with permission. It’s tough to catch every detail, especially if you’re interviewing solo or when the respondent gets comfortable and drifts from detail to detail the way natural conversations flow. Do keep in mind that recording isn’t appropriate for every situation. Sometimes the recorder itself can be intimidating – use the voice memo feature on your phone; people are surprisingly much less intimidated by it. If you choose to record, the most important thing to remember is to always (always!) ask for permission and to explain how the recording will be used.
  • Welcome awkward silences. The Interview Toolkit already mentions this tip, but it is so important that it cannot be emphasized enough. I discovered the magic of awkward silences back when I used to teach. More often than not, silence doesn’t mean the conversation stalled, but that your respondent is thinking. Let them. The stories they share will be better for it.

One question before you go: 
What surprises you about the Research phase so far?
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Community Champions , Women's Safety Challenge


Join the conversation:

Photo of An Old Friend

My biggest surprise: how many women I was close to had experiences related to sexual assault/street harassment. It disturbed me greatly.

Photo of Karolle Rabarison

Justin, thanks for sharing! A few male friends and colleagues I spoke with last week expressed something similar. Makes sense – and it's great to be able to open up conversation and exchange these differing perspectives.

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