From the research phase, we noticed a couple of things that led us to this idea:
- Feeling safe is often connected to being informed and to be in one's own community
- New comers (in particular migrants from rural areas) are often powerless and "at risk". E.g they are easy target for sex trade or violence.
- Providing jobs to women in low income urban areas is an important step in increasing safety and empowerment through independence.
- Developing a sense of community, shared identity is a first step to empowerment and safety
- Often women have a limited access to jobs due to the transportation issue.
- Safety issues often arise during transportation
We chose to call the concierge a bindi as it is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration. It is also said to protect against demons or bad luck. (The bindi also represents the third eye). The name would change depending on the local context. We tend to think that they could be volunteer but will be compensated for their time by being trained and having access to information. However, depending on the context, they could also receive a small salary.
In our collaboration with WHR in Kathmandu, we decided to change the name so that it is meaningful to the women in the community. Based on the feedback of the WHR team, the name will be " Sahayogi Saathi" which means something like "a helpful friend, or a supporting friend".
Let's imagine how this idea will work:
Imagine Saroji who is looking for a job. Through a local organization ( like VPUU) she got selected and trained. She has a small stand in a busy location (a central place in the neighborhood, probably close to transportation access). She has a badge to indicate that she is the concierge for the community. As a concierge, she has 2 main roles:
- Information sharing: about events in the community and in other communities: about jobs, health issues, transportation, housing, and safe (unsafe) places.
We love Vishal's idea of 2 big boxes, one for "needs" and one for "offers" where people could share and drop off notes. Along with more community volunteers/ NGO, they can consolidate and then get some help better match the groups (that's their connector role).
People tell her stories about what happened and what ways are less dangerous than others. She spreads the news about the safest ways to travel, some warnings and she can help create women’s pools.)
- Connecting: They will not only connect people within the community (in particular new comers), but but they will also integrate the information they gathered "needs" and "offers" and then consolidating them and connect people in the community to other resources, other groups and other communities.
Example 1: Shruthi changed job and her company does not offer transportation anymore (before they had a company bus). Saroji tells her that there is a group of women who leave every morning on the 5:45 bus and she could join them. In the evening, they all wait for each other. Even better, a few live in the same direction so they could walk from the bus station to their place.
Example 2: Sonal mentions to Saroji and she needs to go to an appointment in another part of the city, and is planning to take a certain route. Saroji discourages her because there have been several stories lately, even during the day.
Example 3: Durga, 17, has just arrived from a rural area. Her family told her she needed to find a job and sent her to live with her relatives. …
Saroji is going to put her in touch with the local youth club, helps her (after also involving a local association) to find a series of jobs working for families.
She also tells her about a taxi training program for women and suggests she looks into it as an option.
and make sure that she can talk with Pinky Singh who is now doing the program.
Example 4: Sowmya, 45, is chatting with Saroji, who feels overwhelmed with managing the house finance. She gives her a few tips. She also chats with her about the possibility of expanding the home cook food service, she’s also providing to a few of her neighbors. She recommends that Sowmya goes to the next entrepreneurship meeting organized in one of the after-hour home store front.
Through all these activities, Saroji empowers other women by allowing them to connect to each other, to have tips regarding traveling safely but also helps new comers to the community to become integrated.
It is also empowering her (and other bindis) by providing them jobs or augmenting current jobs. In many places in India, right next to bus stands, busy intersections and temples, there are women-run businesses (let's call it A), usually a small stand selling snacks, flowers, fruits, or vegetables. Wome engage with these businesses. You can also find women runnig small stands (B) nearby that sell tea, coffee, magazines, snacks and cigarettes. These stalls are very common but it's mostly men who engage with it.
If there were a main NGO, they could work with the local press and police to collect information and process them into one page booklets. The NGO's can also rely on their network of Bindis to collect local information. Distribution to the Bindis can be done through existing paper routes. In fact, this is already done: small busineses pay newspaper distributors a small fee to insert their flyers into the newspapers, you could reach the doorsteps and stalls in the thousands for a low cost.
The volunteers at B can then distribute them to the more approachable A s, who can either distribute the flyers to women themselves or can disseminate the information (many of them can read) to women who can't read the local language (this is a big challenge).
The existence of these women also can create a sense of safety among other people in the community as a signal that someone cares ( per "broken windows theory")
Who would become bindis?
They could be for example maids who often work only in the morning (per Aditya’s interview) and who are often already organized (p er Ashwin’s interview). We imagine that other women from community that have small stands could also be bindis. Like Rag-pickers, they know the community inside out and are already being unionized/ working with NGOs. We could leverage their existing skills, for instance vegetable vendors have really good arithmatic/ business skills.
Bindis would be women who have lived in the neighborhood for 3 years and have 3 references from people who know her; possibly go and ask around if people know her (to check how well connected, popular she is). As the program grows, it will also be based on personal connections. The bindis have to connectors and mavens.
Training for bindis:
Per Mansi’s idea, the bindis (selected among women from the community who are well-connected and trusted) who will have previously received training in various skills (accounting, getting a bank account, applying for micro-loans) will work in helping women develop their business. The training part will be a motivation we believe for the bindis. By providing some trips and helping women with basic skills (e.g. set up a bank account, how to get a microloan) as well as helping new comers (with administrative tasks, housing and job search, and connecting them with people in the community), they will empower women in their community. The Bindis would be quite like the Phone ladies for the Grameen project in Bangladesh.
How the model would work?
After thinking of several models, we still believe that a volunteering or cooperative model as suggested by Juan Gomez will work best: we will need some support to start the process, but then the bindis network / collective will be self-sustaining.
Women will volunteer. They will receive training on some basic business and leadership skills (that can be a motivation for them too). They will also train new comers in becoming volunteers, but through their entrepreneurial training they can start new small businesses or improve theirs, therefore making the model self-sustaining.
The training will include basic safety rules, but mostly training related to how to run a business and also some administrative tasks (e.g. opening a bank account, getting a cell phone). So that they can help even women who don’t necessarily have businesses but are just new to the place or need help with basic things.
They would be in a small booth providing some basic skills but also collecting and integrating information they hear on safe zones as well as on women’s pool routes / groups. They will therefore increase safety. Moreover, by connecting with Sonali’s hub idea, we could have utility stores and food places part of the bindis network and providing safety related information, becoming ambassadors/ buddies, signified by a Badge. These stores will also help expand the bindis’ network (per Molly’s suggestion). Women as they walk around of the neighborhood by seeing the badge on some stores will have a sense of increased safety.
P.S: This would not be 24 / 7. During the day until 8 pm or so…
But we will connect with the hub / ambassador or buddies. For example convenience stores and pharmacies that are open all night will have a Badge. The Bindis will provide detailed information on travel, and that coupled with the badges displayed on our ambassador’s shops will create a safe environment for travel.
Inspirations and connections with other concepts:
An inspiration for us was the phone ladies in Bangladesh supported by Grameen bank: Grameen Phone was created in 1996 and is now Bangladesh's largest mobile-phone provider, with 10 million customers - among them 260,000 "phone ladies" who provide village phone service for the poor all over the country. In the village (often the poorest) were offered the possibility to buy a phone and become a phone lady. Most of these women saw their status (economic of course, but social most of all) changed as they became a node in the communication system of their village.
(see also: http://fletcher.tufts.edu/news/2010/05/oped/Hoq-May8.shtml)
We see this concept connected to Mathieu's Women's Pools, but also potentially connected to T asha's Ambassadors Program , or Ratemybus
It is also connected to Mansi's integrator idea, Sonali's hub and Shane's after-hour home fronts
Current prototyping: We had the chance to connect with Women for Human Rights in Kathmandu, Nepal and we are currently working on a version of this idea and working with them to prototype it with 30 women in a slum of Kathmandu.
For a regular update of our collaboration with WHR, we have created a blog. You can check out all our updates here: http://greenhousestories.com/design-tinkering-club/openideo-womenssafety-bindi-idea/