Three years ago, at a workshop, I met Anna Juusela, who is CEO and founder of We Encourage.We were in the same group working on a project. The second time I had the opportunity to join force with her was last year for the Campaign We Want We Do, against women violence. I asked Anna to describe of her organization and the activities they are developing to help women.
Women Wheel: What is the story behind the creation of We Encourage?
Anna Juusela: Few years back, in 2016, I was watching a documentary about an Afghan girl, Sonita Alizadeh, who wanted to be a rapper, but she was forced into marriage. Fortunately, the documentary maker ended up buying her freedom. Something shifted in me. I got a strong determination and vision about helping other girls get educated instead of being forced into marriage. Few years, later I let that vision grow in me and in November 2018, I took action to make this vision a reality.
“Forced marriages are not happening just somewhere over there, they happen under our eyes even in Finland”.
In an article published on We Encourage Blog (March 5, 2020), Anna states “using culture or religion as an excuse for behavior (forced marriages, genital female mutilation etc.), is wrong. In all societies, we should respect everyone regardless of religion, culture, or gender”.
If you are interested in knowing more about, We Encourage visit medium.
WW: What is your mission?
AJ: Our mission is to empower women and girls. We started by building the prototype of a fundraising platform to support NGOs that are helping women and girls. We pilot tested it during last fall and succeeded by getting three girls into school. While interviewing NGOs to understand their path points for fundraising, they brought up another problem, domestic violence. To help out with this need, we created AINO chatbot for the violence experiencers. It is a conversational companion offering guidance, help, and psycho-social support.
During the interview, Anna also explained that We encourage is a bootstrapping startup, which means that currently they don’t have funding; however, she said “luckily, I have found amazing people from all over”, for example, from Australia, South Korea, Canada, and others. In total they are 20 people.
WW: What is AINO?
AJ: AINO is a conversational Artificial Intelligent (AI) tool for providing psycho-social support and guidance to women victims of intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, and promoting sexual, and reproductive health. The AI tool is expected to act as a reliable source of information for women on their rights and where to seek different levels of support. The tool provides step by step recommendations to victims, and acts as a helping friend.
Other things that you should now about the tool is that it’s available 24/7, it acts as a first line response to support, it provides life-saving information such as how to prepare safety plans and how to access emergency shelters, and it also considers the accessibility of disabled people.
WW: When will it be available and who can use it? Can it be used out of Finland?
AJ: We are still in the development phase. We have the first prototype ready and now we are in the middle of creating the next version with more functionalities. We don’t yet know when it will be launched for the public, as we need to have many test rounds first to ensure it is safe to use.
Also, we need massive amounts of data to train the tool and we are always looking for people to help us out with data collection e.g. survivors who would be willing to share their story (anonymously), violence professionals to help us with reliable data, etc. The tool is aimed for global markets and we are currently taking our first steps to explore the Tanzanian market.
WW: Who are the partners for this development?
AJ: The tool is built as an open-source project, in collaboration with survivors of IPV, violence professionals, and collaborating NGOs like Nicehearts ry, Naisten Linja, Kynnys ry, and United Nations Technology and Innovation Lab (UNTIL). We also have strategic partners builders like Hyvinpitely, GetJenny, and Datasaur.
WW: Is there something else you would like to add?
AJ: As a woman, who is a firm believer of gender equality, I know there is no such thing as women would be less qualified or weaker than men. There are strong women and weak men, as well as there are weak women and strong men. We all are unique and perfect in our own ways; it is time to break free from the collective conditional programming of gender issues and move towards a new paradigm of valuing each other as human beings. As a mother of a girl child, this way of treating millions of girls as a commodity is unacceptable. We cannot afford to live in a world, where girls are exploited, raped and abused.
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