Shri Shakti Challenge 2021: Powering towards Women-led development
“For all the things you were too afraid to talk about. Start here, from our hand-crafted articles & pass-on the wisdom to others” – announces the blog of StandWeSpeak, a 21st century sexual wellness platform and one among the three winners of the Shri Shakti Innovation Challenge 2021: Amrit Mahotsav Edition, organised by the Indian government (MyGov), the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and UN Women.
The 2021 challenge was launched jointly by MyGov and UN Women India on Aug 17 with the objective to promote women leaders and entrepreneurs who are working towards innovative technological solutions to empower women and make their lives safer.
For example, StandWeSpeak is a SexEd-tech initiative that aims to equip young people, especially women and girls, with the life-skills required to take care of their sexual health and well-being. “Through StandWeSpeak we strive to empower women to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives,” said Priyal Agrawal, founder of StandWeSpeak. “The competition aligns with our vision to leverage technology to do so.”
Seekhlo.com, one of the other winning projects, aims to educate people, including women, on various gender related issues – including laws that guarantee women’s rights and safety.
“One of the work we do at Seekhlo is trying to change gender narratives,” said Sheetal Bapat, co-founder of Seekhlo.com. “We need to work on creating a different gender narrative, creating safe workplaces so that more women can participate in the workforce and occupy leadership positions or establish themselves as entrepreneurs.”
The third winning project, Safe City, uses data to create a map of the areas in a city that are most unsafe for women and girls. “Our crowd map encourages anonymous reporting on sexual and gender based violence which is then plotted and visualised on a map so that we can see the location based trends and use that data to make communities and cities safer for women,” said Elsa Marie DSilva, CEO of Safe City.
The 2021 competition coincides with the 75th year of India’s independence and is a tribute to the government’s initiative to promote women-led development, especially at a time when women’s participation in the formal workforce is at an historic low. In 2021, it stood at 22.3 per cent – this year it dropped by another three per cent. When it comes to entrepreneurship, only seven out of every 100 entrepreneurs in India are women, said a report in 2020, adding “of whom nearly half (49.9 percent), start out of necessity rather than an aspiration to start a business venture.” The study had found that the motivation to grow a business among Indian women was at a low eight percent – as compared to the global average of 21 percent.
“The challenge is a testimony of our vision to promote women’s empowerment,” said Abhishek Singh, CEO, MyGov. “This challenge will go a long way in promoting women’s entrepreneurship and building tech entrepreneurs and tech products of the future, built and developed by women.”
The challenge was divided into two stages, Ideation stage and Proof of Concept (PoC) Stage, and received over 2,700 entries. Following an exhaustive screening process, and stringent shortlisting and judging, 23 participants made it to the ideation stage, where they presented their ideas to a panel, comprising experts from the area of technology, entrepreneurship, women’s safety and women empowerment. Ten finalists were finally selected and were awarded a prize money of INR 100,000 (around $1,388) each to further develop their ideas. Mentorship sessions were conducted to guide them to finalise their presentations for the Proof of Concepts stage. Their ideas were then sent to a jury comprising senior members and officials from Ministry of Women and Child Development, MyGov, UN Women, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and NASSCOM Foundation, to be judged on the basis of their replicability, scalability, ease of deployment/roll-out, and potential risks involved in their implementation. Finally, Agrawal, Bapat and DSilva walked away with the top prize of INR 500,000 (around $6,944) each.
“There is nothing more rewarding than helping women achieve their full potential,” said Susan Ferguson, Country Representative, UN Women India. “The Shri Shakti Challenge focuses on tech solutions for women’s safety and empowerment. We saw some pathbreaking solutions for this year’s challenge and wish great success to each winner.”