Have you ever sat around with your friends and talked about what really mattered to you and how you wish you could affect change in the world? Was it an injustice you had seen at work? Maybe a woman and child begging on a street corner? A video on Facebook of yet another animal being abused? The unbelievable inhumanity you see daily on the news? Somehow the problems seem insurmountable and your ability to contribute insignificant. So, you finish your commiserations and your glass of pinot, and go back to your life.
Unless you’re someone like Joy Buolamwini, founder of Code4Rights.
A technology education initiative focused on promoting human rights worldwide. In 2013, Joy founded Zamrize to empower youth to become creators of technology as a Fulbright Fellow after earning her Computer Science degree summa cum laude from the Georgia Institute of Technology. 1000s of mobile devices in Zambia are preloaded with health and information apps created with the Zamrize curriculum, including a Women’s Rights app that is freely available to 3 million Airtel subscribers through Facebook’s Internet.org Initiative. As a Rhodes Scholar, she earned a Master’s Degree in Learning & Technology with a focus on increasing participation in computer science education. As a Google Scholar and Astronaut Scholar, her past work includes research on robotics and autism along with developing digital tools for global health initiatives. Joy is based at the MIT Media Lab as a graduate student. There, sh is turning the Code4Rights workshop curriculum into a video training series to teach mobile application development in an accessible manner.
WORK: Code4Rights addresses the lack of participation of women in STEM fields through coding workshops that teach novices how to create basic mobile apps. By facilitating the development of rights focused mobile applications in these workshops, Code4Rights enables participants to create meaningful technology for their communities in partnership with local organizations. For example, Code4Rights in partnership with It Happens Here, a grassroots organization focused on addressing sexual violence, created the First Response app to address sexual violence at Oxford University. Over 30 young women contributed to the creation of the app which provides survivors of sexual violence and friends of survivors with information about optional ways to respond, essential knowledge about support resources, critical contact details, and answers to frequently asked questions. This model of integrating community and code was first established in Zambia, where Joy worked with the women of Asikana Network, to create the first community sourced Women’s Rights App. The Code4Rights process enables participants to gain confidence and experience in creating solutions to problems in their communities.