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Rescue app disguised as cooking aid propels Dal duo to top spot in global innovation competition

Posted by Stephen Abbott on July 6, 2022 in Graduate, Awards, International, Women in Tech
Brother-and-sister team of Anik and Anamika Ahmed, first-place winners of the World's Challenge Challenge. (Provided photo)
Brother-and-sister team of Anik and Anamika Ahmed, first-place winners of the World's Challenge Challenge. (Provided photo)

A brother and sister team from Dalhousie won first place at the global finals of the World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC) for pitching an app that serves as a one-stop safety solution for victims of intimate partner violence. It's a tool allowing people to discreetly access help.

The app, called Mitro, can automatically send messages, record video, and serve as an information point for victims of intimate partner violence. Mitro also easily disguises itself as a recipe app, ensuring victims don’t place themselves in more danger.

WCC asks university students to innovate, developing a solution to a global challenge that aligns with a United Nations Sustainable Development goal. Competitors work in interdisciplinary teams and first compete at the university level to determine who will represent Dal at the global finals.

Anamika Ahmed, a Master of Applied Computer Science student, and Anik Ahmed, a Bachelor of Commerce student, beat out 15 other teams from across the world in the global competition, which is hosted by Western University. The sibling team was awarded $30,000 to continue developing the app.

“The WCC has been amazing platform for me to develop and create things that actually make an impact in people’s lives,” says Anamika, whose desire to study computer science was driven by her passion for innovating ways to improve people’s lives. That desire, with the help of her brother, led to the creation of the Mitro app.

The siblings, both from Bangladesh, say the idea for the app came out of witnessing the attitude towards intimate partner violence during their youth. After coming up with the idea, they confirmed the kinds of features needed in their pre-development research surveying 200 Bangladeshi women.

While the app and resources it provides are primarily directed towards Bangladeshi women, they hope to expand its usage to anyone across the world. The siblings also plan to partner with local organizations to increase the impact of the app.

“We want to start from there and actually expand and probably hand it over to every individual, both male and female,” says Anamika.

How it works

The app has four central functions. First, it has an emergency button that allows the user to send a prewritten emergency message and GPS location to a trusted contact. The message is activated by pressing the power button three times. The app also automatically begins to record audio and video that is stored and can be accessed later for use as evidence.

Second, the app features a relationship safety assessment. In this sense, the app is not just a tool to seek out help, but a source of information as well. The safety assessment helps people understand the nature of a safe relationship and provides a safety plan.

The app also helps connect intimate partner violence survivors with resources, like free legal services, health care, or housing.

“They don’t know where to go. A lot of times women will actually compromise [their safety] because they think ‘I don’t have a backup option or where do I go? I’m financially dependent,’” says Anamika.

In addition, the app contains an AI chat bot that users can ask questions about interpersonal violence or for help accessing resources.

Different skills, big possibilities

The Dalhousie WCC competition is organized and sponsored by the university’s Minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

“Being involved with the WCC competition is a great way to encourage Dalhousie students from all disciplines to work together and think critically about tackling some of the world’s most challenging problems,” says Jenny Baechler, academic lead for the Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and champion for the WCC at Dal.

“The WCC really celebrates the opportunities that are possible when students with different skills and perspectives come together to come up with solutions that are creative, feasible and focused on the well-being and prosperity of communities at home and around the world. Anamika and Anik’s proposal is a perfect example of a workable idea that could have a huge social impact.”

Anik developed the business plan for the app, while Anamika worked on the technical side.

Anik and Anamika say being siblings made the project more meaningful as they worked together to help combat intimate partner violence.

“The fact is, us being siblings made us pour our hearts in this project, because this is something that we’ve been dealing with since day one,” says Anik. “If a problem exists, there is always a solution. I strongly believe this app can wipe away the tears from at least one person facing injustice, which we would consider a success in contributing towards making the world a better place, at least one step at a time.”