Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Jillian Kowalchuk (JK:) I was born in Canada, although I like to consider myself a global citizen. I’m an avid traveller privileged to have emerged myself in over 50 countries, living in 9, including spending part of my childhood in Yemen. Prior to Founding Safe & the City, I worked in public health across various disciplines, including research, monitoring and evaluation and policy. I was always fascinated by technology and the power it could unlock if more preventative approaches were used to help people keep safe, well and healthy.
MB: What led you to start Safe & The City?
JK: When I moved first moved to London, I used navigation, like Citymapper, to get around the city. However, the fastest route wasn’t always the safest. One night after following Google Maps route, I found myself trapped in an alleyway with two kitchen staff who threatened to sexually assault me. I managed to escape but couldn’t help but think about others who would follow that same route and may not have been as lucky as me.
The lightbulb moment happened when I thought of how powerful an everyday free navigation app could be if its integrated safety intelligence about the known risks, but also empower people to discretely share their experiences so we could use that data to help stop it from happening to others.
MB: What are the main problems you are trying to solve?
JK: Now more than ever is the right time for our solution. Smartphones and mobile application use are at an all-time high, continuing to grow worldwide, providing more means to engage and detect emerging risks and concerns. After the 2017 #metoo movement, sharing experiences of the intersectional street and sexual harassment continues to increase and challenge hidden business operations, bias algorithms and structural inequalities which perpetuate these issues.
Our proprietary technology and the rise of AI/ML (artificial intelligence/ machine learning) capabilities provides us with a window of opportunity to help more people, but also to understand, improve and prevent personal safety issues for different groups.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
JK: We face challenges with some organisations and decision-makers who would prefer not to know about the personal safety issues of the people who connect from their platforms to physical spaces.
Often the decision-makers we speak with aren’t from marginalised groups, so can’t understand certain issues from their direct experience, but can make decisions on others’ behalves. This can widen the data gap and delay finding solutions to tackle these challenges.
Societal issues, like sexual harassment and racism, will appear in any space people connect. However, we can proactively address them, alongside the groups most impacted, and create a shared responsibility to fight for everyone’s right to be safe.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
JK: Safe & the City’s vision is a world where everyone has the right to be and feel safe. We are on a mission to become the world’s most responsible data insights provider, enabling the design of smarter and safer cities.
Safety is a universal, yet complex, need. While we cannot walk in everyone’s shoes, we can engage them in the solution through their everyday journeys. We want to become a zebra purpose-led company by equipping all other technologies to offer safety functionalities to keep people safe from what we know, and engage them in the changes to what we still need to work on.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
JK: Purpose-led business is still a relatively new concept and there will be challenges to find a place where you fit in. Knowing your ‘whys’ behind your business, and why you started, is crucial. You lead the direction of your company, team and impact, so stay true to the mission you set out to do.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
JK – You are too smart to be stressed/unhappy.
MB – Who inspires you?
JK – My brother.
MB – How do you define success?
JK – Success is continuous growth to become the best version of yourself, and the impact you can have on others in the world.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
JK – Self-care and patience with myself.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
JK – “Invisible Women – Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, by Caroline Criado Pérez
MB – What do you do to relax?
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.