We Encourage finds new futures for females
Finland’s We Encourage is set to change the course of things for many disadvantaged girls and women around the world – and it will help you help, too.
Forced marriage. Genital mutilation. Honour killings. Lack of education due to poverty or cultural norms.
There are many forms of oppression and abuse girls and women continue to face in the modern world, and not one of them is deserved.
This is a thought that really stuck with Anna Juusela, the co-founder and CEO of We Encourage. She had seen a documentary about an Afghan girl, Sonita Alizadeh, wanting to become a musician. Instead, the girl was to be sold to become a wife to a stranger so that her brother could afford to buy a wife for himself. With the help of the film-maker, she made her way out and is now rapping about women’s rights.
“That really inspired me,” Juusela recalls. “I was hugely upset after seeing the film. It profoundly changed my way of thinking.”
At the time, she was working in retail, teaching companies visual merchandising and studying how trends take off. She was interested in the possibilities of technology, and through her work she had been introduced to artificial intelligence and blockchain.
In the back of her head, she thought she’d keep on working until when she’s 50 and then dedicate her time to promoting girls’ rights across the world.
“I thought that what I was doing at the time was just too different, and I didn’t have the courage to try and do something else,” she tells.
Support and empowerment
However, Juusela didn’t have to wait until she turned 50. In the autumn of 2018, she mentioned her idea – helping girls avoid forced marriages by supporting their families financially through blockchain – at an event. People weren’t put off; they told Juusela to follow through with the idea and present it at a blockchain event later that year. She did, and things really started to accelerate.
“You could say that was when the big wheel started turning,” she describes. “I got more and more enthusiastic and started to do a lot of research about forced marriages, the history of women’s rights, women and religion…”
Now, at 37, she heads a startup that aims to harness the power of technology to improve the future of oppressed girls and women living in poverty. In practice, We Encourage offers a platform for charities, NGOs and small-scale fundraisers to collect funds in a resource-efficient manner. The platform will be launched in March 2020, and eventually the plan is to enable blockchain-based money transfers, which are faster and more affordable than those of traditional banks.
On top of this, the company is building an AI tool to empower girls and women who’ve experienced violence or are under threat of being forced to marry. The tool will also provide professionals, such as teachers and social workers, with information about how to meet these girls and guide them to safety.
Things that simply shouldn’t happen
We Encourage uses two imaginary girls, Arezo and Alaia, as examples of the impact of their work. Their stories are made up, but they owe to real-life stories about girls in both developed and developing countries.
To Juusela, it was a surprise to find out how bad things can happen in countries that take pride in their justice system and equality. Even in Finland, some girls are at risk of being sent abroad to marry.
“Things like that simply shouldn’t happen, especially in a country with a system like that of Finland,” she notes.
The first international project We Encourage aims to launch is one preventing child marriages in Nepal. There are ongoing negotiations with NGOs in India, the US, the UK and Somalia, and the aim is to make We Encourage global.
So far, the 10-strong team, three members of which are co-founders, has been working on a very tiny budget. Eventually, it’ll fund itself by taking a slice of the money that runs through it, whilst also keeping costs low with the use of digital tools.
One thing that’s really important to Juusela is to keep people who donate to charities in the loop about how their money is spent and what kind of impact it has on the communities. Thus, We Encourage makes it mandatory for organisations to report their use of funds.
“It’s also a way to gain visibility for their work,” she explains. “It’s been researched that many people choose not to donate because they don’t really know what the money goes into. This is something we want to change.”
Text: Anne Salomäki
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