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GDL Coffee Break Podcast:
ElsaMarie D’Silva on fighting sexual- and gender-based violence


In this latest episode of the GDL Coffee Break Podcast, host Khaldun Al Saadi speaks to ElsaMarie D’Silva, social entrepreneur, founder and president of the Red Dot Foundation (Global), about sexual and gender-based violence. Her project Safecity, a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and harassment in public spaces, has gathered data about abuse all over the world in order to combat this issue more effectively.

ElsaMarie worked in the aviation industry for 20 years before she found her calling in working to fight sexual and gender-based harassment. She is an alumna of the US State Department’s Fortune Program and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader and has been listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women. On top of that, she has won the SheThePeople’s Digital Woman Award in the category “Social Impact”.

The project discussed in this episode of the Coffee Break Podcast is Safecity, an application available free of charge on Android and iOS systems and via the Safecity.in website. It is a platform for reporting sexual and gender-based harassment anonymously. The app does not gather any personal data, including the reporter’s IP address, to enable anyone to report the harassment or violence they have experienced without having to worry about anyone finding out or tracing their experience back to them.

The idea for the project came to Elsa in 2012, after reports of a horrific gang rape in Delhi led to what she calls India’s very own “George Floyd Moment”. One in three women worldwide experiences sexual or gender-based harassment or violence during their lives, yet many do not have the courage to speak up about their experience. ElsaMarie came up with Safecity to create a safe space to allow people of all genders to open up and report their harassers.

The main goal of ElsaMarie’s work is to educate and raise awareness about this issue that affects so many people. Sexual and gender-based harassment affects mostly women, yet men find it more difficult to report their experiences when they are harassed. Moreover, non-violent and non-sexual instances of abuse are often normalised in everyday life. With her work, ElsaMarie hopes to provide people with the means to recognise abuse and learn how to talk about what has happened to them. By collecting data and encouraging people to report the abuse that they have suffered, ElsaMarie hopes that people in India and all over the world will become aware of the underlying causes of harassment and work for a safer tomorrow.

Through the data provided, Safecity draws heat maps of especially dangerous zones so that hotspots of harassment and violence can be avoided. All data is available free of charge in an open-source format, enabling anyone to use it to take measures against harassment. ElsaMarie hopes, in particular, to involve local communities in preventative work and believes that providing the data necessary for this will empower people to take action against violence.

Last but not least, ElsaMarie shared some useful tips and strategies for coping with her taxing work. She says that social change is slow and that there is only so much a single person can do to help bring it about. Accepting that doing one’s best is enough is what keeps her going.
On a more practical note, ElsaMarie likes to colour-code her calendar for easy orientation and sort her email by urgency to stay organised. She never leaves emails unopened and does not procrastinate on any assignments. This helps her to stay on top of her tasks and minimises stress. She also advises anyone to keep things simple and well organised, so that tasks can be delegated to others or completed more quickly in the future.

Through collaborations and exchanges with GDL members, ElsaMarie has been able to learn new strategies for how to deal with her stressful work and remain motivated to keep going. Gaining new insights and learning from the perspectives of other GDL members has helped her improve her own work. Together with GDL member Stefan Cibian from Romania, ElsaMarie’s work has helped to make a strong case against human-trafficking in the Eastern European country. With the help of Croatian GDL members, the Safecity app was translated into Croatian, making it even more accessible for non-English speakers.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from harassment or violence, please report it and reach out to others. Help is just one step away.

New episodes of the podcast are released every three weeks. Host Khaldun seeks to get an inside look at the perspectives of young diplomats, experts and activists on the vast array of global challenges we face today by sitting down with them for a virtual cup of coffee.

Curious? Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the conversation! Keep up to date on Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

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Khaldun Al Saadi

Khaldun Al Saadi is of Yemeni and German descent. He lived in Yemen from 1993 to 1995, as a child during the Civil War. His memories from that time still motivate him to seek reconciliation through dialogue as a means of restoring peace. From 2012 to 2016 he studied Arabic language and culture at the University of Leipzig. He holds a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation and graduated from King’s College London with an MA in “Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies”.

Since 2013 he has been a member of the Junge Islam Konferenz (Young Islam Conference), the flagship project of Stiftung Mercator in immigration and integration. He currently works as a project coordinator for the Radicalisation Prevention Centre in the Division for Equality and Integration at the Saxon State Ministry of Social Affairs and Consumer Protection.

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Read more about Khaldun in his blog article

Khaldun is also the host of the GDL Coffee Break podcast. Every three weeks, he guests a member and talks to them about their profession, inspirations and urgent global issues, to name just a few topics. The podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Summaries of the episodes are also posted on the blog

Elsa Marie D’Silva

Elsa Marie D’Silva is the founder and CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. Since Safecity started in December 2012, it has become the largest crowd map on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal.

Elsa Marie is an alumna of the US State Department’s Fortune Program, a fellow with Rotary Peace, Aspen New Voices and Vital Voices, and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader. She is listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women. Moreover, she has won the Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award launched by Dušan Stojanović (European Angel Investor of the Year 2013) and the SheThePeople’s Digital Woman Award in Social Impact.

Prior to Safecity, she spent 20 years in the aviation industry, where she worked with Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. In her last role in aviation, she was Vice President Network Planning.

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Read more about Elsa's work at Safecity and see for yourself in this documentary. She also has a very clear vision for the Global Diplomacy Lab.

Stefan Cibian

Stefan Cibian believes that together we can generate social change and inspire our communities. He is passionate about bringing together global experiences and everyday local activities and does this through his work in research, consulting and volunteering.

Stefan has a background in development, international relations, political science and law and received his MA and a PhD from Central European University. His research focuses on peacebuilding, statehood and development in Africa. He is also involved in civil society activities, focusing on community development and resilience. Stefan is director at Cibian Consulting and co-initiator of the Făgăraş Research Institute. He is a visiting lecturer in international development at Babeş-Bolyai University.

Previously Stefan was an Academy Robert Bosch Fellow at the Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs, Chatham House.

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