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The young women using tech to fight Gen Z’s suicide epidemic
Via Instagram @technovationglobal

The young women using tech to fight Gen Z’s suicide epidemic

Technovation teaches girls how to create apps that tackle everything from natural disaster-related depression to domestic violence

Earlier this year, it was reported that suicide is Gen Z’s second-leading cause of death, with the group having more mental health issues than any other generation. Attempting to combat these problems is complex, but young women across the world are determined to do it – and they’re doing it with tech.

Technovation, a non-profit entrepreneurship program, encourages girls to learn how to code in order to create apps that tackle the societal problems they care about – from domestic violence to climate change.

Although it was originally seen as ‘women’s work’, tech is now a male-dominated industry, with men making up 83 per cent of the workforce. This has caused issues in many major tech companies in the past: a recent report revealed that Amazon’s AI recruiting technology developed a bias against women due to its training on predominantly men’s resumes, while jobs in computing often ended up being targeted at men via Facebook’s advertising. 

Since she founded Technovation in 2010, CEO Tara Chklovski has been determined to rectify this gender imbalance. Young women who enter the program are both encouraged and enabled to pursue a professional education and career in the tech field. Chklovski tells Dazed that to date, the “organisation has reached more than 130,000 girls, children, and their families in over 100 countries”.

The program lasts ten sessions, teaching both families and young girls to apply AI tools in order to solve problems that run through their communities. The participants later have the opportunity to enter their ideas into a global competition. “Both programs instill a greater understanding of the engineering design process,” Chklovski explains, “and a mindset of curiosity, creativity, and persistence. Technovation alumni develop lifelong learning and adaptability skills that will be critical for success in the dynamic workplaces of the future.”

It hasn’t always been easy to get girls involved in the program, especially in developing countries that aren’t as accustomed to tech. Chklovski has seen many instances in which parents are hesitant to allow their daughters to participate in the program – though this often changes once they see how much value their child gets out of it. “They end up becoming incredibly supportive, and encourage other girls in their communities to apply.”

Thousands of young women across the world have been positively impacted by the program, which has helped communities across the globe with serious issues. “I see them tackling problems that powerful adults have struggled to address,” Chklovski reveals, “from disaster relief and opioid addiction in the United States, to prenatal care in India, lake pollution in Bolivia, violence against women in Kenya and Albania, and bullying in Uzbekistan.”

“If the app saves a life, it’s already worth the effort” – Team Powerful Daisies

The program’s alumni emerge more knowledgeable, with vocational skills including coding and developing apps. Chklovski asserts that many girls leave more confident, particularly when it comes to their leadership skills, which they’re able to use to assist their communities. “(The girls) have started Technovation clubs in their communities, mentored younger girls, and even founded their own startups.”

Experts have previously warned that mental health concerns among Gen Z will negatively affect them when entering the workplace, suggesting that there’s a lack of preparation both among the younger generation and their future employers. Chklovski is working to combat this by training young girls in advance of heading to work: “Alumni develop lifelong learning and adaptability skills that will be critical for success in the dynamic workplaces of the future.” She’s even got the stats to back it up – a massive 70 per cent of the program’s alumni have an interest in entrepreneurship, and 26 per cent of them have gone on to major in computer science at university. 

After witnessing the disastrous aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey on their hometown Houston, 15-year-old students Tracy Wei and Raina Parikh saw the opportunity to join Technovation. When they started the program, the pair decided to use tech as a way of providing disaster relief to communities like theirs. “We saw others volunteering to help disaster relief,” the girls tell Dazed, “so we wanted to use our own set of skills to help the community.” 

Together they created SAY: Stories About You, an app targeted towards children impacted by natural disasters. It aims to focus on the often-overlooked impact a natural disaster can inflict on a child’s mental health, and allows users to share their stories and form connections with others in similar situations across the world. “We hope that our app can serve as a platform and a therapeutic environment for children to share their experiences from Hurricane Harvey and other disasters without fear of judgement,” Wei and Parikh explain. After completing the program, both girls went on to create a coding club in their high school, where they continue to help other young women get into coding, and hopefully make a difference in the tech industry. 

Thousands of miles away in Brazil, a group of teenage girls have been working on a suicide-prevention app, called Safe Tears, that aims to bring at-risk young adults together in a safe and informative way. The group of 15-18 year olds – who go by the name ‘Team Powerful Daisies’ – developed Safe Tears by gathering a range of tips and messages to help struggling young people, as well as incorporating information and facts, as well as a ‘glass’ that fills and decreases as the user’s emotional state changes. “We thought of phrases and tips that we’d like to hear when we’re not feeling well,” the group explain, “and then address the subject in a responsible and respectful way.”

“In addition, we considered it important that the messages were relaxed in their tone because the target audience is young people, so (we wanted) to provide a welcoming environment, making users feel comfortable expressing their feelings and seeking help.”

The group says their personal aim for the app is to remind people that they’re not alone, and add that their goal for success is not measured on the amount of downloads, but the number of people they can help. “If the app saves a life, it's already worth the effort,” they conclude.

As for the future of Technovation? Chklovski thinks as we move into an increasingly-automated and AI-powered world, “it’s going to be vital for everyone to understand the technologies that are shaping their world, especially underrepresented individuals and communities”. 

SAY: Stories About You is available on the App Store here.