Last year, in response to a series of rapes, attacks and murders in the Cape Town area, UCT graduates Rowan Spazzoli, Tsakane Ngoepe and Louis Buys conceptualised a wearable safety device called The Guardian that would alert security services, the police and others close by if the user was in danger.
The graduates submitted their AllSafe project research to two international competitions and have been selected as finalists in both. They are currently in the United Kingdom preparing for the Oxford Global Challenge, which takes place in Oxford from 30 April to 1 May. Spazzoli will then represent the team at the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland from 3 to 5 May.
“After a successful funding campaign we set to work on better understanding the policing environment in the Western Cape, including examining the problems in the system and exploring the existing solutions. This involved meeting with police officers, government officials, neighbourhood watches, individuals, community policing forums and security guards, and has led to a variety of changes from our original idea, with the core objective remaining the same,” says Spazzoli.
In the last six months of 2016, the team talked to various stakeholders to further their understanding of the problem.
“We went to probably eight or nine different police stations and chatted to captains, colonels, communication officers and heads of police stations,” explains Spazzoli. “We went to all these sorts of meetings and dug deeper and understood that there were many different organisations already there to solve the problem, but there are three main gaps.”
The first is communication. The team found that private security companies don’t communicate with metro police, who don’t communicate with the South African Police Service, who don’t communicate with neighbourhood watch groups.
“You’ve got the resources on the ground;
they are just not communicating properly,” he says.
The second problem is the allocation of resources.
“In Constantia they have licence plate recognition systems, they have beams on the mountain, … they have private security companies, and on top of that they have the highest police ratio and that was the biggest thing.”
Their research found that there are on average 900 police officers for every 100 000 residents in Camps Bay, whereas Harare in Khayelitsha has 23 police officers per 100 000 residents.
The third setback is efficiency. Maximising the effectiveness of existing resources needs to be addressed.
“This was a little bit more difficult to communicate across to people because a device sounds exciting and flashy – you press this button and the police will arrive. But the actual problem is the communication, having the right person respond at the right time,” says Spazzoli.
This is when the team moved to a research project rather than just focusing on The Guardian device.
“We can build an app in a week, but it’s not an app thing anymore … developing the device is the easy part of things, it’s now getting all the right parties on board – that’s the difficulty,” he says.
He and the team have openly shared their submissions and research, and welcome feedback or contributions in all forms.
The Oxford Global Challenge encourages students to find a social issue they’re interested in, map the problem, then map the solution.
When the AllSafe team presents their idea at Oxford’s Said Business School, they will be up against 13 other teams from eight countries.
Should AllSafe be placed in the top three, they will be awarded funding and support to further their research and will be given tickets to the Skoll World Forum and the Emerge Conference for entrepreneurs and young professionals who want to create positive social change.
They are the only team from Africa to have been shortlisted this year; they’re also the first group of UCT students to go to the event.
“We’re representatives of the Bertha Centre and the Graduate School of Business [GSB] and they’re helping fund it, which we’re incredibly grateful for,” explains Spazzoli.
For the team, the most important part of this experience is validation of their idea and a platform to grow AllSafe.
The St. Gallen Symposium takes place annually in May at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The goal is to provide a setting for relevant debates on topics of management, politics and civil society. This year’s symposium aims to encourage debate on “the dilemma of disruption”.
“It was the perfect topic for us. I took all the research and I put it into a 1 800-word piece, and I said this is the problem, this is what we think the solution should be and this is what we’re planning to implement, and we got into the top 100,” says Spazzoli.
The symposium received about 1 500 entries.
“The most important part is meeting the right people that could potentially help; there are investors and a number of other social entrepreneurs who are going to be there,” explains Spazzoli.
The team received coaching from Francois Bonnici, director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the GSB before heading abroad.
“This journey has been incredible, and we wouldn't have gotten this far without the support of our friends and family. So, thank you to everyone who has been involved and a special thank you to Dale Williams who has supported us from day one,” says Spazzoli.
“After this we want to get going. We’ve done our groundwork and the next stage is getting out there,” says Spazzoli.
He will be posting using #AllSafeSA for those who would like to follow the live social media updates.