Sunday, 11 November 2012

Protecting Innocence

Almost everyone who has an internet connection has a Facebook or Twitter account. Vast amounts of data shared by people on these websites. Even kids have taken to these sites with much gusto. They are born digital citizens. But how safe are children on these sites? It’s not just hacking that’s a threat to children. A new menace is on the rise, mostly unnoticed so far. ‘Cyber bullying’ the virtual version of bullying is widely prevalent amongst children. Three Mumbaikar’s have taken up the task to protect children from this cyber threat. Discovering Mumbai presents ‘CyberSmartie’, a start-up founded by Shekhar Tripathi, Sayantan Sen and Neha Doshi, the people on a mission to protect children from Cyber Bullying.
Cybersmartie at work

Shekhar, 23, was born in Lucknow but has lived in many cities across India. He is an alumnus of BITS Pilani. Neha, 36, was born in Mumbai and is a true Mumbaikar. Sayantan, 30, was born in Ozhar near Nashik and later moved to Pune at the age of 9. He has been in Mumbai for the last two years. Both met at PwC where they worked as consultants. Shekhar gave up his day job six months ago and is now completely involved with ‘Cybersmartie’.

The duo built the concept of workshops for cyber bullying when Sayantan was going through his nephew’s Facebook page. They found a lot of disturbing messages on the 11 year olds page. The kids were bullying a friend of theirs on Facebook. “There were 33 comments on that one status update, and all the comments were made between 9 PM in the night and 7 AM in the morning”, says Sayantan. His first concern was what were kids doing so late in the night? They were surprised, as they thought bullying was something that happened face to face. Disturbed by this incident the duo set out to research on the topic of cyber bullying. What they found was very alarming, they realized that cyber bullying is widespread and decided to do something about it. In fact Over half (53 per cent) of children in India have been bullied online, according to a new Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey released by Microsoft. (source link)
Shekhar Tripathi

Both Shekhar and Sayantan being involved in consultancy, research was their expertise. They searched for information on the net, went to schools to interact with principals and teachers and even counsellors. Their research showed that most of the schools were sensitive to these problems but lacked the resources to deal with them. Some of the schools used the help of police cybercrime cell. “80% of cybercrime’s material is on hacking and email. They don’t tell you how to avoid dangers like cyber bullying, whereas Cybersmartie believes in prevention rather than cure”, says Shekhar. Post their eight month long research they came up with a workshop to impart knowledge about cyber bullying and other things like digital safety, plagiarism etc.

The initial content of the workshop was ready by May of this year, but they didn’t know what exactly to sell to the schools. This clarity came post their first workshop at Lilavati Poddar, that’s when they realized what content can be delivered in one workshop. A typical Cybersmartie workshop is about an hour long. The target segment is class four to class ten. The workshops are designed to be very interactive. They introduce the topic and show a video which talks about a cyber-bullying incident and then they ask kids to tell how they would have behaved had they been in that situation. “We speak for about 20 minutes only, rest of the time it’s the kids who speak, that’s how interactive the workshops are”, says Sayantan. At the end of each workshop, the kids are handed certificates which carry three golden rules to protect them from cyber bullying.
Sayanten Sen

Cybersmartie understands that to tackle this problem effectively they need to address the entire ecosystem of children, parents and teachers. To address the children they have the workshop and online content like videos and games. To parents, they reach out indirectly through an innovative concept called ‘Family Pact’, wherein the children have to disclose to their parents the websites that they surf. “The children go back and explain their parents what Facebook and Twitter are and how they use these sites. The child explains the digital world to his parents and this in a way gives him a sense of ownership and responsibility”, says Sayantan. They also educate the teachers about what social networking sites are all bout and what symptoms they should look out for to identify a case of cyber-bullying. They also work with school boards to help redefine their school policies.

The biggest challenge for Cybersmartie has been the challenge of getting into schools. “Schools in Mumbai are tough to get into. They don’t let you in without an appointment. I have spent hours waiting to get a meeting with the principal”, says Shekhar. So far they have conducted classes for 5,300 plus students in over 30 workshops in Mumbai, and are in talks with few schools in Pune and Nashik. They are looking to double the number of workshops in next three months. Their vision is to cover all schools in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Kolkata in the next five years; to reach out to at least ten lakh students.
Neha Doshi

Given the serious nature of the threat of cyber bullying, they want to spread their message as far as possible and as fast as possible. Their current model based on workshops restricts their reach. Hence, the team is working on creating a product based service. “Maybe then we can hand it over to the schools and they can run it for themselves. This way we can increase our reach”, says Shekhar. Somewhere down the line they would also like to tie up with corporates for their CSR activities. They have also been approached by a few venture capitalists, but right now they are not thinking about external funding. Their focus is on refining the product, its content and pricing.

On the personal front it has been a very humbling experience for the team. The privileges they had working at an MNC aren’t available to them at Cybersmartie. However, the response that they receive from the children at the workshops is very heart warming and is more important than anything else for them. “Sometimes the kids get so excited that managing them becomes difficult. Teachers and Principals have often told us that they have never seen such a response to any of the classes. A teacher once said that we are the saints of this age”, says Sayantan. This cause is very close to their heart and they are completely dedicated to spreading awareness about cyber bullying. Children all over need to be educated about the pros and cons of internet; Cybersmartie is doing that. We wish Cybersmartie all the best in their pursuit to make the internet a safer place for children.

To know more about Cybersamrtie you can check out their Website –
You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter

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