In one of the world’s largest slums, a group of young women is utilizing technology to innovate and develop apps and bring tangible change to their community.
In one of the world’s largest slums, a group of young women is utilizing technology to innovate and develop apps and bring tangible change to their community.


Technovation Dharavi (Photo credit: Nawneet Ranjan & Dharavi Diary)

Technovation Dharavi (Photo credit: Nawneet Ranjan & Dharavi Diary)

Dharavi in Mumbai, India is considered to be one of the world’s largest slums. Home to more than one million people, it is a place of hardship and struggle but also hope and innovation. Businesses of every kind thrive in Dharavi, including industries that produce embroidered garments, quality leather goods, pottery, and plastic. One of the most inspiring and innovative endeavors emerging from Dharavi of late is a technological venture being spearheaded by a group of twelve 12- to 14-year old girls.

The girls are driven by a strong desire to break the cycle of poverty by solving problems in their community. A young filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan first met the girls when interviewing Dharavi residents for a documentary. Inspired, Nawneet assisted the girls in renting a small classroom to meet and collaborate and connected them with Technovation, a global technology entrepreneurship program for girls ages 10 to 18. The girls accessed MIT’s App Inventor program to develop an app called “Women Fight Back.” Motivated by the fact that sexual assault is a significant problem in India and women in Dharavi are often harassed when walking home in the evenings, the app helps counter violence against women by allowing users to press a “scream” button that releases an alarm and sends a call to the police. The app also has a GPS and group text feature to notify others and help further the security of women and girls.

After meeting the girls at a PeaceTech Exchange in Mumbai, co-hosted with USIP’s Gender and Peacebuilding program, the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, and Samhita Social Ventures, the PeaceTech Lab at USIP began providing development assistance and technological tutorials to help the girls to release their app on the Google Play Store. The app is currently live on Google Play in India and has been distributed to 50 members of the community. The PeaceTech Lab is also working on enabling the girls to have weekly access to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai for a stable internet connection and a safer work environment.

Looking ahead, these young technologists are working to develop two more apps to better the lives of women and girls in their community: one app will streamline the water gathering process. Water comes only once a day to Dharavi and girls must skip school in order to wait in lines for hours. This app will enable families to register and secure a place in the queue in advance. The girls are also creating an education app to provide women with basic health and hygiene tips and enable girls, particularly those who cannot attend school, to learn English, math, and Hindi. USIP is fostering long-term engagement with the girls to help them continue to release their apps to a broader user base in the community.


One of the girls displaying their app "Women Fight Back" (Photo credit: Nawneet Ranjan & Dharavi Diary)

The Dharavi girls aspire to launch their apps on the global market and provide access to their technology to a wider community. In the face of extreme poverty and deprivation, the girls have displayed courage, ambition, and extraordinary innovation. They are a testament to the power and agency that young people possess to impact their communities and bring about positive change.

Watch a video about the Dharavi girls here.

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@iyabadan on Twitter

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