Imagine driving around Guatemala City when traffic slows to a stop. You have no other choice but to wait patiently until traffic begins to move. Suddenly, a stranger knocks violently on your window. Shaken, you roll down the window and ask what is wrong. Then, at gunpoint, he demands that you hand over your cell phone. The cars do not move and no one seems to want to help you, so you decide to hand over your cell phone, rather than get yourself killed.
This situation goes far beyond losing a cell phone. This person did not just steal your property — he stole your peace and your dignity. Sadly, this is a common scenario for Guatemalan citizens. Crime and insecurity have been a threat in Guatemala for as long as I can remember. It has created an environment of fear and mistrust in every corner of my country.
In 2009, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the homicide rate in Guatemala was estimated at 46.5 of 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the most violent countries in the world. Since then, the data collected by the National Police Department (PNC, acronym in Spanish) has shown a significant downward trend. By the end of 2017, the PNC reported 26.1 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. We have come a long way, yet my country still has one of the highest homicide rates in Latin America.
In 2011, to tackle the lack of security, private sector donors launched Mejoremos Guate (Let’s Make Guatemala Better) in order to work in partnership with government institutions, nonprofits and other organizations to create a long-term holistic development roadmap with short-term actionable initiatives using technology. The Foundation for Development of Guatemala (better known for its acronym in Spanish, FUNDESA), an organization with which I serve as vice chairman, is a key driver of this initiative.
Since identifying the need for change, we have partnered with government institutions and private sector companies and empowered our citizens with several effective technology-based solutions to decrease crime rates. In doing so, we have found these three factors to be vital when creating change through the use of technology.
Give Citizens A Voice
One of the digital initiatives by Mejoremos Guate was the application Alertos, an innovative platform to crowdsource criminal incidents throughout the country. Its main purpose is to empower citizens by allowing them to assume an active role in the fight against violence and corruption. Through the digital platform, any person can report criminal incidents anonymously. The data is available to the public and the local authorities, allowing them to respond more effectively and define a better strategy to combat crime.
When working on an initiative that’s aimed to create change in a community, giving community members a voice is one of the most important elements. Likewise, your best critics are your users, and their feedback should be used to improve your tools. In Alertos’ case, community members wanted us to create a platform where they could report only cell phone thefts. We created a mechanism within the platform that gathered cell phone theft data, such as the most common places for these types of attacks. This way, our users had a powerful tool with the vital information needed to stay away from dangerous areas.