Up&Ap: Hope Wanjeri and Jacinta Kazenzi, ALX SE’s alumnae on their innovation to boost public safety for women




When Hope Wanjeri and Jacinta Kanzenzi joined the same class at the KCA University in Kenya, they did not think much about it. However, when they kept crossing paths in various hackathons and even meeting again at the ALX software engineering program, they knew there definitely has to be a reason for the constant convergence of paths.

Hope from cohort 14 and Jacinta from cohort 6 are both deeply passionate about innovative software, intuitive design, and secure digital environments. They both have a knack for combining coding skills, creative design, and a commitment to cyber security to deliver exceptional user experiences. These amazing young ladies have formed a formidable power-puff team making sure public spaces are safe for women and other minority groups through the product, She’s Safe. Leveraging on USSD code technology, individuals can easily report and share details about incidents that others should be cautious about. We sat down with them for a chat on their incredible journeys into tech and the positive impact their product is having in their communities.

QUESTION: Tell us a little about your experience in the ALX software engineering program? 

Jacinta: I have already graduated from cohort 6 of the program but what carried me through is grit. Just as the motto says, #DoHardThings, the course is very tough but with all the support that I got from peers and mentors and my will not to give up, I went through all the projects successfully. You must embrace collaboration and find a consistent support team that you will walk with the entire course.

Hope: It has not been easy juggling ALX, my university studies and also working on the project. The tasks are very many but what has helped me the most is proper time management. I sleep less and I have a limited social life but I know it will all be worth it at the end. At the moment, I am in cohort 14 and we are in sprint 2 hence so far so good even though it is very tough.

QUESTION: There is a general belief that tech and especially deep tech like software engineering is difficult for women. Did you always aspire for a career in tech? 

Hope: I started coding when I was in high school, and that’s because I chose computer studies as my extra technical subject. As we did our KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) project, I was really intrigued by what a computer could do. I then started thinking of solving problems using tech and coding and that is how my interest started. After I completed my high school studies, I was selected for a software engineering course and I think from there on I knew that I was destined for a career in technology.

Jacinta: In High School, I used to perform very badly in the other subjects that many believe female students would excel. However, when it came to computer studies, I would excel with flying colors to the point where I did not have to revise my notes before going for exams. My teacher of computer studies also really played a great role in nurturing me because he used to tell me that I have a talent with computers and I should pursue it as a career path. I knew, therefore, that I am destined for a career in technology and that is why I am pursuing software engineering.

QUESTION: What will be your advice to the other young ladies who would like to pursue a career in technology but are hesitant to start? 

Both: We have always taken everything as a challenge and I think when people say that tech is not for women, it is a challenge that every young lady should take up and prove that tech is for everyone! Women already possess unique ability for persistence and consistency when it comes to doing something so let us leverage on these natural qualities to tech up space!

QUESTION: We are impressed by the cross-cohort collaboration. Take us through the ideation process for your amazing safety project 

Both: We were participating in a hackathon as partners hence we did user research and found out a security issue that most people are going through. We then realized that almost everyone goes through the same issues, but you fall into the same trap because you didn’t know about the incident. We then built this website where people can share their experiences. For example, several people get conned at a particular street using a particular strategy being employed by the fraudsters.

When they narrate it to us, we will put out some sort of red alert where if others read about it, there will be no other victims and we felt this is a brilliant solution especially for women who face so many dangers and threats on a daily basis. Our goal is to have She’s Safe as a voice of truth site for whistleblowing on potential public hazards and areas people should avoid based on first hand narrations of victims to minimize incidences of harassment and/or every other gender crime.

QUESTION: The internet helps in making things and incidences go viral very fast. What then is your competitive advantage as you aspire to be the voice of truth in spotlighting incidences? 

Both: Viral trends are very momentary and after sometime, they die down. However, She’s Safe will be the one stop place when you want to know which places to avoid. Take the example of a tourist coming to Kenya and she gets to know of this amazing app where she can be warned of places she should visit. It will be easier for her to know them as compared to maybe Twitter where she can only get to hear of such incidents if she follows Kenyans on her Twitter page. The security news on a viral thread might not reach the tourist. Another might be a new visitor in Nairobi and they failed to see a viral story on social media and end up being in spaces they should not be due to safety issues. Our website helps address this issue because you can find that information quickly and easily as compared to maybe the social media handles or pages.

QUESTION: Is She’s Safe a web-based site, or an app? How can the public interact with it? Take us through the technology of building it up?

Both: At the moment, we already have a minimum viable product that is our website and the USSD code although we are yet to publish and go live. We are currently still working on our launch strategy and collecting more stories and thereafter we will start marketing the website and the USSD code. We are employing USSD technology because it works even on feature phones hence more and more people who even lack internet connectivity to send u reports.

For the USSD application, we used node js as the backend language and for the database, we used MySQL. We further used React Javascript to build the frontend and for the UX/UI, we used figma. However, we faced various challenges. One of the challenges was integrating Africa’s Talking but we brainstormed and overcame it. Another challenge is about people being open with their experiences because most people wouldn’t want to expose themselves as ignorant when they get conned or defrauded in ways they could have avoided. However, we are encouraging them that speaking up is akin to being your brother’s keeper so that other people do not fall into a similar situation.

QUESTION: Looking into the future, what is the plan with the project in terms of sustainability and scalability?

Both: We are looking forward to strategic partnerships with NGOs and the police force. NGOs and women groups would be great avenues for us to raise awareness and let people know that there is a solution for enhancing public safety. We envision organizing events and workshops to raise awareness so that people do not get into harm due to lack of knowledge. We will also use these opportunities to empower young women on how they can prioritize their safety, read any signs of danger and show them effective ways of escape. The police will be an important partner because we will get incidents which will require law enforcement to get involved and conduct further investigations to bring perpetrators to book.

To stay in touch with Hope and Jacinta, kindly contact them on: Jacinta (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Github) and Hope (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Github).

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