This article was written by Blanche Helbling L’21, an alum of “International Women’s Human Rights,” taught by Senior Adjunct Professor of Global Leadership Rangita de Silva de Alwis.
Dimitria Ferreira first learned about the Global Institute for Human Rights (GIHR) while browsing Instagram. Fast forward about two years, and the GIHR alum was one of just six innovators selected from a worldwide pool to pitch her new app to the World Bank at the Annual World Bank Youth Summit. The app, SOROR, was born out of the GIHR Hackathon and is aimed at providing crucial assistance to people facing domestic violence in Brazil.
“In the Institute, I had a chance to meet incredible people,” said Ferreira. “The panelists are amazing. I had the immense opportunity to discover Professor Rangita de Silva de Alwis’s work and to meet Fellows from all around the world,” Ferreira said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there, and sometimes it will be by chance that we discover them – like, for instance being on Instagram and just trying to have some fun – but then, it’s incredible to understand that you can actually go for it. I was really happy to be part of this program.”
Hacking a Solution
The GIHR, housed in the Law School’s Legal Education Programs, is an immersive program created and directed by Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Senior Adjunct Professor of Global Leadership and the Academic Director of the Global Institute for Human Rights, with the bold goal of convening and empowering the next generation of human rights advocates. Program participants hail from around the world and spend the summer engaging with one another in solutions-oriented discussions and coursework encompassing many of the most pressing issues of our era, including climate change, women’s rights, and immigration and refugee justice.
During the summer of 2021, over 65 emerging human rights leaders participated in the 2021 Global Institute for Human Rights - Build Back Better, which placed special emphasis on the human rights needs created and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Hackathon” event is a central tenant of the GIHR programming, and in 2021, students in the program were tasked with envisioning and pitching a product that contributes to the building of a more equitable post-COVID world.
Ferreira collaborated with nine other students to create SOROR, an app that acts as an integrated hub of information, empowerment, and assistance for people experiencing gender-based violence.
“I learned about the Hackathon project on the first day of the Institute, and immediately I thought of helping women. I said, ‘This is the perfect opportunity to show the world that we can act and do something different to end this reality, especially in Brazil, so let’s go for it,’” Ferreira said. “I didn’t doubt for a second. This was an opportunity to show to the world that women are important and that we need to have our voices heard. The sooner we end gender-based violence, the better.”
Growing the Idea
For Ferreira, SOROR was more than just a project; it was deeply personal and mission-driven. Following the conclusion of GIHR, Ferreira has continued to work to bring the idea to life. Her long-term goal is to grow SOROR into a multi-faceted provider of information and wrap-around relief to people experiencing gender-based violence.
“The main functionality that we provide to women is information, because information is one of the most important things that a woman needs when in this position,” said Ferreira. “We want women to know that they are not alone, and that they can find this reliable support here with SOROR.”
SOROR is built upon three integrated pillars: Technology, Empowerment, and Assistance.
The Technology pillar refers to the “hub” of information and resources that SOROR aggregates in its app, which is currently in a beta phase and set to launch first in Brazil before being developed for wider use. With the SOROR app, users will have the ability to pre-save a recorded message that can be sent to two different emergency contacts – a feature that, Ferreira pointed out, sets SOROR apart from many other panic-button apps. These pre-recorded messages help establish multiple avenues of relief in the event that the police do not respond to the panic button’s call, which, in Brazil as well as in other places, is fairly common.
“There is this conception that what happens inside the house is not a concern of the state,” Ferreira said.
The app’s interactive map enables users to find not only the nearest police offices, but also local women’s shelters and other related institutions that may be able to provide relief. Further, app users can navigate to informative blog posts about what gender-based violence can look like and articles detailing what applicable laws and policies might help provide relief.
The Empowerment pillar refers to the community SOROR aims to build through in-person legal and psychological assistance, support groups, book clubs, and professional courses and workshops.
“We plan to open our first space at the end of this year, which is where we will embrace women and gather all the resources, activists, and volunteers who can help us. We also will provide workshops to inform women and to help them understand what gender-based violence is, which is really important,” Ferreira said. “We want to focus on that individual to say, ‘Do you need legal advice? Here are lawyers who can help you. Do you need psychology support? Here is someone ready to listen to you.’”
Lastly, the Assistance pillar refers to the safe physical shelter SOROR will provide for people facing gender-based violence. In addition to temporary housing, the organization also aims to provide financial support and childcare across five different locations – one for each region of Brazil.
Pitching on a Global Stage
In May, Ferreira pitched the concept at the World Bank at the Youth Summit. Though thousands applied, Ferreira was one of six chosen to participate in the competition, which she described as something similar to the popular entrepreneurial investment show “Shark Tank,” if “Shark Tank” were specifically geared toward innovative projects built to solve globally pressing human rights issues.
“I felt like a winner, completely, just to be there,” Ferreira said. “I never in my entire life thought that, with less than five months of work, I would be at the World Bank going on stage and saying, ‘Well, I have this project. Do you want to invest?’ I never thought that this could happen in such a short period of time. Even though we are at the beginning, this was such a milestone.”
Ultimately, Ferreira’s focus remains on one clear goal: to help women.
“If we are helping only one woman or a thousand or a million, that’s what matters,” Ferreira said. “I’m really committed to the cause, not only because I’m a woman, but because I truly believe that when women thrive, the whole society thrives, and SOROR will be my way to show to the world that, yes, that can happen, and we can live in in peace.”