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Kate Wallace: Building an App to Combat Human Trafficking

When Kate Wallace saw a flyer for a fellowship program in India, she thought of her Dad’s favorite Woody Allen quote, “90% of success is showing up,” and decided to go for it. Two weeks later, she was on a plane to New Delhi to intern at a medical software company and study globalization. Over the course of her research, Kate grew aware of the lack of education available for kids of a certain demographic in India. She saw this as the root of many social problems in the country, including human trafficking and child exploitation.

Kate’s fellowship required her to write a proposal based on her research. She suggested creating a mobile application to give at-risk children the educational tools to protect themselves against exploitation. But the collegiette wanted to do more than just put her ideas out there and move on, so she teamed up with one of her colleagues, Keiji Kimura, to develop the app, which she called “BeyondABC.” DataWind, a company that designs tablets to be used by kids who don’t have access to traditional schooling, agreed to implement the app into their product. The three developers received support from Sewing New Futures and The Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia, as well as a grant from New Challenge. The project is now in full motion.

As a teenager, Kate was discovered by a modeling agency. She pursued this opportunity for a while, moving to Asia by herself at age 16, but she was deeply unhappy. She later tried her hand at fashion design, but didn’t identify as the “fashion girl” that everyone perceived her to be. Ultimately, she applied to the Design and Technology program at Parsons. She describes a proud moment: “Now when people come up to me and say, ‘And you must be a model?’ I can look at them and say ‘No, actually, I’m a software design engineer.’”

Name: Kate Wallace
Age: 21
College: Parsons School of Design at The New School 
Major: Design and Technology, graduating May 2017
Hometown: Toronto

HC: What are you working on right now?

KW: I am building an app with my colleague, Keiji Kimura, that educates youth in India about the dangers of human trafficking and child exploitation. The app is a game that provides youth with a much needed public service announcement about the warning signs of human traffickers trying to lure kids into exploitive situations. The app is called BeyondABC because our target demographic needs an education beyond academics, they need to be equipped with the necessary life skills to protect themselves from dangerous situations. The project began when I travelled to India for two months earlier this year as part of the India China Institute Research Fellowship to research globalization in India. This is a complex issue; every question I asked led to another 20 questions. As I dived deeper into my research I kept coming back to lack of quality education being at the root of India’s social problems, particularly for young girls. This led me to start to study human trafficking and child exploitation. It didn’t seem like enough to just write a paper about what I had learned and move on, so I started thinking of what I could design to address the issue. This led to the idea for this app.

While building an app for kids who live in poverty might sound counterintuitive, I proposed it could be implemented on DataWind tablets which are designed to be used as an educational tool for kids who don’t have access to traditional schooling, i.e. the same demographic who are targeted by human traffickers. Working with DataWind solves the issue of getting the apps into the hands who need it most. We also received support from two organizations, Sewing New Futures and The Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia. We received a grant from New Challenge, a fund for social innovation at The New School, which has allowed us to travel to India to see the project to completion.

Her Campus: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

Kate Wallace: Right now I’m in India working on BeyondABC, so at the moment that feels like my greatest achievement. But I think the bigger achievement is that I came here even after having a bad experience travelling abroad before. Four years ago to this date I got a modeling contract in Singapore and moved there alone to work for the summer. By the end of the trip I was really miserable. It was too much pressure, I was sick from trying to maintain an unhealthy weight and the environment was mentally exhausting. After that experience I didn’t think I would ever go abroad alone like that again, especially to somewhere so far from home. Fast forward 4 years and now I’ve travelled to India twice to work on my app, BeyondABC. So I think the real achievement was facing my fear and going for it.

HC: What do you think is the biggest factor that led you to where you are today?

KW: I was always really different as a kid and got made fun of for it a lot. I was really tall for my age and was an art geek, and like every kid I desperately wanted to fit in. When I was around 13 I got tired of trying to be one of “the cool kids” and decided to do something different, so I put my height to good use and tried out modeling. While modeling didn’t work out, it gave me the confidence to not try to follow the path everyone else was taking. Now I’ve done a lot of different things throughout high school and college, and while not all of them worked out, each failure and success led me to where I am today.

HC: What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?

KW: I dream of having my own technology start-up and being my own boss. When I was working at the start-up in Delhi I realized that my happiness is not going to come from chasing a promotion or trying to make a lot of money but by seeing the impact I can make on others. There was a morning in Delhi when I was really sick but had to go to my internship because we had an important meeting. I didn’t want to go but then I got an email from an NGO saying how important they thought BeyondABC was and all of a sudden I was inspired and could easily jump out of bed. While I may not have figured out the exact details of what I want to dedicate my career to I know I will do something that ignites the same sense of passion in me that BeyondABC has. And that passion comes from knowing I’m doing something that might change the world for the better in some small way.

HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal/dream?

KW: Stop worrying about being perfect and just do it. The hardest part of doing anything is just starting because it’s so easy to bog yourself down with reasons why you will fail or worrying someone else is better than you. I almost didn’t apply for the grant to go to India because I knew a lot of masters and PhD students were also applying, and I didn’t think I would get it as a second year bachelors student. But I went for it anyways, and ended up receiving the fellowship. The only way you will truly fail is if you don’t try. 

HC: Have you been able to observe the impact of BeyondABC directly? If so, how?

KW: The moment I realized this project had potential was when I sent out emails to NGO’s asking for advice, and when I woke up the next morning my email was full of people saying this app could provide a much needed public service announcement and had the potential to make a real impact. We are just starting user testing so it is too early to say how the kids are going to respond, but we are getting positive feedback from the people who are mentoring us through the development of the project.

Iris was the associate editor at Her Campus. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications and gender studies, but was born and raised in France with an English mother. She enjoys country music, the color pink and pretending she has her life together. Iris was the style editor and LGBTQ+ editor for HC as an undergrad, and has interned for Cosmopolitan.com and goop. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @irisgoldsztajn, or check out her writing portfolio here.
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