Organisation: The Creative Co-Operative
Innovation Program: Humanitech Lab
Collaborators: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour, along with subject matter experts in mental health, anti-racism, human rights, data and product design.
Challenge: Recent studies suggest that women bear the brunt of racism in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour report that experiences of racism have long-term impacts to their mental health and wellbeing.
Technology: Maya Cares is a chatbot and wellbeing platform created by, with and for women of colour to address racism through reporting, accessing wellbeing support, and connecting to mental health resources and services.
Validation: The Creative Co-operative developed the platform and validated whether it was genuinely supportive through consultations and testing with 252 women of colour that had experienced racism and eight potential clients.
Feedback: Users provided strong feedback that Maya Cares was a supportive resource, with 88% of women feeling ‘more equipped’ when experiencing racism. The chatbot was described as “an older sister guiding you through the process” of reporting racism and accessing support, said one user.
When Priyanka Ashraf was racially abused in a supermarket, the former lawyer didn’t know where or how to report it.
“It struck me that if I didn’t know the reporting avenues, with the access to information and knowledge I had, there must be many other women facing a similar experience when encountering racism,” Priyanka said.
The realisation spurred Priyanka to investigate the issue further.
Priyanka is the founder of The Creative Co-Operative (CCO), Australia's first startup social enterprise that is 100 per cent owned, led and operated by migrant women of colour, working to close the intersectional and intergenerational wealth gap.
Over 18 months of community engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour, Priyanka and the team focused on identifying the key issues encountered through racism and the types of support the community would find useful.
This led to the launch of Maya Cares, a first-of-its-kind anti-racism tool designed to support the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour, alongside addressing issues of racism.
Through the Maya Cares platform, users can access reporting resources and culturally-appropriates support services through a trauma-informed chatbot. It also provides access to a digital library of wellbeing resources and supports.
Racism: the Australian context
Australia is a culturally rich and diverse country. Home to the world’s oldest continuing cultures, it also has roughly half of its population born overseas or with one or more parent born overseas. Yet many people experience racist behaviour.
The Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion survey found that 20 per cent of Australians had experienced racial or religious discrimination in the last 12 months. Another report found that 20 percent of Australians had experienced race hate talk, with five per cent being attacked due to their race.
Separate research has revealed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour are especially impacted by racism in Australia, with 60 per cent experiencing workplace discrimination and the majority of women surveying reporting to not feel safe in their workplace.
“Knowing that women of colour are disproportionately impacted by racism, we surveyed 250 community members about what they needed when these experiences take place,” said Priyanka.
”They said it was support during the time that racism is occurring or shortly afterwards. We know that a powerful way to process racism is through conversational pathways, and it was through this connection that Maya Cares was born,” said Priyanka.
Validating Maya Cares
To validate Maya Cares and whether this platform could support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour when experiencing racism, The Creative Co-Operative launched a project through the Humanitech Lab. Humanitech is an innovation program led by Australian Red Cross in collaboration with founding partner Telstra Foundation, that is dedicated to exploring new approaches to designing and developing technology for humanitarian impact by working alongside affected communities.
It was tested by 52 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Colour, along with eight potential partner organisations. Results found that 92 per cent of users were satisfied with Maya Cares – a score that is significantly higher than industry standard for a technology product – and 88 per cent felt they were ‘more equipped’ in an experience of racism as a result of Maya Cares. Almost all women (96%) would share the platform with family and friends.
“It is really important to see other people’s stories. The chatbot is like having friends beside me telling me it is fine but it WAS racism.” User
“It’s very cathartic, and feels therapeutic to use.” User
“it’s clear that WoC were consulted. It shines through every stage of the website.” User
“I feel safe to report any such incident. The fact that it’s a chatbot would also be more reassuring to me rather than it being just a form, introducing the concept that you can report racism.” User
“The chatbot is very warm, ,safe and friendly, like an older sister guiding you through the process.” User
“It was wonderful to hear that the feedback Maya Care chatbot was a helpful, meaningful, conversational guide for women processing racism,” said Priyanka.
“I believe that we received this positive feedback because we slowed down and built a product over 18 months in collaboration with community so that it adds value to their lives and is a platform that they genuinely love,” she added.
Part of the process supporting The Creative Co-Operative team to build their product at a pace that was driven by community was Humanitech’s Humanity First Principles. The principles are a prototype being developed to guide people using technology to tackle social and humanitarian problems, and explores how to maximise the benefits for people and planet, while addressing the unintended consequences.
“Humanity First encouraged us to do things differently with our tech, and one of the messages that resonated with us strongly was to ‘move at the speed of trust’,” said Priyanka.
“Traditionally when developing technology, the focus is on ‘failing fast’. Instead, we focused on ‘succeeding slowly’. This allowed us to build and retain the trust of community, and embed values into our technology that we really believe in.
Maya Cares was released publicly on 21 March 2023 for International Women’s Day and Harmony Day, also known as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. To access the platform, visit: mayacares.thecco.com.au.
The Creative Co-Operative will pilot a project using Maya Cares for women experiencing racism in partnership with Red Cross through the Humanitech Lab in 2023.