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If We Can Beat Covid, We Can Beat Discrimination

Inspired by the COVID tracing app, Otago-based startup Equall is aiming to help communities and businesses identify and stamp out discrimination.

For Duncan Faulkner, a tech entrepreneur from Otago, 2020 was always going to be the year of change. After spending the last five years building and growing Auditz, an app helping small to medium-sized businesses manage their health and safety, he was ready for something new.

Duncan Faulkner

Most of all, Faulkner wanted to create something that would drive significant change on a global scale.

When New Zealand went into lockdown, Faulkner became inspired by the COVID-19 response.

“There was this team feeling in New Zealand - this team of 5 million,” says Faulkner, “Everyone was feeling like we did an amazing job battling COVID, this new and invisible thing. We managed to stamp it out in a matter of weeks.”

During that time, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began gaining momentum across the world. According to Faulkner, the movement came forwards and placed COVID-19 on the backburner.

When asked by a mentor which issue was more important, Faulkner thought about it and realised it was BLM.

“It was affecting more people. It’s this invisible thing that’s been around since the beginning of time affecting 1 in 2 people, and we haven’t managed to fix it. Yet with this entirely new disease, we got on top of it and created strategies to eliminate it,” he explains.

Faulkner saw an opportunity to tackle discrimination in globally using similar strategies.

It’s an issue close to Falkner as well. He comes from a family of six, two of which were adopted and of colour.

“From birth, I’ve seen how black people are treated slightly differently. My sister and I are the same age, were brought up by the same parents, and yet the opportunities and way people treat us are different. It’s way easier for me being a white male in society,” says Faulkner.

Faulkner also spent six years in the police force in the UK. He says that diversity and equality were ingrained into everything they did. Spending most of his time helping people, mainly those less fortunate, he saw the adverse effects within the community of being foreign and of color..

Knowing all this, Faulkner says no one has truly measured discrimination. Faulkner saw an opportunity in New Zealand’s success in handling the pandemic using the NZ COVID tracer app to solve this problem.

In August, Faulkner founded Equall.app, an app that provides an easy and anonymous way to safely and securely log discrimination. The data feeds into an interactive map that shows hot spots, and users can filter by types of discrimination, allowing them to see how different areas compare.

The information can also be used to lobby governments, stakeholders, and support agencies to do more in those areas. It’s aligned with Equall’s mission to drive society’s inclusivity, a global movement that Faulkner wants to start right here in New Zealand.

As more and more people create logs, Faulkner believes that company names will emerge from the data.

“That becomes the opportunity for us to go, ‘what do you have in place at the moment to manage discrimination?’ The chances are that [the companies] have a policy but nothing else,” Faulkner explains.

The monetised version of Equall acts as an anonymous reporting tool that businesses and government agencies can use to identify discrimination quickly to take positive action.

Employees scan a unique QR code that triggers a mode in the app that reports against their organisational structure.

This version of the app also has the added capability for anonymous two-way communication so that managers can engage with the person reporting it. This function allows managers to offer more support and receive enough information to tackle the problem.

“Typically, people don’t report this stuff because they can’t do it anonymously, and they’re worried about the ramifications or the consequences of doing so,” says Faulkner.

As Equall begins phase one of their launch, Faulkner understands that the first challenge will be getting communities to ‘say’ something if they see or experience discrimination via the app.

It’s the power in data and technology. With enough voices, problems become more difficult to ignore, and those who are working to solve the issues can create more targeted solutions.

“We want to start the global movement right here in New Zealand because I believe we can do it,” says Faulkner.

“If we can beat COVID, we can beat discrimination, or at least we can make a big dent in it.”

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