MEET Village Defense: a crime stopping, social enterprising force
Have you ever suffered from a car break in? How about a home invasion? Ever spied some suspicious folks roaming your streets? Well, some local entrepreneurs are crafting a solution that puts community policing powers in the hands of even non tech savvy citizens. Village Defense is a local social enterprise- an organization using business solutions to solve a troubling social issue. We sat down with the entire team to find out where this idea came from and what keeps them going through the long days in Atlanta’s social enterprise startup community.
Tell us a little about your project:
We make it very easy for neighbors to communicate with each other. We’ve noticed a major disconnect in information flow in communities from neighbor-to-neighbor, so we developed a system that allows for real-time communication amongst entire neighborhoods. When a crime takes place, it is common that no one in the neighborhood knows about it, and criminals take advantage of this ignorance. They can enter and exit at will because they know that we, as neighbors, are not aware and aren’t working together as a team. This is where Village Defense comes in. When a crime takes place, any resident can notify all of their neighbors by calling our 24/7 hotline (after calling 9-1-1). A message will get sent immediately by our live operators via text message and voice call to every resident, alerting the entire community to what is going on and what to look out for. We also place signs in neighborhoods to act as deterrents. Criminals realize that if just 1 person sees them, there is a potential for hundreds of neighbors to turn into witnesses.
How did you get started with it?
In 2006, our founder, Sharath Mekala, was working on the westside of Atlanta as a community organizer. During the day, he worked as an insurance underwriter. In the evenings, he represented his area, in order to protect the interests of his community and to demand basic services, in turn, increasing civic leadership and community empowerment. One morning, while he was at work, Sharath’s home was burglarized. In a neighborhood of 800 people, a fellow resident witnessed teenagers casing the property, but had no way of alerting Sharath or the rest of the community. As a result, Sharath realized the absence of real-time communication at a very local level and Village Defense was born.
What inspires you to do this work?
We care deeply about solving the problem of lacking communication and connectivity in neighborhoods. A breakdown in community will, ultimately, lead to a schism in neighborly cooperation that has been historically cherished. Village Defense hopes to play a part in spreading information so that neighbors can band together for a common purpose.
What challenges have you faced?
The challenges of our startup have not been unique. Hiring, finding office space, system and product development, testing, legal issues, customer service, etc., are all challenges that we continue to confront and tackle. Our current challenge is related to expansion. To combat this obstacle, we’ve hired a marketing team to help us scale up and advertise worldwide.
Are you collaborating with anyone?
We are collaborating with the Grady Health System on a pilot public safety/public health initiative in the Kirkwood neighborhood in Atlanta. Our alert system is being used for both real-time crime alerts and pertinent health content from Kirkwood Family Medicine, thus mutually attempting to reduce crime and increase preventative health screenings. We also have a partnership with Crime Stoppers Atlanta.
What impact are you hoping to have on our Atlanta community?
In Atlanta, we hope to not just be able to use Village Defense to empower and protect neighborhoods, but also to be proponents of social entrepreneurship. We enjoy speaking at schools and helping develop a sense of urgency for kids to use their imagination to help solve pressing problems.
Would you like to see this replicated?
Yes. There are many ways we can change the way we interact with each other at a neighborhood level. Practically anything would be an improvement from our current state of disconnection, so there is a lot of potential progress once we implement some traditional or innovative ideas that bring people together and increase quality of life.
What kind of help do you need to keep this going?
We need the assistance of impassioned and committed individuals both in and outside of Atlanta to continue to work for neighborhood connectivity. If people think Village Defense could be a resource for their neighborhoods in any respect, we would love their support and reference.
What are some of the biggest problems you see facing Atlanta?
All of Atlanta’s problems seem to be related to stagnant progress. From continued issues with MARTA to the quality of public education and high poverty, we aren’t working hard enough on implementing progressive remedies. Additionally, we need to boost our presence in the arts, as organizations like WonderRoot and Flux Projects have begun to do, however, our progress needs to be much faster and with wider impact. If all of our great and local level initiatives begin to grow we will be able to standup comparatively against other big cities and reimagine our city’s direction.
What are some of your favorite things and organizations around town?
Where can interested readers find you?
At our office downtown, on the Georgia Tech campus, eating falafels at Ali Baba’s, working in a random park or coffee shop or in cyberspace at www.villagedefense.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.