‘Our crowdmap with over 12,500 stories is one of the largest in the world and has been able to contribute to the conversations, understanding of the issue and also inspire solutions at the hyper-local level.’ – Elsa D’Silva, Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation in an interview with Pooja Garg, Founder Chief Editor, The Woman Inc.
PG: How did you get involved in this work? They say there is usually a personal experience which propels such passion. Is there a personal experience/ story behind what started this for you?
ED: About 7 seven years ago, I was looking for my purpose. It coincided with a time when my organisation closed down due to financial issues and I had reached my saturation point in the corporate sector. The incident with Jyoti Singh, gave me the impetus to move forward in following my purpose and in doing so I realised my calling was to work on women’s rights and sexual violence prevention. Of course it took a period of time to narrow the focus and figure out my “why” but once it was clear, there was no looking back.
PG: What were the challenges you faced when you started? Have they eased since then?
ED: I didn’t know the development sector so I had to do a lot of unlearning, learning and relearning. I had to create my networks from scratch and also build credibility for myself and my organisation. I used all my skills that I learned in the aviation sector in my current work and in a short period of time, am proud to say, I have built a globally recognised organisation and brand. Of course different challenges crop up along the way, but if one is focused and clear about the mission then you can get people to follow you, join the movement and also invest in the work.
PG: What are the new challenges you face today?
ED: Always staying ahead of the curve.
PG: What is the one achievement that you prize more than any other, and why?
ED: My self-belief and ability to execute on a vision. I did it in my previous work across 2 airlines and am doing it now with Red Dot Foundation (Safecity).
PG: How has the thought / perception within the area you work in changed over the years? Is there a story that you might want to share about how the perception has changed?
ED: When we started, the ordinary person (not in the development sector) was not talking about sexual violence and its impact on gender equality. Our crowdmap with over 12,500 stories is one of the largest in the world and has been able to contribute to the conversations, understanding of the issue and also inspire solutions at the hyper-local level. Today we are in the midst of a gender revolution where women are demanding their fair share, safe work spaces and equal opportunities to live a quality life.
PG: Is there a certain misconception that you wish people would change within the area you work in?
ED: I would like the socio-cultural taboo around sexual violence to be broken so that women/girls and anyone else who has experienced it can talk freely, without being judged and can seek the help they need.
PG: What gives you hope for the area you work in?
ED: The fact that men are waking up to the fact that they need to be more actively involved in this topic and be active bystanders, mentors and advocates.
PG: If you had the chance to change any one policy in the area of your work, what would that be, and why?
ED: Mandatory sex education in all schools, starting at an early age. This will give students an education on what constitutes sexual violence and abuse, how to deal with it and the legislative or official redressal procedures. It will also open the space to talk about it and have honest conversations.
PG: What makes you get up and do this everyday of your life?
ED: The fact that my work makes a difference to someone somewhere everyday.
PG: What is your vision for the future? How do you see your work and organization shaping up?
ED: A safe and inclusive world for all. We are contributing to it by advocating for safe public spaces and prevention of sexual violence through education, crowdsourced data and community engagement.
PG: If you had just three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
ED: Positive, Authentic and Resilient.
PG: What are the three things that people don’t know about you?
ED: I am a dreamer, love sugarcraft and am quite adventurous. People assume I am boring but I have done tons of interesting things much before they became fashionable – couchsurfing, solo female travel, skydiving, etc.
PG: If there was one poem or book that has inspired you the most on your journey, which one is it? What makes it special for you?
ED: The Man in the Mirror reminds me to be true to myself.
ElsaMarie D’Silva is the Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation (India) and President of
Red Dot Foundation Global (USA). Its platform Safecity, crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. Since Safecity started in Dec 2012, it has become the largest crowd map on the issue in India and abroad.
ElsaMarie is a 2020 IWF Fellow and a Gratitude Network Fellow, 2019 Reagan Fascell Fellow, a 2018 Yale World Fellow and an alumni of the Stanford Draper Hills Summer School, the US State Department’s Fortune Mentoring Program, Oxford Chevening Gurukul and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Leadership Program. She is also a fellow with Rotary Peace, Aspen New Voices, Vital Voices and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader.
She is listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women and has won several awards including Government of India Niti Aayog’s #WomenTransformingIndia award and The Digital Woman Award in Social Impact by SheThePeople. In 2017, she was awarded the Global Leadership Award by Vital Voices in the presence of Secretary Hillary Clinton. She is also the recipient of Gold Stevie Award for Female Executive of the Year – Government or Non- Profit -10 or Less Employees in 2016.
Her work has been recognised by the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations through the Intercultural Innovation Award, SDG Action Festival and the UN Foundation at the Solutions Summit 2016.
She has penned articles that have appeared in CNN, Huffington Post, WIP amongst others.
She has spoken about her work at the Rotary International Assembly 2019, Aspen Ideas Festival , at TEDx MidAtlantic, UN Women, State Department, Vital Voices South to South Leadership Summit. She has been a panelist for World Bank, NDI, USIP, SheThePeople and hosted a roundtable at the Bloomberg CityLab London 2015.
Prior to Safecity, she was in the aviation industry for 20 years where she worked with Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. Her last portfolio was Vice President Network Planning & Charters where she oversaw the planning and implementation of 500 daily flights.