Pink Shirt Day: Richmond entrepreneur aims to snap circle of silence

Zain Askari's cellphone app takes a stand against bullies

A young, Richmond entrepreneur is helping youth take a stand against bullies with a new, high-tech cellphone app.

Called Silent Hero, it allows victims or witnesses to report an incident to the pertinent authorities while remaining anonymous.

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Zain Askari, who created the idea, said he is hoping access to Silent Hero, on a paid subscription basis, can break down the “code of silence” barrier often adopted around bullying incidents.

“When students face bullying or violence, the biggest thing that goes around is that vow of silence — thou shalt not tell,” said Askari, 24, who graduated from McNair secondary and is now studying marketing at KPU (Kwantlen Polytechnic University).

“Essentially, it’s made pretty clear that it’s not cool to tell.

“And that can create a lot of problems, because when the proper authorities, such as staff and other teachers in a school setting, plus parents, are not notified, incidents have the potential to increase.”

When he was conducting research into the subject, Askari said he discovered that 3.2 million school-aged students in North America are victims of bullying.

“And more than 60 per cent of those incidents go unreported,” he said, adding that can lead youth onto paths of depression and self-destruction.

With the help of Silent Hero, that can potentially change.

“I’ve had friends who have gone through bullying and seen how it has impacted them. And I feel it’s really important to be addressed because it can make a profound change for someone.” Askari said.

“If they see or hear something happening, whether it’s right then in the moment or previously, they can report where, when and what took place with Silent Hero. They can also attach a picture and even just audio as evidence and send it.”

The message immediately notifies the authorities at the school on their own mobile phones.

“The system also allows the authorities to communicate with that student by messaging through the app while the student remains anonymous, if they want to,” he said.

Silent Hero, which took Aksari about a month to develop the idea, is simple to use and is geared to children as young as elementary school students. It’s still in the development stage and currently he’s in the midst of gathering support for it from school districts and parent groups.

“I have been speaking to schools and trying to get the attention of parents and school boards for the past couple of months,” he said.

So far, Aksari has yet to receive any feedback, but he remains optimistic he can help change attitudes among not only youths in their approach to reporting incidents, but also introduce Silent Hero a wider audience, including community policing initiatives and even neighbourhood watch organizations.

“The whole reason why it’s primarily aimed at younger kids is just as the product name Silent Hero says, you’re reporting something, but it also makes you a hero by possibly helping change someone’s life,” he said.

“But I see this being used not just only by schools, but in workplaces and neighbourhoods, as well.”

It’s an ideal that marries both of Aksari’s worlds — one as an entrepreneur and the other as an individual keen to improve his community.

“I love the idea of social entrepreneurship and making a positive change,” he said.

His LinkedIn page lists his vision as wanting to, “disrupt the status quo and create positive change in the world.”

“That’s something I hope to live by,” he said.

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