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Four years ago, Zoe Condliffe was living in a van when she launched her startup She’s A Crowd as a solo founder. Now, Zoe runs a team of 12 ‘data activists’ who are making a powerful impact on the lives of women and gender-diverse people across Australia.

Almost 90 per cent of women who experience sexual assault don’t report it to the police.

According to Zoe Condliffe, one of the reasons for this shocking statistic is that the way data is collected, analysed and distributed means it reflects existing power dynamics in society.

“The way we collect data is often sexist, racist, classist and ableist and it allows us to turn a blind eye to the issue and not actually understand the scale of it properly,” Zoe tells Startup Daily.

A self-proclaimed data activist, the Monash University PHD researcher is on a mission to change this, using the concept of counter-data.

“Data activists are people who are out there collecting counter data to try and right those wrongs and collect the invisible stories of marginalised people or the invisible data that isn’t valued by society, governments or corporations,” she explains.

“A lot of traditional ways that authorities collect data about sexual assault is retraumatising for survivors. We’re collecting data in new ways. We try to dissolve all the barriers for survivors in sharing their stories of sexual assault and gender-based violence and make it a really cathartic, healing and positive experience for them.”

This work forms the basis of She’s a Crowd, a social enterprise Zoe founded in 2018 while she was working for an international development agency that created Australia’s first ever crowd mapping platform for street harassment, Free To Be.

“Thousands of survivors shared their stories of street harassment on that platform,” says Zoe. “And that’s when I realised survivors are ready to share and there’s an intrinsic desire to be heard and feel like your story matters.”

When decision-makers started to approach Zoe to use the data she’d collected to influence policy, planning and violence prevention, she launched She’s A Crowd.

“I didn’t know when I was going to get my next shower”

In the early days of launching her startup, the biggest challenge Zoe faced was financial security.

“I’d quit my job and was living in my van because I couldn’t afford rent and had no income,” she says. “It was terrifying. I didn’t know when I was going to get my next shower, yet I was going to all these fancy meetings. It was so stressful and challenging on a personal level as well as on a business level. But you have to figure it out and make it work.”

She’s a Crowd took off after six months. One of its first clients was the City of Melbourne. “Having our data reflected in personal safety policies for the entire Victorian transport network is something I’m really proud of,” says Zoe.

Growing faster than expected

Zoe’s goal was for She’s Crowd to become the biggest geospatial database of sexual assault and gender-based violence in the world. She reached this faster than expected – and now has a team of 12.

Like many founders, Zoe has found the level of admin involved in running a business overwhelming. Early on, she received support from MYOB and is seeing the benefits of their online accounting software as her business grows.

“It was really important for a small, feminist, social enterprise just getting started to have that support,” says Zoe.

The easy-to-use software aims to make business owners’ lives easier, especially when it comes to tax time. For Zoe, it’s given her time to do more of what she loves, and less of what she doesn’t.

“It’s good that these days we have access to software where anyone can use it. You can teach yourself. It’s so simple,” she says. “Starting a business is so overwhelming and I’d never had to deal with financials at this level before. With MYOB you can spend your time doing the things that you actually enjoy about the business.”

Making future cities safer from gendered violence

The company has spent its first four years finessing the way it collects data and designing its platform so survivors will share their stories. To date, more than 100,000 survivors have shared their stories on their platform.

Zoe, who has earned accolades from the Victorian Honour Roll of Women and the Telstra Best of Business Awards, says her team plan to spend the next few years improving the way the business distributes data.

This includes building a system where customers can pay a subscription to access data and insights through a dashboard.

To facilitate this, She’s A Crowd is crowdfunding. “Any of our supporters can go and donate to that fund and that will allow us to scale the way we deliver our data,” says Zoe. “So I can look survivors in the eye and tell them, ‘Your data was used to make your city, your neighbourhood safer for women and gender-diverse people’.”

Find out more about She’s A Crowd and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign.