The Creative Co-Operative and Josef partner to power anti-racism tool

“If we can’t talk about racism as a victim of racism, how on earth can we solve that problem?”

With the lack of a safe space to get resources and help when dealing with an incident involving racism, Australia’s first startup 100% powered by migrant Women of Color – The Creative Co-Operative, has set out to build a digital space to address that issue.

Maya Cares is the digital “Big Sis”, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Color respond to racism to curb the harm to their mental health and wellbeing. This community resource consists of a chatbot, powered by Josef, through which users can receive immediate support when experiencing racism. The chatbot is a trauma-informed and conversational resource that users can interact with, stepping them through the process of reporting or accessing culturally appropriate wellbeing and mental health support. The resource also consists of a resource library with 100+ resources to support the journey to heal from racism, including how to report racism. 

Led by founder and director, Priyanka Ashraf, Maya Cares was founded to tackle barriers to access the mental health and wellbeing support for  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Color who have experienced racism.

Priyanka Ashraf, Founder & Director

Priyanka Ashraf, Founder & Director

Can you tell us a little bit more about Maya cares and how it came about?

So, there’s actually a bit of a story behind Maya Cares and it came from my own personal experience with racism. In the middle of the pandemic, I experienced COVID-19 racism in a supermarket where someone told me to go back to where I came from and take the COVID19 disease back with me. 

Although it was a traumatic experience for me, I confronted her and called her out for her negative behavior. Culturally, not everyone will respond that way. Even my immediate circle of friends who were Women of Color were quite shocked that I did that.

Because of that, it dawned upon me that racism has been so deeply embedded within us and we’re so used to being treated as such that sometimes we internalize it to the point that we don’t even realize we have done this and when we’re confronted with racism, we may struggle to articulate what has happened. And that itself is a serious problem.

After some time, I spoke with another friend of mine who works in the anti-racism space and she just said to me, “why don’t you report it?”. And here’s the thing, I was a practicing lawyer – if I didn’t know what avenues exist to report racism, how are people with less access to legal information going to know as well? So, it’s not that racism isn’t happening, it is, but it’s not straightforward to report and therefore address.

That’s where it all came together for me and it became really necessary that we needed to try to come up with a solution – and so that’s why we started our journey with Maya Cares.

 

“We usually talk about Maya as humanly as possible so people feel like they’re talking to a big sister as opposed to a bot.”
– Priyanka Ashraf, Founder & Director

So how does the anti-racism bot built in Maya Cares help in supporting victims of racism?

We wanted to create a bot that is intersectional, and responds to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait, Black and Women of Color who have experienced racism. And so, we went on this intentionally considered journey to talk to them and understand their needs

Overwhelmingly, we heard that everybody had three main support requirements – number one, they wanted to be validated. Number two, they wanted access to therapy and lastly, they wanted support. For some people, we discovered that they might just want to read some resources and get information so they can process what has happened. Other people might be ready to speak to a culturally appropriate counselor – there are lists populated by organizations like Pola Psychology and Shape and Sounds that we link to, and that is how we facilitate.

The bot will ask you whether you would like to try to understand if you went through or experienced racism, access some resources or report racism.  

We usually talk about Maya as humanly as possible so people feel like they’re talking to a big sister as opposed to a bot. And so, Maya helps people navigate what is a very confronting situation by creating a validating environment, and a sense of psychological safety so they are equipped and empowered themselves in accessing support to be well on their way on their healing journey.

What are your aims for Maya Cares?

Our goal is to tackle the barriers that are preventing diverse women from  accessing culturally appropriate mental health and wellbeing support. We know that in Australia, there is a significant barrier where culturally appropriate training is only starting to get mandated. At the same time, amongst some communities, there can also be a stigma in consuming mental health services. 

We want to ensure the bot is making an impact – we hope to see the number of conversations rise. This is so that the more we understand what is happening, the more personalized support we can in turn facilitate. We want to see access to better mental health and wellbeing for our communities. 

“Resources like this cannot be built without the lived experience and expertise of the end user - otherwise, we're not going to be delivering services that can meet their full potential to positively impact those we serve.”
– Priyanka Ashraf, Founder & Director

Why do you think bots like Maya Cares are important for the community?

Firstly, I think our bot has successfully created a psychologically safe space for communities to interact and converse online, which is actually quite difficult to re-create – and I think a large part of that is because the look, feel and language was developed with and by the community behind Maya Cares.

We have also engaged over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and Women of Color in the design and development process. Resources like this cannot be built without the lived experience and expertise of the end user. Otherwise, we’re not going to be delivering services that can meet their full potential to positively impact those we serve.

Want to see the bot in action? 

To check Maya Cares out or to get resources about anti-racism, click here. To learn more about Priyanka and her team visit https://thecco.com.au/team/

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