Atlantic Action
Silje Vallestad

From Idealism to Tech - Combining the Two

31 Jul

Silje Vallestad, Alumna from Norway, talks about the impact made since leaving college with bSafe

‘bSafe saved my life! I would most certainly have been dead today if it had not been for bSafe. Thank you!’ This note came from a 30-something year old man who reached out to me last fall to tell me about how bSafe saved him after a severe accident while hiking. He had fallen down a cliff and with the help of bSafe he managed to alert people and an ambulance helicopter arrived just in time. Knowing that the service I founded has saved lives, makes me both humble and proud. And he is not the only one reaching out to tell me and my team how bSafe plays an important part of their lives.

Young women tell us about how bSafe has saved them from attacks and sexual assaults while walking alone at night. Realtors talk about how bSafe is making their professional lives showing empty houses to strange people safer. Young seniors explain how bSafe offers them extra freedom and safety at once. They feel too young for the ‘Help me and I can’t get up’ devices and bSafe offers them what they need.

Our data gives us the details. Yesterday 737 SOS alarms were triggered, 2365 people used Fake Call to get out of an awkward situation and 126 people  used Follow Me to have friends walk them home with live GPS trace. And usage is growing as more and more people find and start using bSafe. India has actually turned out to be our most important market. Unexpected, but with the issue they face of women’s safety, it’s understandable. Every day between one and two thousand new Indian people start using bSafe. That’s pretty amazing! Safety is important to everyone - everywhere - and it’s incredible that the company I founded help enhance the safety of people all over the world.

If someone had told me during my UWC Atlantic College years – or even several years after – that I would start a technology company, I would have laughed. Tech was not my thing. Before UWC Atlantic College I was working with youth politics at the local level in Norway, and at the college I teamed up with a great group of people to start a youth initiative called World Voices to create platforms for young people to speak up and engage with the decision makers of the world. World Voices continued for several years after UWC Atlantic College, and I found myself in positions being the ‘voice of youth’ at a number of high profile conferences. We worked with most of the peace prize laureates and the work brought me to visit the Dalai Lama in India, debate with Hilary Clinton and work with President Frederik Willem De Klerk. I saw my future in the NGO world, or perhaps politics or the UN; never as a tech entrepreneur. That happened by coincidence, based on the need I saw for my children and myself. I knew nothing about tech or business, but jumped in and learnt to swim. My drive was to use technology to improve safety.

My entrepreneurial journey has been  like a roller coaster. The highs are highs and the lows are extremely low. Many times I have worried we will not make it. Taking up personal loans to ensure that the team of 14 can keep working while also supporting my family, has been both risky and tough. It’s still tough. It can still go to hell, or it can go to heaven. I don’t know yet. It would have been easier to give up, but I so strongly believe in what we are doing. I see that its working and I see that we are helping and saving people. That is incredible! What’s also incredible is where the journey has taken me. The people I have met, the positions I have been put in, all I have learnt.

As a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum I’m working with an incredible group of people from all over the world. We are all from different backgrounds, but have one thing in common; the passion to change this world for the better – not for ourselves but for all. In many ways it’s the grown up version of UWC Atlantic College. I feel I’m home! Soon I hope to send my now 14 year old daughter to a UWC. If there is one gift I want my three kids to have, it’s a UWC experience. UWC Atlantic College changed my outlook on life, and I know it will change theirs too.

Silje Vallestad (UWC Atlantic College), class of 1997 from Norway

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