Wa’il Ashshowwaf participated in the 2019 Professional Fellows Program as a Fellowship Host. He also travelled to Morocco in January 2020 as a delegate where he presented workshops and facilitate training sessions in addition to connecting with alumni of the program in support of their work.
In this day and age, the rise of protests and demonstrations have defined the last several years, and are increasingly prevalent especially in the United States. The U.S., along with other nations, has seen a sharp rise in incidents of police brutality – or perhaps merely more incidents have been caught on tape – tensions regarding immigration plague major countries as governments tighten their restrictions and increase enforcement, and human rights violations plaster TV screens. To combat these issues, Wa’il Ashshowwaf along with his company Unstuck Labs, developed the concept of Reyets, a social justice and civil rights app and platform that allows users to quickly and easily gain access to their rights and legal information. “Our work starts after the protest,” Ashshowwaf says, and his initiative has shown how effective that work can be.
Ashshowwaf is not only a three time college graduate, but lover of vinyl records, playing video games with his kids, and at some point, amateur skateboarding. A valuable lesson he learned through skateboarding is that the only way to master a new skill is to fall, hard. The key to success, Ashshowwaf says, is not to fear failure. In undergrad at California State University, , Ashshowwaf had a 1.6 GPA, and felt like giving up. Going on to eventually study at not only Cal State but Georgetown and Harvard, Ashshowwaf himself proves that failure is not having to work at something, rather failure is when you stop trying. This ideology permeates into the work that Ashshowwaf does at Unstuck Labs. When someone is brought on to work with the team, they are encouraged to make mistakes, try new things and take initiative. “It’s really empowering to lose the fear of failure,” Ashshowwaf says about his employees. “I’ve always been rewarded putting that trust in people.”
Unstuck Labs is not only a digital and creative agency that helps build websites, mobile apps and other technology, but a business and startup consultant that helps entrepreneurs who need assistance with their business ideas and projects. The goal, according to Ashshowwaf, is that entrepreneurs come in with an idea, and leave with a business. By promoting Unstuck as a space that encourages mistakes, provides the hands-on assistance entrepreneurs need to start and grow their businesses, and establishes contact between entrepreneurs to ensure accountability, Unstuck Labs primarily garnered founders who were women, and/or from predominantly under-served communities. Although they did not specifically market to that audience, overwhelming support was coming from these populations with 83% of founders being from under-served communities, and 63% being women.
From Unstuck Labs Ashshowwaf and his team developed Reyets, and its accompanying newsletter, The Reyet Up. In addition to the inequalities in access to justice he saw, Ashshowwaf was determined to bypass the complicated and nuanced legal jargon that prevents access to legal understanding for the common citizen. He also considered how much information could be absorbed in a short period of time, in a situation such as being pulled over or having immigration officers knock at your door. Therefore, Ashshowwaf designed Reyets to be simple and user friendly, offering its users the ability to film their situation, be informed of their rights in a variety of circumstances, and next steps such as keeping footage for personal records, or access to lawyers and other legal professionals. The app prevents abuse from law enforcement by informing its users of their rights regarding voting, immigration, press and photography, disability and travel rights, maternity rights, and more. The app could also be crucial evidence in determining legal proceedings when it comes to issues of police brutality.
Transforming the data generated from the Reyets app, however, is when the real change starts to happen. This transformation allows municipalities to exercise data tracking to see where inequalities are happening and laws need to change. Effective change begins with the ability to safely document and report issues. The information the app offers on next steps, including automatic audio and video recording and social media upload features, includes useful and necessary tools for users to responsibly and resourcefully proceed how they choose.
The Reyet Up is a weekly newsletter with a dose of good, social justice related news. To resist the growing trend of normalizing violence against black and brown people online, The Reyet Up highlights “civil rights wins,” such as the changing of immunity laws, judge rulings, and wrongful conviction cases won. It also offers advice on going to protests and features articles related to social justice. You can sign up for the weekly newsletter here.
After winning the Fast Company World Changing Idea Award and Index Design for Good Award for the concept of Reyets, Ashshowwaf wasn’t done. Constantly trying to improve practicality and functionality, Ashshowwaf and his team are working on building AI and a community forum into the Reyets app, along with fundraising to bring it to Android users. Because less than 3 percent of all startup funding goes to POC, specifically Black people, Ashshowwaf’s future goals for Unstuck Labs include expanding the reach of the communities they serve. By automating the process of assisting entrepreneurs, Unstuck Labs would be able to get more people the help they need to start and run their businesses. Though the app is constantly being improved and updated, the concept of the Reyets app is central to growing tensions in our societies. The possibilities offered by this simplistic, yet pivotal app are exceedingly consequential.
The Professional Fellows Program is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by Legacy International.