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Big Ideas: “A safe and efficient way to process child forensic video interviews” with VidaNyx Co-Founder Shelly Cano Kurtz

We offer a unique opportunity in the form of Catalytic Grants, Corporate Sponsorships, Program Related Investments and Expenditure Responsibilities to support the protection of the 700,000 children in the US who have been the victims of abuse and neglect through the use of VidaNyx CAC Edition. Join us! It’s the best feeling money can buy. […]

We offer a unique opportunity in the form of Catalytic Grants, Corporate Sponsorships, Program Related Investments and Expenditure Responsibilities to support the protection of the 700,000 children in the US who have been the victims of abuse and neglect through the use of VidaNyx CAC Edition. Join us! It’s the best feeling money can buy. If you made your money in tech, why not pay it forward and show the power of tech for social good?

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shelly Cano Kurtz. Shelly is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of VidaNyx, a social enterprise incubated at Giving Tech Labs where they create sustainable public interest technology ventures to address pressing social issues. VidaNyx protects children who have been victims of sexual abuse, assault and neglect.

Shelly co-founded Giving Tech Labs with Luis Salazar where they have developed Vidanyx.comGivingCompass.orgGivingPlanner.org, and E-immigrate.info.

A recipient of over 50 industry awards, Shelly has led over 200 global campaigns in the tech, media and entertainment industries. She is an experienced Sales & Marketing Executive for Tech Startups and Fortune 500 companies, including Viacom, Comcast, NBCUniversal, and Make.TV.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up as the daughter of a Cuban immigrant father and American mother. I was the first in my immediate family to receive a college degree. I studied communication and went on to a successful career in media and entertainment. Throughout my life, I always had an intense drive to make an impact in the lives of others. I volunteered, I fundraised, and I joined the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. Early in my career, I handled public affairs and community outreach where I had the opportunity to give a voice to many nonprofits and important causes from teen drug abuse to gang violence to prenatal care. After many years in the television industry, I become an entrepreneur alongside an incredible business partner with a shared vision of applying the best practices of the private sector to the nonprofit sector. I wanted to put my energy into affecting change at a systemic level, instead of just helping individuals and specific organizations.

Shelly Kurtz and Luis Salazar

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have many good stories to share, from my early days in broadcast television to traveling the world, to leading multicultural programming initiatives during my years at NBCUniversal and being employee #1 at a live-streaming VC-funded tech startup from Germany. Some of my stories are definitely not fit to print! But the most meaningful story by far is becoming immersed in Public Interest Technology and creating VidaNyx to protect child victims of sexual abuse. As a businesswoman and a mom, I can’t think of a more meaningful way to spend my days.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

There are over 700,000 cases per year of child abuse in the US. Hundreds of nationally accredited Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) serve the needs of these children and their families, working with law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, family advocacy and medical professionals. A video forensic interview is a critical first step to reduce children’s trauma in the retelling of their experience as part of their healing process and as evidence for law enforcement and the judicial system.

VidaNyx is a cloud-based video management solution to securely process, manage and store child forensic video interviews, enabling a smooth operation and ensuring long-term archiving potential. Thanks to VidaNyx, victims of assault and abuse will never have to worry about their most violating truths getting into the wrong hands. In turn, the organizations that help these children can increase their speed and capacity to serve victims at less than 1% of the average cost of serving one child.

Shelly Kurtz, VidaNyx, with King County CAC

How do you think this will change the world?

Making an impact in the life of just one child is enough to change the world. Who knows if that child could go on to become the next Gandhi or Einstein or RBG? But from a systematic point of view, achieving a 10x improvement in the way the sector operates will free up resources that can be used to serve more children, and to shift the focus towards prevention to end the cycle of abuse. In the future, we can envision a world where VidaNyx offers a mobile solution for victims to self-report, meeting the requirements of the legal system, and allowing multidisciplinary teams to act sooner while preserving the privacy and safety of the victim. Feeling safe is paramount to victims coming forward.

Video evidence is a growing reality and not just to capture forensic interviews after allegations of abuse. Today’s world is almost always being recorded by someone, somewhere. Police receive evidence from body cams, dash cams, door cams, and more. There are even companies working on filming crime scenes from space! Each year, over 84 million cases go to trial in the US. Our law enforcement agencies are not equipped to handle all of this video evidence. VidaNyx harnesses the power of the cloud and a 12-layer security platform to ensure that video content can be securely managed with a complete chain of custody to show who accessed it, when and where. This is simply not possible with the existing protocol of putting DVDs in a filing cabinet and copying them upon request.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

I believe that technology can be used to make the world a better place. There are certainly many examples of the dark side of technology and I realize that life was possibly much simpler before we had 24/7 connectivity. But, VidaNyx demonstrates how we can use technology to fundamentally improve outcomes. One of our clients recently shared an anecdote about the impact that VidaNyx is already having.

“Being able to quickly securely share videos with our law enforcement team is critical for our community” she said. “Before VidaNyx, sharing the video could take up to a week and now we can do it in minutes. This means law enforcement can make the arrest the same day versus a week.”

In addition to speeding investigation, we know that sexual abuse doesn’t have to be a life sentence for victims.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Every year, we organize around 40 roundtable meetings with community leaders, NGO representatives, members of academia and government officials. We listen to their pressing problems and ideate on how technology may be able to have an impact through systemic approaches. In a 2017 meeting hosted by the Omaha Community Foundation, we met a representative from Project Harmony, serving over 2,000 child victims in Nebraska each year. He shared the need for advanced technology to secure and protect forensic interviews in an easy to use cloud-based system. We soon learned that there were over 850 accredited Child Advocacy Centers in the US and there was a universal need for digital transformation. That conversation led to the creation of VidaNyx. As someone who had spent her whole career in video content and digital rights management, I knew that this was a solvable problem.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We are working with an advisory council of expert prosecutors, forensic interviewers, federal and local law enforcement, and leaders from child advocacy centers across the U.S. We are also in conversations with lawmakers and government officials. To drive collective impact, we will need their help raising awareness about the importance of digital transformation and bringing laws up to date to support it. There is also a need for more federal funding. Additionally, there are policy change opportunities to better protect our most vulnerable populationsA specific example is modernizing the courts and law enforcement agencies to allow secure cloud-based digital evidence, instead of forcing this content to be burned onto DVDs or stored on outdated equipment that can be easily compromised.

What are your “3–5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

This is complex problem to solve and I could share many key learnings, but I’ll stick to three here. I welcome any inquiries about the other 100 lessons!

  1. We are attempting true systems change and that is hard. We are creating a disruption in the entire ecosystem of the way that law enforcement, prosecution and other members of multidisciplinary teams fundamentally do their jobs. That is a tall order for a group of social entrepreneurs! Do not underestimate the cost of driving change; even if it is good and welcomed, change creates friction.
  2. Technology is fundamentally intimidating for many social service practitioners. We underestimated the theory of change when bringing innovation to the social sector. There is often a fundamental fear and anxiety towards new technology that must be first addressed before implementing process change. The social sector has become used to horrible, complex user interfaces and has often come to see software as making their work more bureaucratic instead of creating additional efficiencies. We need to focus on user empathy, digital education and listening to the voice of the customer. I firmly believe that if it needs an instruction manual, we haven’t built it right.
  3. Creating a technology solution for a complex social problem is not about the technology. It is about digging all the way down to the fundamentals of the issue. In this case, that means I am learning everything I can about child abuse. It involves getting up close to really understand how to best support the advocates doing this work. We can only help change the world if we understand what actually needs to be changed and how to be of help.
Shelly Kurtz with Violet, VidaNyx Ambassador

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

Keep learning. Seek mentors. Find subject-matter experts in as many subjects as possible. Develop an epic tribal council. Be humble to understand what you know and what you do not know. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, and when you are, it probably means it’s time to move onto a new challenge. Surround yourself with the right mix of lived experience through wise elders and the fresh perspective and worldview of the next generation. There are equal lessons to learn from both.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

If someone gave me $1 million, I would use it to provide VidaNyx to additional child advocacy centers so that another 100,000 abused children could be protected. As a society, we must evolve to think about true social impact, instead of feel-good charity or financial ROI. An investment in our children pays the best dividends.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

  • The power of good intentions. The key to reflecting on life’s experiences is understanding true intentions, including your own. If your intentions were good and something bad happened, forgive yourself.
  • The importance of community and connections. It is my belief that this is the driving force of human happiness. I have been to many third world countries and found great joy among people with very little in the way of physical possessions or even basic necessities such as clean water. Conversely, I have seen deep depression and anxiety among those who seemingly have it all. Having a sense of community and personal connections allows us to develop inner peace and understand the meaning of this shared human experience.
  • You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. I took a professional development course many years ago that focused on this theory. Never be afraid to ask for what you want. Articulate a good argument and you just might get it. But you’ll never know unless you ask.
  • You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything. This is a line from a country song, but it is a powerful reminder to stick to your core values or someone else will define your values for you.
  • Ask for help when you need it. So many times, others have helped me see what I could not see in myself or for myself. It is so deeply comforting to know you are not alone. Don’t be a martyr!

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Keep learning. Stay open to new experiences. Ask questions. Assume best intentions. Follow your instincts. Nurture relationships. Trust, but verify. Never miss an opportunity to smile. Be a helper. Travel. Meditate.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Although we appreciate the role that VC money plays in traditional startups, we are not a traditional startup. We invite Impact Investors, Grant-Making Organizations and Catalytic Philanthropists to join us in supporting digital transformation at scale to protect victims of abuse through technology innovation.

Last year, my co-founder and I invested over $500,000 to create this venture. The first wave of child advocacy centers are now enjoying the benefits of VidaNyx, thanks to leading foundations and philanthropists providing catalytic grants.

We are solving a complex technical problem as well as a funding gap.

We offer a unique opportunity in the form of Catalytic Grants, Corporate Sponsorships, Program Related Investments and Expenditure Responsibilities to support the protection of the 700,000 children in the US who have been the victims of abuse and neglect through the use of VidaNyx CAC Edition. Join us! It’s the best feeling money can buy. If you made your money in tech, why not pay it forward and show the power of tech for social good?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/vidanyx/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/givingtechlabs/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/whateves4?lang=en

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

— — — —

About the Author:

Christina D. Warner is a healthcare marketer at Walgreens Boots Alliance. She is a Duke Business School alumnus, and has innovated commercially for Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Veniti (now Boston Scientific) and Goldman Sachs. Christina is a regular columnist for Authority Magazine and Thrive Global and and has been quoted in many national publications. You can download her free ‘How To Get Into the C-Suite and More: top secrets from CEO’s, political figures, and best-selling authors. Connect with Christina at LinkedIn or Twitter

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
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