Iran’s Civic Tech Sector

Leah Hunter at Forbes: “This is the story of Firuzeh Mahmoudi, founder of United4Iran and Irancubator, the first civic tech-focused startup incubator in Iran. She is also a creator of civil justice apps and a businessperson. Her business? Creating social good in a country she loves.

“Our mission is to improve civil liberties in Iran, and we do that in three ways,” says Mahmoudi, 45, who spent four years working for the United Nations in countries across the world as an international project coordinator before becoming a founder….

Mahmoudi realized that there wasn’t anyone focused on apps made for civic engagement inside Iran, so she built a team to create Irancubator. She works with 30 consultants and partners in the Iranian-American community. She also has a staff of 10 in her San Francisco Bay Area office—most of whom are Iranian, and were still in the country until 2009. “I really worked hard in bringing in resilient people…people who are smart, creative, kind. It’s so important to be kind. How you do the work, and how you show up, is that critical. If you try to make the world a better place, you’d better be nice. If you want to make the government be nicer, you’d better be nice, too.”

She and her team, based in the San Francisco Bay Area are creating apps like the Iran Prison Atlas – a database of all the country’s political prisoners, the judges who sentenced them and the prisons where they’re held. “We believe how these people are treated is a litmus test for our country,” Mahmoudi explains.

They are building an app women can use to track their ovulation cycles and periods. It also acts as a Trojan horse; as you dig deeper, it includes all sorts of information on women’s rights, including how to have equal rights in a marriage. (In Iran, divorce rights for women—as well as the right to equal custody of their children afterward—require a document signed before the wedding ceremony.) “This one’s not specifically targeting the richer women who are living in Northern Tehran. It’s an app that aims to engage people who live in rural areas, or not be as well-off or educated or perhaps more conservative or religious,” Mahmoudi explains. “Once you get in the app, you realize there are other parts. They include information on one’s rights as a woman in a marriage. Or basic concepts that may be completely foreign to them. Like maybe say, “Hey, do you know there’s a concept called ‘marital rape’? Even if someone’s your husband, they can’t treat you this way.”…

Right now, Irancubator is building a dozen apps. The first is launching in late January. Named RadiTo, this app works similarly to YouTube, but for radio instead of TV, allowing people in Iran to broadcast channels about the topics they care about. Someone can create a channel about LGBT rights or about children and education in their language. “Whatever they want—they can have a secure, safe platform to broadcast their message,” Mahmoudi explains.

From an operational perspective, this isn’t easy. Mahmoudi and her staff aren’t just building a startup. They’re operating from the other side of the world, working for users with whom they cannot directly communicate.  “Any startup is challenging and has so many hurdles. For us, it’s another level, working with so many security challenges,” says Mahmoudi….

The biggest challenge of all: they cannot go back to Iran. “The Islamic Republic coined me as an anti-revolutionary fugitive in one of their articles,” Mahmoudi says. “Half of my staff are refugees who got out.”…(More).