Real Impact is protecting children across the digital universe

As young people spend more unsupervised time online, their risk of encountering inappropriate content and cyberbullying has increased. With parental controls only providing a moderate shield, IMD’s collaboration with a Swiss startup is helping to educate children and adolescents about online dangers and how to address them.

Online parental controls block access to inappropriate content but, critically, don’t teach children to act responsibly online or deal with the multitude of dangerous situations which exist across social media, websites and the wider online ecosystem.

The Swiss startup Privately is an engineering firm that has created a solution to advance children’s digital safety. Its efforts have mainly been focused on pioneering mobile phone app technology that uses artificial intelligence to detect online threats to children. Crucially, it has also created a programme of guidance for children, which teaches them to take appropriate actions to mitigate risks in real time. Its main client has been the BBC, which incorporated Privately’s technology into its ‘Own It’ app.

Keen to make an impression in other areas, Privately founder – Deepak Tewari – applied, and was accepted to become, a partner in the IMD MBA (Master of Business Administration) Startup Projects, in 2019. These projects were launched in 1999, and each year nearly 150 Swiss startups apply to work with IMD MBAs and EMBAs. 

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The initiative invited Privately’s team to spend time with notable IMD professors, Benoit Leleux and Jim Pulcrano, who specialise in addressing the business challenges of Swiss entrepreneurial firms. They were also able to liaise with a team of MBAs, including Stepan Braginskiy, Richard Pickering, Diego Scolaro, Cosima Suter, Andrea Teja and Isabella Zong

A key element of the project involved evaluating Privately’s market position and, subsequently, developing a survey to accurately gauge worries among parents about children’s online safety. This survey – produced under the guidance of Professor Amit Joshi – was distributed to 861 parents across five countries. Of the parents that completed all questions, 33% reported experiencing a troubling online incident involving their child, 95% were not aware that products like Privately’s existed and 92% liked the idea of using its technology. 

This amalgamation of education, online protection and trailblazing technology represents a significant standard-setting milestone

Trail blazers

In 2019, Deepak presented the data which emerged from its alliance with IMD to executives from Pro Juventute – a Swiss non-profit child welfare organisation that operates ‘147’; an emergency child helpline.

Impressed by the significant findings, Pro Juventute signed a contract to co-develop the ‘Pro Juvenate App’, which parents could download to their children’s phones. The app – built for children between the ages of 9-12 – combines Privately’s well-being technology with Pro Juventute’s multitude of child-friendly resources, including text-based mental health counselling. This amalgamation of education, online protection and trailblazing technology represents a significant standard-setting milestone.

Indeed, Pro Juventute expects to reach 10,000 downloads with a launch in the Swiss-German region of Switzerland in August 2020. In 2021, the app will be rolled-out in the French and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland and usage is projected to reach 25,000.

Privately continues to create partnerships with non-profit institutions, civil society and quasi-public sector organisations, while also integrating its technology into other apps and games.

The company’s long-term vision is to provide children with the skills to navigate the internet without harm and make more online environments child friendly. Safe to say, with a bit of assistance from IMD faculty and MBAs, it’s making progress towards that goal.

IMD team


This case study has been produced in partnership with the European Foundation for Management Development’s Business School Impact System (BSIS).

BSIS is a pioneering impact assessment tool used by business schools worldwide