They are young and courageous, and they want a society in which people treat each other with respect. Kai Lanz, Jan Wilhelm and Julius de Gruyter are the founders of exclamo. They've developed an app that helps students who are troubled by any kind of bullying, whether online or offline.
The bell rings, signaling the first long break of the day. Students gather in the schoolyard, talk about the classes they just had, or simply hang out and relax for a moment. But some students try to shrink away, because they know breaks always mean harassment. At many schools, bullying, insults and social marginalization are a daily fact of life.
In 2018, as Kai Lanz (19), Jan Wilhelm (18) and Julius de Gruyter (18) were taking part in the "Business@School" school competition, they decided to address the issue of bullying in school-related settings. "The things we had to do for that competition included developing a project idea of our own. Since at our school we had become very aware of the whole issue of bullying, it was only natural for us to pursue an idea that related to that issue. That's how we came up with the concept for exclamo," explains Lanz, co-founder and CEO of exclamo.
An idea catches on
After their graduation with their university entrance qualification, the three continued building on their idea. And they started their own company. The key result of their efforts was an app with which students can report bullying to contact persons known as "mentors." For purposes of the app, "bullying" means both bullying in schoolyards or classrooms and cyberbullying. This is only logical since, as Lanz points out, online and offline bullying are often two sides of the same coin. "In offering exclamo, we want to give students someone to turn to, and help them talk about their problems."
In school situations, victims of bullying are often extremely reluctant to look for someone to confide in. "With exclamo, students have the option of reporting their problems anonymously, if they prefer." He adds that victims also benefit from today's technology. "A smartphone is the perfect tool for reporting problems. With a phone, you can do that anytime and anywhere – including at home – and you can take the time you need to gather your thoughts."
exclamo's concept seems to have answered a real need. "We have interviewed plenty of students. And over 70 percent of them say that exclamo has helped them in a bullying situation."
Making it easy to chat with someone who can help
To make the exclamo app available for its students, a school first has to sign a license agreement with exclamo. For schools with 400 to 1,200 students, such agreements normally cost between 1,000 and 1,500 euros per year. After a school signs an agreement, its teachers and students, and the students' parents, all receive an introduction to the system. Then, the school's students can register for the app, free of charge, using an activation code. At the same time, the school's system administrators – who, logically enough, are often the same as the school's principal and his/her staff – create accounts for the "mentors," the school-appointed persons the students can contact. Typical choices for mentors include social workers, school psychologists, and teachers specially trained for the mentor role. Each school chooses its own mentors.
To report a bullying incident, students log in to their app accounts, open a chat and choose the mentor they want to contact. Mentors receive once-daily email notifications regarding new messages and are expected to answer messages within 24 hours. But what sorts of answers should they provide?
"In general, it's extremely important for students to feel that they're being taken seriously, even when the problems they're describing seem rather trivial at first. This is about focusing on persons and their feelings. The specific answers and assistance that are appropriate will vary from case to case. After all, every bullying situation is different. In addition, it may be necessary to take specific social structures at the school, or in the particular class involved, into account. For orientation purposes, we've equipped the app with useful tips, and a checklist, on how to deal with bullying cases. Also, we always recommend the Berlin – Brandenburger Anti-Mobbing-Fibel, a comprehensive guide that the states of Berlin and Brandenburg have produced. It offers additional valuable recommendations. With the help of these resources, mentors can learn how to initiate a class mediation, how to lead discussions in various constellations, and how to offer bullies special reconciliation techniques and then coax them into using those techniques to reach out to their victims."
In particularly acute cases, students can also use the app to find help outside the school environment. For that purpose, the app contains the contact information for the crisis resources krisenchat.de, Nummer gegen Kummer, Juuuport and Telefonseelsorge, all of which can be contacted online and/or by phone.
Kai Lanz and his co-founders are passionate about the need to help victims of bullying, especially cyberbullying. Last year, he and Julius de Gruyter took part in a panel discussion on the issue – and, in the process, came into contact with Deutsche Telekom for the first time in this framework.
"We then came into contact again via the #NOHATESPEECH campaign. We were very impressed by Deutsche Telekom's commitment and by the video the company produced. It was obvious to us that they and we share a vision. As a result, a partnership soon developed." Not surprisingly, partners play an important role in the ambitious plans that Kai Lanz and his co-founders now have. Their great desire now is to be able to reach every school – and to make cyberbullying fade out of students' lives.
exclamo - key information at a glance
- A web app, aimed at schools, for reporting cases of bullying
- To use it, schools enter into a license agreement
- Costs per year: between 1,000 and 1,500 euros (but free of charge for students)
- All communications are encrypted (AES-256 encryption)
- Compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- Servers are located in Germany
- Easy for schools to implement (takes about 30 minutes to set up)
- Technically suitable for any school
- Offers resources on a range of relevant issues (bullying, online hate speech, etc.)
- Provides links to external partner organizations with crisis resources (krisenchat.de, Nummer gegen Kummer, Juuuport, Telefonseelsorge)
- Additional information for students, school directors/principals and parents is available here.