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West Michigan woman hoping to 'map out' better community

West Michigan woman hoping to "map out" better community
Posted at 9:36 PM, Aug 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-14 23:22:18-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jessa Challa is mapping out her impact.

“I think that our brains, as humans, can make quicker, more efficient decisions if we can visualize data in different ways,” said Challa.

Challa, who lives in Cascade Township, is a biracial, Black woman who co-owns a minority software company in Grand Rapids called Mallowfields.

This summer, Challa used her technical skills and specializations in geographical information systems to launch a series of interactive maps.

Nicknamed “GIS Jess,” the first map launched at the end of July. It features minority-owned businesses in the greater Grand Rapids area and is broken down by what’s offered and race.

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“If I’m on my way to a friend’s birthday party, instead of going to a big grocery store or something that’s like seems convenient, I can say, ‘Oh, this locally owned business is on my way; I can just grab the gift there,’” said Challa.

The list is evolving, but so far it includes 176 restaurants, shops, and services. Challa says she sympathizes with the business owners and their experiences, which is why she wanted to focus on minority-owned businesses. Studies and research indicate, among other things, minority entrepreneurs often face racism and difficulty finding funding.

“I just thought that being able to utilize GIS to make these maps to visualize, ‘Okay, this is where things are in my community; I can make more informed decisions on where I want to put my money, where I want to go, who I want to support,’” said Challa.

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In the future, Challa wants to be able to include other populations in her maps.

“It would be really neat to map out all of the counseling services,” said Challa. “[Or] it would be really interesting to make another map of all of the women-owned businesses, all of the LGBTQ+ businesses.”

Challa hopes it engages West Michigan in new ways and provides resources that make it easier for her community to support their community.

“I think it will inspire other people to say or to see how we can see our community through different lenses,” said Challa.

To view the map or submit a business, click here.

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