Wa’il Ashshowwaf and Ibrahem Alhaidari want you to imagine a more just world. They already do.
That’s why they co-founded Reyets (pronounced “rights”), a technology company designed to advance social justice by empowering citizens. The app, now available in beta, advises users of their legal and constitutional rights related to protests, law enforcement encounters, immigration issues, free speech, workplace issues, voting, and more.
“We understand if you don’t know your rights, you don’t have any,” said Alhaidari (Electrical and Electronic Engineering, ’02).
Users can document potential rights violations and record video that is securely backed up to the cloud, and then connect with organizations, lawyers, and media to share their stories and seek support. Users can also share misconduct reports with Reyets, which analyzes them and uses the data to drive reform and advocate for better laws and protection in communities across the country.
“The purpose is not to make [law enforcement] look bad. It’s to give an opportunity to be better,” said Ashshowwaf (Business Administration, ’01). “It also holds people accountable and ensures transparency. If you can make that as easy as opening a phone and having a resource you can trust, we think that can make a difference.”
After all, it was wishing he had such a resource when he needed it most that planted the seed that would grow into Reyets. As a 17-year-old first-semester college student in New York, Ashshowwaf was falsely accused of assault, handcuffed and paraded through his dorm, and chained to a wall in jail. Confident of his innocence, he presumed the system would protect him. Instead, he was pressured into signing away his rights, faced formal charges, was kicked out of school, and lost all his tuition.
“I had this realization of ‘Wow, how many times do people not know their rights and get into these situations?’” he said. “America is great, but the justice system is like a playing field. Every person brings their tools to it and if you don’t have the tools, you are not likely to win.”
In 2017, when Philando Castile was pulled over and shot by Minnesota police, Ashshowwaf watched the video of the killing and flashed back to how he felt 25 years earlier. As outrage began to swell across the country, so did his and Alhaidari’s passion to create change.
“People said ‘There is a problem but it will go away.’ They thought it was a fad, this civic engagement and people protesting,” Ashshowwaf said. “Our view was ‘No, this is different. The rate at which information travels now is different than it ever was before. This is not going away.’”
It took less than 30 days for the longtime friends and fellow Wildcats to develop the first version of Reyets. Within a few months, they had an app people could test. With continued feedback, they kept making improvements and have been market-testing it for the last 18 months.
The Reyets app is now on iOS with 6,000 users. Ashshowwaf and Alhaidari are in the fundraising stage so they can deploy it across the United States. Their favorite moments so far have been connecting with users who find it incredibly valuable, like a story from a Black parent who used it to have “the talk” with their kids about police brutality, or hear from other parents who make sure their teens have it on their phones before leaving for college.
In the last six months, interest has grown exponentially. As conversations evolved to focus on accountability, community policing, and reallocating law enforcement funding, the two founders have added other features to the app.
“Change is happening. The momentum has picked up,” Alhaidari said. “This is where we come in, with similar tools to keep the momentum going.”
As conversations about social injustices become more widespread, and incidents continue to marginalize, victimize, and endanger people, their work has never felt more important. As parents, as people of color, and as everyday citizens who simply dream of a better world, they are driven to be part of real change.
“I think back to conversations when I was 21. I didn’t think about that stuff because it didn’t impact me. Now I have an 11-year-old son and I have these conversations with him,” Ashshowwaf said. “Just because it doesn’t affect me personally, it affects people around me. If there is not justice for one person, there is no justice for anyone.”
Reyets is not their first shared business venture and likely won’t be the last. The two seem destined to collaborate. Ashshowwaf and Alhaidari met in as childhood classmates in Saudi Arabia, became fast friends, and would both eventually move to the United States for college.
Once Alhaidari transferred to Chico State, Ashshowwaf was quick to follow.
“We kept saying goodbye and then would end up in the same place,” Alhaidari said.
They began their first start-up as Chico State students, doing comparison shopping for people who wanted to buy computers online, then building and selling them. After graduation, Ashshowwaf worked in international banking and Alhaidari worked for a global technology company for many years. Their friendship continued, as both relocated back to Saudi Arabia for a few years and then returned to the United States, settling in the DC area. In 2015, they decided to bring their business expertise together once again.
Around the time they started Reyets, they also had an idea to help people who wanted to initiate a start-up but were stuck on how to move forward. They especially wanted to help women and people from marginalized communities, who may have been facing additional barriers.
With an open-door attitude, they continue to welcome clients of all types to help accelerate visions for apps, tech companies, and other businesses. As they advise on branding, website design, and funding pitches, they remain driven by a simple goal: supporting others and building community in the process.
“Having this willingness to meet with strangers, being super laid back and super comfortable is not something you will get if you don’t have a place to express your social skills,” Ashshowwaf said. “For us, it was part of the Chico values. It was second nature. We are not here to judge—we want to help people, and by helping them we are helping ourselves.”