2020 was a year of enforced change for most of the world and Netra Venkatesh, like so many others, went from grabbing her school bag and heading for school every day to sitting at a computer, separated from her schoolmates. It seemed to her, however, that remote learning had a huge and untapped potential. It could be deployed in a way that might be useful to other young people beyond the skills and subjects that are traditionally taught in school. “Life skills are something you learn with experience when entering the workforce and professional environments,” she explains. “Across the developing world, I’ve noticed there are a lack of opportunities for young women to enter such spaces, so gaining new skill sets isn’t easy.”
Determined and passionate about gender equality, she founded SpunkGo Social Media for Good, an all-girls student organisation that holds life skill webinars for young women across the developing world. Today it has twenty chapters, across thirty countries, such as Kenya, Malawi, Bangladesh and India, and boasts a member base of over 5000 young women. Last year she was named the Under 16 Canon Young Champion of the Year at the annual Global Good Awards. But being the founder and chief changemaker of an educational organisation is an incredible learning curve in its own right. So, what has Netra learned along the way?
1) Use your platform to give a voice to others
“It's important to get a different perspective on life and the world around us and it's really important to hear from those who have had a variety of experiences because we are the future generation to come. The ideas that we're formulating and sharing, these are the ideas that are going to be used. Being a member of Spunk Go doesn't just mean coming to these webinars and learning, it's also being part of a wider community of people. A lot of us do projects together, such as donation drives and readathons. Youth perspective is definitely a lot more optimistic than you might expect. And it's good to hear a little bit of joy at a time when we are hearing all of these things about climate doom and the economy and so on.”
2) Everyone you meet has something to teach you
“I have had so many experiences with people that I’ve met along the way. Once, I was doing an interview with a girl who works as a journalist in London, but she is originally from Africa. She asked me about topics that I had genuinely never thought of, because I've taken some of these things for granted. For example, she spoke about how there is poverty of menstrual products. This is something I have access to, so I never thought that this was an issue. And so being a part of this journey has opened my eyes to really just the simple things. A lot of Spunk Go members shared that they don't have on-demand internet access, so we began to record our webinars for them to view. I think it really is the small things that I take for granted that people have no access to that shocks me.”
3) You can’t do it alone
“My longest partnership, and probably the one that I hold closest to my heart is an organisation called Keynote Woman Speakers. A lot of the people who have spoken on Spunk Go webinars come from this directory. They don't get paid, but they're really happy to volunteer their time. In the beginning there was no credibility to my cause and so it was harder to find speakers, but I would say that because of this partnership it's been a lot easier and also adds a lot of credibility to the organisation as a whole. And so, I'm very thankful. I also have a partnership with a Canadian organisation called Simbi Foundation. I think the work that they're doing is incredible. They are trying to make education more accessible in areas that we haven't reached, impoverished regions. So, I'm absolutely grateful to be working with them. I've been fortunate enough to meet so many amazing people who genuinely have the kindest hearts and want to help me.”
4) Being inspired is just as important as inspiring others
“I've met so many people. Some who are even younger than me, like thirteen or fourteen years old, who are doing incredible things. I would love to give a shout out to Hasini LakshmiNarayanan. She is a Tamilian journalist and a TEDx speaker, and she's got her own organisation. But she is so young that it's absolutely inspirational that she is giving motivational talks at that young age. I have never been the greatest public speaker; I think I've had to develop public speaking skills as I got into this. And so, I think she was really just born with the innate ability to talk and it's absolutely fabulous to see her every time I can.”
5) Be passionate and dream big
“I think people would describe me as someone who's passionate. Someone who's a dreamer. Someone who's expressive in nature. I have a voice and I'm not afraid to share. The ventures I’ve set up are really the first time that I thought about something and put it into action. But I have a lot of big dreams and some of them I'll be able to achieve. Others might be a harder and a little more far-fetched. But they're still there. It starts with an idea and a burning desire to do something to make a change.
And passion is really important. So, find that thing that you're passionate about, and really go through with it. Because if you're passionate enough, no challenge, no setback will demotivate you. There have definitely been times where I have had to work really hard and the passion that was within me really drove me to completion. I think if you have the will, if you have the desire, then there is nothing that can stop you.”
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