Gitanjali Rao is a 16-year-old scientist, author and promoter of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics from the United States. She likes to use technology and innovation to solve problems and inspire others to be kind.
She looks to support students, educators and parents and recently launched a book where she explains her 5 step process for problem-solving. Read this blog for World Children's Day and discover other young leaders advocating for children's rights here.
"I am Gitanjali Rao, a student, an activist, STEM promoter, innovator and an author. I believe in the use of empathy to advocate for a people-centered approach to invention and problem-solving. Right from the age of six or seven, I was taught to take risks and raise my voice or try solutions if I see something wrong. Slowly, my teachers and mentors encouraged me and I took on some complex problems to solve with simple solutions.
From water contamination to cyberbullying and education equality, I believe that each one of us can take small steps to address the problems with whatever talents we have. While I started slow, I made it a mission to create global awareness of these issues we face as a community, while sharing some of the simple solutions I built with a process that can be adopted by others. My long-term vision is to introduce innovation tools and techniques earlier in our education and in the curriculum across the world so that everybody can develop ideas and use science as a catalyst for social impact and change.
With the increased need for science and problem solving more so than ever due to the pandemic, I saw a need to create an innovation movement among K-12 students, where ideation, innovation, and problem-solving are incorporated early into education. Since virtual learning is a norm now, it helped me reach more students to raise awareness of the issues we face as a community and motivate them to be innovators themselves.
Smiles affect me. They’re contagious and have a ripple effect. With the innovation workshops impacting over 55,000 students, I have received heart-warming responses of encouragement and inspiration with detailed discussions in classrooms that sparked other innovations, which are invaluable. The workshops focus on the practical approach to innovation and guide aspiring innovators through a prescriptive five-step process that I developed in the last 4 years and used for several of my own innovations. Every student comes out with an idea and solution in an hour, so imagine the ripple effect if each one of us takes our idea and solution to reality.
Helping the community that inspires students with a can-do attitude is very rewarding. I am fortunate to have received support from my mentors at an early age for some of my innovations. I feel a sense of moral responsibility to share that. It gives me the perspective that there are unequal opportunities and resources for students worldwide.
Things that I have taken for granted, such as clean drinking water, basic school necessities such as books, the internet, and qualified teachers, are not easily available everywhere. It helped me learn about different cultures, tolerance levels, and the value of hard work. It warms my heart to see these students’ responses that they were unaware of certain options, resources, and tools available.
I started this to introduce STEM and innovation to students, but I learned from them and fostered lifelong relationships. Thank-you cards and feedback from teachers and students across the world inspire me to help others because every student deserves an education with opportunities.
I believe it is my responsibility to share some of what I was fortunate to receive. I learned the importance of communicating effectively to diverse groups of individuals with varied backgrounds and being humble enough to accept the fact that I have a lot to learn. I believe we stop growing when we stop learning. The feedback I get through direct channels, social media and media makes me want to do better, empathize with the needs of many who are just looking for an opportunity and help cultivate the next generation of innovation leaders.
As much as I enjoy cultivating an innovation culture in schools and other forums through workshops and sessions worldwide, I cannot ignore the time needed for a quality session. The most difficult part is to ensure students are getting what they want from these sessions while learning new fun techniques. With audiences across the globe with different learning backgrounds, it is a challenge to keep the process consistent and relevant, while ensuring that participants, including teachers, understand the core ideas and derive value from them.
In addition, it is complicated to keep track of research labs, mentors, and competitions in different locations that offer students opportunities. Internet speed, student security - especially for girls in countries like Afghanistan, time zones, video conferencing capabilities, and language barriers are some of the common issues, but students find these resources invaluable and I strive to stay accurate and reliable for them. Learning from the feedback and continuously improving has helped conduct many of the recent workshops smoothly, but I still have a long way to go.
In addition, as a student with my own academic plan, time management has been tough. I am still learning the perfect balance and do not have a magic formula. To tackle that, my future plans include conducting more sessions, expanding the reach to more underdeveloped areas of the world, and developing local chapters that make my mission self-sustaining beyond me and my schedule.
At the end of the day, we are all here to make a difference and even if we inspire and motivate one other person with our deeds, I believe we have contributed to a better future for all of us. Innovation is a necessity and not a luxury anymore, and I hope to keep taking risks and dreaming big to mandate innovation curriculum in our early education no matter the economic status or background we are born into."
To help UNICEF and Gitanjali end cyberbullying – one message at a time – visit www.unicef.org/kindly