Opening Doors to Technology
Girls in Tech India strives to make STEM and entrepreneurship opportunities more accessible to women, especially in rural areas.
In March 2015, when Sree Divya Vadlapudi P. joined Girls in Tech India as the managing director, she faced an immediate challenge: getting people to understand her organization’s purpose. Girls in Tech India focuses on engaging, educating and empowering women in the fields of technology and entrepreneurship, and to raise their visibility in these and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and innovation-driven fields. But, as opportunities in STEM and entrepreneurship already seem abundant in India, Vadlapudi was asked what her organization would do differently.
Vadlapudi knew exactly what it would do: close the gaps in access to these opportunities for women in India, especially in rural areas.
“When you are an NGO [nongovernmental organization], you have to provide what is not provided to people,” she says.
Prior to the official launch of Girls in Tech India in January 2016, Vadlapudi and her team assessed the status of Indian women in STEM fields. They found girls represent only 39 percent of students in STEM education, 10 percent of tech company founders and 12.7 percent of people in the industry. They also found that 40 percent of female engineers are unemployed.
Based on these findings, the Girls in Tech India team decided to focus on five areas: facilitating mentor-mentee relationships; creating industry-specific institutes to support women entrepreneurs; providing recent college graduates with exposure to industry; helping mothers return to work as their children grow up; and providing a network and communication platform to women entrepreneurs to help cultivate ideas, learn new skills and advance their careers. To generate momentum in each of these areas, Vadlapudi decided to localize her organization’s mission and programming.
Girls in Tech India, based in Hyderabad, is a chapter of the international nonprofit organization Girls in Tech, which was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California. Vadlapudi and her team receive support and resources from Girls in Tech and other organizations, depending on the nature of the events they host. They also do their own fundraising and decide how best to engage their audience.
“What works in the U.S. or in Europe might not work exactly the same way in India,” says Vadlapudi. “It may need a totally new approach, new definition, modifications and customizations.”
Vadlapudi and her staff, who all work as volunteers, have seen great success so far in their efforts to localize their programming. For instance, in November 2016, the organization hosted a bootcamp in Hyderabad on power tools: confidence, leadership and entrepreneurship. The first day focused on building confidence and teaching women what it means to “show up” for themselves, as Vadlapudi puts it. For instance, attendees were shown pictures of women in saris conducting business—an image they could clearly identify with, versus a woman in a pantsuit. On day two, the attendees came up with business ideas. And on day three, they pitched their ideas to the group. Several attendees reported learning “valuable information that helped enhance their mindsets toward entrepreneurship and leadership,” says Vadlapudi.
Following Girls in Tech India’s first bootcamp in Hyderabad in March 2016, which focused on entrepreneurship basics, some participants received acceptances to management courses at universities which had earlier rejected them. These acceptances resulted from the women gaining the skills they needed to “speak better about their qualifications,” says Vadlapudi.
University admissions and job placements are, however, not the end goals of Girls in Tech India’s programming, she says. Instead, she hopes to provide women with a start by equipping them with skills gained through exposure and education. Through partnerships with technology companies, universities and government, Vadlapudi aims to bring the possibilities in STEM fields and entrepreneurship to light for women across India, no matter where they live and what their previous understanding of technology and innovation might be.
“We want to change the perception about what’s available,” she says.
Girls in Tech India aims to reach at least 1,000 women every year. They will do so by organizing bootcamps, which accommodate around 250 participants; speaker series; hackathons; app-building workshops; and more. Vadlapudi is eager to have the organization’s mentor program up and running in 2017. The mentor program will facilitate one-to-one mentor-mentee relationships centering around a curriculum.
Five years down the road, Vadlapudi hopes to see significant progress in all of the organization’s five focus areas, especially in rural regions that have the highest school dropout rates and the least access to entrepreneurial opportunities.
“We believe exposure and education are meant for all,” she says. “That’s what we stand for.”
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.