Jun 272010

Budding New Entrepreneurs

Meena wants to become a computer engineer.

She believes that if she works hard enough, she can build her own “big business”—maybe a Google. So she is determined to complete her schooling and earn an engineering degree. Young girls like Meena, just 16 years old but with the ambition and confidence to enter the tech world, are a rare commodity even in Silicon Valley; but Meena lives in a slum in New Delhi. Her father works as a day laborer.  He used to spend half his income on alcohol, and would come home drunk every night and make so much noise that Meena could not do her homework. He considered Meena a liability, saw no value in her education, and had nothing to be optimistic about.

Sana Azmi too lives in a Delhi slum.  She is determined to become a lawyer. Sana has long had this ambition, but her unemployed father had made the decision to withdraw her from school this year, when she turns 16.  His plan was to get her married as soon as possible, and he believed that if Sana received too much education, it would be difficult to find a suitable groom in their socioeconomic community. Moreover, they simply couldn’t afford to educate her. Sana begged her Dad to find a way; she told him that without higher education she would be like an “empty room”.

Meena’s father has now stopped drinking and is working long hours to save money for her education. He considers Meena to be the pride of the family, and is hopeful that she will lift the family out of poverty. And Sana’s parents are no longer on the lookout for potential grooms for their daughter. Instead, they are supporting and encouraging her efforts to complete high school and continue on to university.

How did these transformations happen? Through a non-profit group called Roshni Academy, which identifies, trains, and mentors brilliant girls from socioeconomically underprivileged communities. Founded by Saima Hasan when she was a junior at Stanford in 2007, and funded by Silicon Valley business leaders and philanthropists, Roshni has already transformed the lives of more than 500 underprivileged girls, in seven districts of Delhi.

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