AN INTERVIEW OF YOUNG ACHIEVER PRIYANKHA KAMALAKANNAN (AUTHOR OF THE BOOKS "THE POSITIVE POETRY CLOSET' AND "FANTASIA ADVENTURES")

This young author of the books "The Positive Poetry Closet' and "Fantasia Adventures" used the lockdown to hone her writing skills. She's also been a TEDx speaker. Priyankha Kamalakannan, living in Germany. She speaks about her journey.

How did your journey as an author start?

Writing started as a skill at school. One day, I randomly wrote a short story called The Bucket List Detectives'. My parents printed it as small booklets on my eighth birthday, and gave them as return gifts to guests. Everyone loved the story, and I was motivated by the appreciation I received. So, I wrote another story called 'Liana's Adventures In Wonderland. During the lockdown, I re-read my previous works and realised I could write them in a much better way. So I rewrote 'Liana's Adventures In Wonderland', which turned into a newly sculpted tale very different from the original story. Rewriting this story resulted in my first book, 'Fantasia Adventures.

Tell us about 'Fantasia Adventures' and 'The Positive Poetry Closet?

'Fantasia Adventures' is a fantasy book, where the main character is a girl called Lizzy who lives on an English farm and is very special to her grandmother. One night, when she thinks about her grandma, she magically lands in a place called Fantasia, a magical land where she meets a lot of different people. She learns about an evil queen who wants to destroy all the good. She, hence, decides to go on a mission to stop the evil queen and save Fantasia and its people. This is the plot of the story, and I sought help from my friend and added illustrations to make the book more interesting for readers.

My second book is The Positive Poetry Closet. I had numerous poems written and piled up, so I thought of compiling them into a book. I gave the book a fun title and published it.

How was your experience as a TEDx speaker?

When I was in Class III, my teachers used to play TED Talks on the smart board. When I was in Class IV, my school got a licence to conduct a TEDx speech, and my teacher allowed us to participate in it. Only a couple of people were selected, and I was surprised and happy that I was one of them. We had mentors and teachers who supported us, and to make it more impactful, we took instances from real-life for our talks. Not having notes and memorising the speech I wrote was what was keeping me from being distracted. The whole experience was thrilling.

How do you manage school and other work?

My writing started over the lockdown period, so most of my school work was done online during class. Our teachers didn't give us much work due to which there was a lot of leisure time, which I utilised for writing my books. Our school has a system where they don't give homework till Class VI, which made it simpler for me. Apart from the time I spend on my school work and writing. I take part in extra-curricular activities too. I also started my YouTube channel during this lockdown, where I shared videos of me spending time with my friends, doing crafts, experiments, baking, etc.

If something has to be changed in society, what would it be?

Irrespective of all the work we should accomplish, we must prioritise what we want to do and what we believe is important to us. It is also important that we spend quality time on the things we are passionate about, as it is important to share our abilities with everyone. In society, I wish to change the pivotal situation of how people are not being able to pursue their dreams and passion due to age boundaries. I would like to break these boundaries that are an obstacle to people from reaching their full potential. Many people of young and old age have been proving that age is just a number and that age shouldn't be used to question one's ability.

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AN INTERVIEW OF YOUNG ACHIEVER KANAV BATRA – CO FOUNDER OF FINZ ORGANISATION

Through his organisation Finz, this social entrepreneur is on a mission to raise awareness about the importance of financial literacy among Gen Z He also started the Workers' Rights Awareness Project and is part of Youth Policy Collective, focussing on research and writing. Kanav Batra speaks about his journey.

What is your organisation Finz all about?

Finz was established to educate Gen Z about personal finance, investing, entrepreneurship, and economics. With the help of a tailor-made curriculum, we provide courses that enrich students' financial acumen. We also provide an environment where Genz can gather real-life lessons along the way. At Finz, competitions are held for students to collaborate and compete. We will also conduct webinars with industry experts, college students, personal finance influencers, and youth entrepreneurs, and boot camps to reinforce what we teach through courses and mainstream learning instruments.

What made you a social entrepreneur?

Till I was in Class XI, I spent my time writing, reading, and just sticking with school. In Class XI, I felt there were many opportunities for students like me who wanted to become changemakers but didn't know how to. That's when I started pursuing my academic interests and hobbies outside of school too, starting my journey to becoming a social entrepreneur. Along the way, I saw many other young changemakers creating impact and bringing positive changes to society. This motivated me then, still does, and pushed me to be a social entrepreneur. To be fair though, my interests were always in economics, and this was one of the key reasons I started Finz with my friend Niranjen.

You set up WRAP - the Workers' Rights Awareness Project.

It is a social impact initiative that started with a team of nine other fellows as part of the Take the World Forward' Fellowship, a six-month programme by 'Learn with Leaders. Our motive is to improve the livelihood of daily wage workers by helping them become financially literate and spread awareness about programmes, policies, and organisations already in place to help them. Over the last couple of months, I underwent Social Impact and Leadership Training to nurture and grow WRAP as an organisation. We are commencing our move towards making WRAP an independent organisation away from the fellowship.

Tell us about your work in research, focussing on your time with Youth Policy Collective (YPC).

As part of the Economics and Trade Committee at YPC, I worked on the environmental economics and disaster management research paper, 'A Case-Study Based Analysis of the Implications of Natural Disasters on the Indian Agriculture Industry From 2000-2020. The premise of the paper and the journey of writing it were quite interesting. After a year of research, editing, and rewriting, it is now publicly available on Social Science Research Network. I am also working on two new papers with YPC, which I aim to finish in October. Outside of YPC, I am working on a behavioural economics paper surrounding consumer behaviour.

Do you think the youth of today will bring change in this entrepreneur world?

 I believe that in the next few years, there will be a changemaker in every house, and that changemaker will be a student. Students are now raising their voices by bringing more awareness to society. I strongly believe students will bring positive change and maybe one day provide a solution for our nation's problems.

What other projects are you involved in?

Under YPC, I'm also editor-in-chief of the newsletter and a member of the Steering Committee, which is essentially the top management of the organisation. I am the vice-president and one of the founding members of The Scribble Society, a creative writing dub that brings together budding writers into a community where they can publish and discuss written work. Recently, I helped organise a = writing competition on self-growth, which brought over 30 participants to compete for the top positions.

How do you manage your hobbies?

First of all, I'd like to say I am horrible at time management. Though, in contrast, I'm very committed to my work. No matter what time it is, I work and don't leave it until it is done. I think this is my best quality as it shows how much I love what I do. As for my hobbies, I am a big basketball fan; not only playing but I enjoy watching it too. I'm grateful to the sport as it helped me get better with things such as teamwork, leadership, perseverance, and resilience. Besides that, I also like writing. Writing is something I've been doing for a long time, and I feel that words have always helped me stay true to the storyteller in me.

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AN INTERVIEW OF YOUNG ACHIEVER VARUN ARORA - FOUNDER AND CEO OF VISARD.ORG

This Class XII student is the founder and CEO of Visard.org, a youth-run, not-for-profit that aims to empower small businesses through technology. Varun Arora speaks about his journey.

What fascinated you to learn about Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

When I was a kid, I was always engrossed in building new things and using my imagination to innovate. I first heard about Al when Intel conducted the Al for Youth programme and got selected for it. I did not have any idea about it, but decided to give it a try and I loved it. I was also intrigued, and so decided to pursue Al on a deeper level.

How was your experience at the Al for Youth programme?

It was a four-month-long programme, and at the end, we were asked to build a project that would be helpful to society in some way and contribute to the welfare of people. Recently, I had the opportunity to present my project to the CEO of Intel, and it was a phenomenal experience! Overall, the programme was beneficial and I consider it the turning point in my journey.

What was your project about?

An Al reading assistant, I made it for kids in the four to eight age group. It aims to develop essential skills in children without any increase in screentime.

You run an organisation called Visard.org.

Our organisation's main aim is to empower small businesses through technology. We do this through a range of initiatives, one of them being providing solutions such as creating websites for small business owners at rates lower than what many agencies charge. Apart from this, we have various other initiatives that cover areas such as support for artisans, educating/training business owners on tech tools, etc. We have impacted over 100 businesses and have helped small businesses save about Rs. 1 lakh. Additionally, the team size too has grown to over 25. The organisation is also backed by advisors who are alumni of reputed institutions such as Stanford, MIT, NYU, Microsoft, etc.

How do you manage your time between school and your organisation?

Due to the pandemic, my classes have been held online. It was a blessing in disguise because I was able to focus on my project and build my organisation. Once the physical classes start, the actual challenge will begin. But with proper time management and organisational skills, I think I will be able to balance everything.

When we talk about Al, the most pressing question is can humans be replaced by Al.

My answer would be a no. 1 would like to stress the fact that Al is just a displacement and not a replacement. I do agree that in some aspects Al does much better than us humans. We need to understand and accept the fact that it's going to replace humans in some jobs. But then again, certain jobs such as nursing can never be replaced by computers. For job security in the competitive world, we need to be aware of the latest technology. We need to realise that every day, we are one step closer to the point where humans and robots will coexist, and that this evolution will lead to our co-dependency.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I started cycling recently. With the pandemic locking us inside our homes, there hasn't been much activity on the road, so why not give cycling a go? I also collect ancient coins and currencies. Other than that, I have been quite busy with school and Visard.

What are your plans for the future? And what would you like to change in society?

My end goal is to be an entrepreneur. I realise that often when we start earning, we stop learning. But it shouldn't be so, because education gives wisdom too. Also, it is very important to apply what you learn in real life. For example, there is no use in learning to code if you never get to actually code. So the one thing I would like to change in society is the architecture of the Indian education system, which currently focusses more on theoretical concepts than practical application.

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AN INTERVIEW OF YOUNG ACHIEVER GOURAV KHUNGER- ANDROID APP DEVELOPER

Meet Gourav Khunger a 16-year-old Android app developer. He runs genicsblog.com an open source platform for developers to share technical knowledge. He speaks about his journey .

What fascinates you about technology?

The ability to turn my imagination into reality. Having a solid technical background helped me build software tools and apps that didn't exist. In this modern world, having basic tech skills is a must.

Tell us about your journey of finding your passion.

Until Class VI, I had almost no involvement in extracurricular activities. One day my father showed me an advertisement for an Indian digital payment company. and pointed out the things they are doing with their app. This kindled my curiosity to learn about the interface of their app and about the tools used to build websites. This, combined with the basic web development lessons in Class VI, got me to explore different kinds of technology using the computer we had at home. I used the Internet for the first time to learn about website development. I set up my first website by leaming about coding from an educational website. This was about five years ago. But I soon realised web development wasn't something I wanted to pursue as a career. I wanted to do programming languages such as Java, Kotlin, Ruby, etc. So in Class VIII, I got into app development, and since then I have worked using many coding languages on different levels of projects. Today I maintain 20+ open source projects, and also write technical articles to help others become better software developers.

Recently, you became one of the youngest to receive the Google Associate Android Developer certification.

It is a certification that says I have the industry-level skills required to be a professional Android developer. It is not a course certification, but an eight-hour-long programming test where one has to work on tasks on a real Android app project that Google provides. There's a coding interview too, and that's how one can be certified.

What projects are you currently working on?

I'm currently focussing on my developer publication genicsblog.com and my open source app JekyllEx. Genics is a public blog and open source platform where software developers can share their technical knowledge by writing on topics they are passionate about. It has about 600 monthly readers now; in January it was only 200! JekyllEx allows people to manage their Jekyll-powered blogs from their smartphone without the hassle of needing a desktop.

What's your vision for this fast-growing world?

My vision is to build software and also create content that would help people upskill their knowledge in software development. I believe that free and open-source software is powerful. Most of what we see on the Internet today would not have existed if it weren't for open source. So I would definitely continue to work on my open source projects.

Do you have any message for society?

I would like to change society's mindset that kids can't do anything without formal education. During the recent lockdowns, we saw a lot of people with mind-blowing ideas that have the potential to change the world. I believe that people should have an open mind and trust their kids by letting them pursue careers in any field they find interesting. Teaching kids to be passionate about what they want to do is a lot better than forcing them to change to something they might regret later. As for the kids, my message is believe in yourselves because you can do anything you want. When you know that you have the potential, go for it and earn your place in this world!

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AN INTERVIEW OF YOUNG ACHIEVER UDITI SHARMA - FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ELEVATE TECH (A NON-PROFIT ORGANISATION).

Uditi Sharma is a 16-year-old change-maker passionate about using technology for social good. She is the founder and executive director of Elevate Tech, a non-profit organisation with a mission to empowering gender minorities through technology and entrepreneurship.

She speaks about her journey. Founder of the First Step, a YouTube channel that features interviews of young achievers.

What prompted you to set up Elevate Tech?

As my Class IX examinations got over, I had a lot of free time to learn about computer science and participate in online coding events. I had been coding apps and websites since middle school, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. However, noticed that barely any girls were present at these events- if any at all! saw potential in turning such events into an avenue for bringing in more girls into the tech space. So, was motivated to create an organisation to empower young girls like myself who were just venturing into the world of technology. Back when started the non-profit. I didn't know it would become something so big and involve and impact thousands of people worldwide. I started by doing small workshops teaching my friends and their siblings how to code. To this day, teaching code is one of my favorite things to do. Slowly, my initiative became more extensive, and more people attended our workshops and events. As the organisation grew, we spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas for a large-scale, impact-driven event that would allow attendees to use technology for social good and empower others around them. This resulted in Elevate Hacks, a 48-hour hackathon. After Elevate Hacks, we have dedicated our time to other events, such as our fellowship and mentorship programmes. We're currently planning to host the second edition of our hackathon this year.

Tell us more about Elevate Hacks. What kind of impact did it create?

We held our first hackathon event in July 2020. We had over 600 young girls from 35 countries around the globe who got together to create websites and apps that solved problems in their communities, resulting in the development of 65 products within two days! I knew my efforts from over six months serving as the lead and sponsorships director of the hackathon paid off when I saw the fantastic community of problem-solvers and entrepreneurs we had brought together.

In addition, we had over 20 guest speakers, workshop hosts, and panellists throughout the event to keep our audience engaged and encouraged, teaching them upcoming technologies such as machine learning and iOS app development.

What is your motivation to organise hackathons and similar events? What are your next steps?

Hackathons inspire me because of their focus on collaboration and problem-solving. At hackathons, you can find solutions to the world's biggest problems with the support of so many others around you. I firmly believe technology and entrepreneurship can together solve the world's most pressing issues and it's so important to have young women be a part of this change.

As the hackathon ended, we researched improving the experiences of our hackers and began working on other impactful events. We learned the need for a long-term engagement that offered the same supportive hackathon culture but gave our participants flexibility with their time- and came up with the Elevate Tech fellowship programme. This is a three-month-long, grant-based fellowship programme that pairs young girls passionate about using STEM for social good and provides support from industry mentors and experts as they develop their products.

You're the leader of Girl Up Dubai. Tell us more about that.

 I’ve been part of the Girl Up for over a year now, serving as a club leader. coalition leader, and most recently as the leader of the Girl Up Gender Equality Action Group leader at the United Nations Foundation's Big Brainstom. I worked with my team to create a gender-focussed climate advocacy tool-kit and presented our idea to the judging panel. This process took an intense amount of time and has made me ready to further step into the world of research-motivating me to continue working on solutions to further gender equality.

What are the projects you are working on?

love to code, and I’ve been making apps for over five years now. I have recently been working on an app called Vision Al, which aims to empower visually impacted individuals through artificial intelligence. I was inspired to work on Vision Al after seeing my grandmothers struggles with visual impairment. This app uses machine learning and image recognition to assist visually aided people in doing their everyday chores. I think the youth must learn how to solve problems using technology due to its accessibility. This urge to empower the youth through technology motivated me to create and lead IHS Launchpad, a start-up incubator at my high school with over 120 members.

What are your future plans?

Although I don't have a set path yet, I’m excited to explore technology through the lens of entrepreneurship 3 and work on impactful start-ups and non-profits. Through my work at Elevate Tech and beyond, I aspire to not only shatter the glass ceiling but also build the elevator for other women to join the revolution by bridging the gender and socio-economic gap in technology and education.

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