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.
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.
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.
The Roshni formula is simple: empower smart girls with self confidence, critical thinking skills, basic social skills, and life skills—and make them realize that they can succeed by working hard and taking risks. Roshni girls, all of whom live below the poverty line yet maintain top academic standing, undergo intensive education through three training modules over a six-month period. The curriculum covers 25 subjects, ranging from public speaking to conflict management to hygiene. Students are also taught computer and internet basics. At the end of each training season, 60 top-performing students are granted scholarships by the Nurul Hasan Foundation to pursue their secondary and higher education.