Interview with Priyanka Jain by Inspirational Women Series
Priyanka Jain is a sophomore at Stanford University pursuing a B.S. in Science, Technology, and Society. She serves a Youth Champion for the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, empowering girls with education, safety, and good health. Priyanka is also the founder of iCAREweCARE, a student-run non-profit leveraging social media for social good. At Stanford, Priyanka is on the Executive Board of Stanford Women in Business and serves as the Campus Chairman of the Kairos Society, an international organization of entrepreneurs and innovators from the top universities around the world.
Priyanka was named “Youth Philanthropist of 2012” by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and selected as one of the Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs by Smart Girls’ Way. She frequently speaks at conferences around the world about engaging teenagers in giving back to their communities.
What is your background?
I’m a sophomore at Stanford University studying Science, Technology, and Society. I am very interested in the intersection between technology and international development and understanding the opportunities that lie in connecting the power of technology with global needs. Adding to that equation, I’m really passionate about getting young people involved with everything. I think that there’s really something to be said about the power of a visionary mind. As young people, we don’t really focus on barriers, we really see solutions. Instead of asking “Why not?” we ask “Why?” I think that everyone – from little nonprofits to large companies –can really benefit from having younger minds in the room.
On campus, I’m involved with Stanford Women in Business, which is an undergraduate organization working to increase the number of women in business roles. I am the Director of Corporate Relations on the Executive Board, which is really exciting; I manage the Stanford internships for women in the area. I’m also a part of the Kairos Society, a group of the world’s top college entrepreneurs, which has been an incredible, incredible opportunity. iCAREweCARE and Girl Up are my two other projects.
You are the Founder and CEO of iCAREweCARE, a student-run non-profit that leverages the power of social media for social good. Can you tell us more about iCAREweCARE?
iCAREweCARE is an organization started by a group of students who saw a problem and believed we could create a solution. We looked at our friends and it was honestly upsetting to see students who were passionate about world problems but didn’t know how to address them; they didn’t feel empowered to do something about it. At the same time, we have community service requirements at our high school where we have to complete 30 hours of community service per year. We have these students who really cared about problems but were not spending their time addressing them. People would go to the local food bank because it was the easiest thing they could do. If you’re going to spend those hours volunteering, we figured that you might as well be spending them on issues that you are passionate about. But we were aware that the real problem lied infinding those opportunities. Another problem was the general negative feelings around community service; because it was a requirement, people felt like it was a job, and they left high school never really wanting to do again. My friends and I believed there was a real opportunity to get students to enjoy doing community service. If they enjoy it, they will continue doing it for the rest of their lives.
We found that the most effective solution would be to connect people to local organizations based on what they’re passionate about, and then connect them to their friends who care about the same problems so that they can volunteer together. If they volunteered with their friends for an issue that they cared about, they’d be much likely to continue volunteering and enjoy the process for the rest of their lives.
Can you tell us about your work with The Kairos Society?
The Kairos Society is the world’s premier undergraduate organization of college entrepreneurs. The fellows I’ve been able to meet are incredible people whose backgrounds span everything from healthcare to education to drone building to 3D printing; they’re diverse people who tackle problems in innovative ways. I helped start the Stanford Chapter of the Kairos Society last year and we are really excited about the amazing group we’ve brought together. Every year, we bring our fellows to the trade floor New York Stock Exchange and highlight 50 of the top companies that are started by college students. We bring them together with people like Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Richard Branson to mentor these young college entrepreneurs. Being a part of this organization has been incredible – not just because we get to meet really cool mentors and do some really cool things, but because we can meet so many students who are changing the world in so many different ways.
Can you tell us about your work as a Youth Champion for Girl Up?
Girl Up is a campaign of the UN Foundation that works to mobilize girls everywhere to channel their energy and their compassion to help the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls. We work to sure ensure that girls everywhere are healthy, safe, educated, counted, and positioned to be the next generation of leaders. We currently work in Liberia, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Malawi. Over 400,000 girls have joined our campaign, running clubs, hosting fundraisers, and taking weekly actions to help girls. I was a Teen Advisor two years ago; the Teen Advisors are a team of 12 girls selected from our club leaders and supporters. We help shape the campaigns, deciding on what issue to focus on and what our media will look like. Now, I’m a Youth Champion for Girl Up. There are five of us around the world and we work to grow the grassroots program. I’m working with high schools in California and the West Coast, connecting them to each other. Last year, 15 Stanford girls came together to put on a leadership summit for over 100 high school girls from the area; they learned about the problems, solutions, and how they can be involved. My goal is to connect these girls to each other and empower them to see that they do something real and can really make a change.
In high school, you founded the Seattle Chapter of Circle of Women. What inspired you to start this chapter?
I met the people who’d started the Circle of Women when I went to the first Kairos Society summit. It was the first time that I really saw girls so close to my age – they must have been four or five years older than me – doing something that was really drastically changing the lives of girls around the world. It was the first time I realized that I could do something tangible and important regardless of my age. That was really empowering for me. At that time, only only college girls had run the organization. Thankfully, my incessant pleading convinced them to let me start a high school chapter. I believed there was huge potential in high school girls helping high school girls. We wanted to harness the power of our friends to help who were the same age as us, but just don’t have the same opportunities. We put together a mother-daughter tea for our first fundraiser and raised over $25000 to help finish our first school Afghanistan. Now there are 700 girls who go to school there. We funded a program to make the school completely self-sufficient so if our organization falls apart, their school will still be running.
Also, you founded the Women’s initiative at QuestBridge to connect bright, low-income girls to educational opportunities at the nation’s leading colleges. Can you tell us about this initiative?
Questbridge is an awesome organization that was started by a Stanford graduate years ago to help high achieving, low-income students find the opportunities to go to college. Our initiative was to find these girls; there are so many amazing people who fall into that category. However, really high achieving students often never ever apply to college, which is the problem we were addressing. The program is really exciting and we’re hoping to get more of the high-achieving low-income students to understand that going to college is a tangible possibility that it can transform their lives.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
My mom has inspired me in so many different ways. Just being such a strong, amazing woman who has run so many amazing nonprofit initiatives while also being a strong force in the business world and being the most selfless, caring person that you can imagine. She has been so inspiring for my whole entire life – she’s had a huge impact on me.
What do women’s education and leadership mean to you?
They are two of the most important issues facing society today. If we can educate girls, I truly believe we can change the world. When a girl goes to school. she’ll marry later, she’ll have fewer kids, she’ll be less likely to have HIV, her kids are less likely to have HIV, she’ll have a higher income, she’ll invest 90% of her income back into her community. She’s also more likely to send her own kids to school. Educating girls is the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty. Education is key to me.
As I said, girls who earn an income invest 90% of their incomes back into their communities, compared to 30-40% that is invested by men. Obviously, while I think it’s equally important to have boys and girls go to school, there’s something to be said about making sure that girls go to school, because they’ll make sure that their whole families go as well. Even here in the US, I think it’s so important to have girls in leadership roles. As more girls reach the top and can serve as role models, more girls will aspire to reach these heights.