One of the highlights of Navratri is the ‘Kanya Pujan’ or ‘Kanjak Puja’ – a ritual where nine young girls are worshipped as the manifestation of the feminine divine. In India, we deal with the paradox of worshipping goddesses yet underestimating and holding back our girls. But times are changing and we see more and more smart and accomplished women take charge of their lives. Today, we’re talking to Arunima Sen, a child prodigy who doesn’t let age or her gender, hold her back.
This article is a part of the campaign ‘9 mindful women entrepreneurs who are building a healthy future’. Each day, we’ll feature an inspiring entrepreneur and her journey towards a more sustainable future.
Mark Twain said ‘age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
When we saw Arunima speak at Kyoorius DesignYatra 2019, this quote strongly resonated with us. A 17 year old girl walked onto stage and within 15 minutes had the crowd glued to her inspiring talk about the future of design and innovation. Such is the draw of this young student, innovator and designer who hails from Bangalore and has been awarded the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement in 2019. It’s the highest award that can be conferred on a civilian below 18 years.
Aptly named ‘Arunima’ meaning the ‘glow of dawn’, she’s passionate about using STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) for ushering in change. Over the years, she has co-developed different innovative projects with people from across the globe that helps in addressing some of the global challenges. Additionally, she has received international recognition for winning several innovation challenges. Her work has led to meetings with several scientific, industrial and academic pioneers from Nobel laureates to CEOs of fortune 500 companies.
I received the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement in the field of innovation for three of my projects –
- A non-invasive device that determines micronutrient levels through strands of hair. This will be an accurate and inexpensive procedure to fulfil needs for better data from South-East Asia, Africa and India.
- A smart green building with zero carbon footprint on the environment. This skyscraper integrates various sustainable technologies and green walls which will contribute to the fauna adaptation in the urban environment.
- An innovative data science-based solution that will enable farmers to make effective data backed decision to improve barley yield.
The curiosity of understanding how things work has always driven me.
As a child, I was really curious and inquisitive! The curiosity of understanding how things work has always driven me. It led me to continually seek puzzles in my surroundings and find solutions and that’s how I started off.
I have always felt that my purpose of being in this world was to change it for the better.
My father was a scientist with ISRO and my mother a homemaker. He was an alcoholic who was on loss of pay from work. My mother, autistic brother, and I were victims of his domestic, physical, and mental abuse and torture. Without a supportive environment, you can easily feel discouraged from pursuing your dreams. Despite the obstacles and setbacks, I stood up for my dreams and rebelled, with a cause, against everything.
Don’t give up easily just because the odds are against your favour.
I have always felt that my purpose of being in this world was to change it for the better. I started exploring the different realms within STEM through which I could solve some of the biggest problems facing the world and started collaborating on different projects.
Working on these projects kept me engaged and kept my mind off the violence and suffering around me. Every time I finished working on a project, the few moments of satisfaction and contentment that followed were euphoric yet motivational. The satisfaction of having contributed towards a better world motivated me to undertake more such projects.
Many people try to hide their problems or struggles. They might be worried about what others will think or how they’d be perceived. I think it is really good to open up and talk about your struggles. Talking about it might motivate someone else, who is in your shoes, to get help and get through it.
I believe whatever happens, happens for the best. You may not realize it now, but down the lane, you will. During those tough times, I always thought about the master plan or destiny. I thought perhaps I was being put through all these hardships to become a stronger and more confident version of myself. Looking back, I realize I was right. Those experiences redefined my existence and I came out better, stronger, optimistic and more confident. Don’t give up easily just because the odds are against your favour. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Unless you do, you can’t discover what you’re truly capable of!
Innovation needs courage. Unless you’re bold enough to work on what you believe in and stand up for it, you are left with an unfulfilled idea that had potential. Innovation in today’s world is really important. Without finding, designing and innovating new solutions to problems that are evolving everyday, we are succumbing ourselves to the inevitable.
To practice innovation, it is important to be inquisitive. Ask questions and not just the obvious ones. Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them. Having personal goals is a must. Without any goals, you are just going with the flow – Ask yourself in such a scenario, aren’t you dead if you just go with the flow?
Innovation, for me, is about designing something that helps to solve an existing problem or meet new needs.
I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities that challenge me
I saw an ad about the Junior Academy of the New York Academy of Sciences while browsing the internet one day. I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities that challenge me and so I decided to apply. It was a selective online research program for high school students. There, I co-developed eight projects with international peers
1. A device to non-invasively determine micronutrient levels in organisms
2. A prototype of an energy-efficient solar hybrid bus,
3. A smart and sustainable green building,
4. Predictive analytics for optimizing barley yield in the United States,
5. A sensor-based technology to detect and control poaching,
6. A novel data-driven intervention model to combat malnutrition in India,
7. An integrated wildfire prediction and containment system,
8. An integrated aircraft system to increase efficiency, reduce emissions, and produce additional energy using HPEV systems.
And all thanks to effective collaborations..
Collaboration can be magical. Finding the right collaboration is really important. Unless you find like-minded and driven co-workers you connect with, working together might become dull and boring. With the right teammates/co-workers, work becomes fun! Working together collaboratively can result in so many amazing things – the different skills and expertise that everyone brings to the table can generate more awesome ideas!
Sustainability ensures that our current needs are met, but not at the expense of the environment.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats mankind faces today. Without more efficient and sustainable ways of living and working, our future will be destroyed. Sustainability is a broad term but it mainly revolves around more efficient consumption of energy and resources. It ensures that our current needs are met, but not at the expense of the environment. We can approach sustainability by protecting and conserving the environment, following the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle), and a more eco-friendly lifestyle. We should try to use more energy-efficient lightning, prefer public transportation or try to walk if the distance is walkable.
It is astonishing that today there is no actionable effort to alleviate climate change. The future is ours and the world needs more leaders to act on climate change and it’s great to see more young people stepping up. While Greta Thunberg is doing an amazing job, there are also many other young leaders who are working, relentlessly, in the fight against climate change. In the future, I hope to work on more impactful projects with a wider outreach to society and the communities in need of it. I want to achieve my goal of solving real-world problems through technology and innovation while meeting new people and making meaningful friendships.
I enjoy listening to music with some coffee and meditating on a hectic day. Some days I work at a stretch and there are days when I do nothing. Currently, I am taking a year off to focus on my work, hone my skills, travel to new places and expand my network before I start university next year.
The Indian education system is really flawed.
The Indian education system emphasizes on rote learning (a memorization technique based on repetition) rather than practical approach. The innate skills of children aren’t recognized and nurtured in the right way. Furthermore, I feel the system gives more importance to marks than education itself. Where learning should be the goal, students are taught that success is synonymous with marks.
I think one of the biggest problems faced by today’s youth is materialism. We are taught from a young age that happiness is synonymous with good grades and wealth. This also results in mental health issues, another topic that is still stigmatized. We should prioritize our mental health and well-being and happiness over materialistic things like wealth or possessions. We should also focus on our needs and not on our wants, try to follow a simpler life, and seek meaningful experiences.
Arunima makes me believe that no matter the age, once we make up our mind to do positive work in this world there is no glass ceiling that won’t shatter. I’m absolutely positive that with her clarity of mind and straightforward disposition, she’ll make our country proud. I look forward to many more innovations from this survivor, humanitarian and visionary. To know more about her you can visit her website www.arunimasen.com