ARISE! How US-based, Chennai born Tanya Elizabeth Ken's is helping underprivileged kids

Through LakshyaShala, Ken, 18-year-old student at Iowa State University, is deploying technology and hand-holding underprivileged children to step out of poverty

author_img Nithya Rajagopal Published :  02nd January 2022 05:23 PM   |   Published :   |  02nd January 2022 05:23 PM
Tanya Elizabeth Ken

Tanya Elizabeth Ken

Being privileged means having access to resources that help one realise their aspirations. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the underprivileged had similar access? This is exactly what US-based, Chennai born Tanya Elizabeth Ken does through LakshyaShala -- deploying technology and hand-holding underprivileged children to step out of poverty by guiding them towards a profession they are keen about.

At the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, Ken, 18-year-old student at Iowa State University, mentored a team of five girls from four countries (US, UK, India and Kenya), called Team One World Beyond Pandemic, to create the goal-shadowing application, which pairs children with similar goals. The project created through the LakshyaShala app helps an underprivileged child goal-shadow the tasks done by a privileged child. The initiative was a finalist at Technovation 2020, an event organised by the US-based global tech education non-profit for girls.

"For LakshyaShala, edtech is not about delivering education using technology. It is about bringing families out of poverty," says Ken. She is also one of the 50 Future Leaders picked by the US-based non-profit Project Management Institute. It is a list that represents a new generation of changemakers from across the world. In November, LakshyaShala had set out to mentor children on environment consciousness and reduction in the use of plastic by collaborating with The New LEED Trust, a Chennai-based NGO.

Looking for a career in cybersecurity when she was in class VIII, Ken realised early on that schools don’t have a system to connect students with their professional goals. This made her wonder about the plight of the career aspirations of children from under-served communities. Inspired to find a solution, she launched the LakshyaShala application.

Ken had first put out this application when she participated in Technovation Challenge held in San Francisco in 2017.  Even though she didn’t win, Ken registered LakshyaShala and it has till date done career mentoring sessions for over 700 students from three villages in Chennai. On the app, students can ask questions, akin to WhatsApp chats, for career guidance, encouragement, and professional introductions. 

Some of the other impact apps by LakshyaShala alumni include ARISE, created by girls mentored from Tirusulam in Chennai and it defines milestones for each year of schooling. Every time the child reaches a milestone -- for example, a first-grader reading alphabet -- the mother is intimated in vernacular language to keep abreast of the child’s progress. A local NGO uses this info to address gaps in the child’s learning.

Another project is the Baton app, which won first place in Technovation 2019. It hands over incomplete social work initiatives from one social worker intern to another, irrespective of the institute they are assigned from, thereby enabling collaboration among NGOs, institutes and corporates to ensure social impact.

“I believe that one good deed can start a ripple of change,” says Ken. Her other interests are AI, Machine Learning and Human-Machine Interaction. 

App Accessibility: Currently it is for closed user groups and records progress via facilitators.

App Status: It’s being developed in-house with help of professionals on a pro bono basis.