#WomeninSTEM · #WomeninTech · inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Tarana Gupta

“Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow” – Doug Firebaugh
~~~~

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I am a human-centered strategic experience designer and researcher.  I believe that technology and design can be effective tools in fighting social and political issues, both within local communities and on a  global scale. I am a strong potent of universal healthcare and education.

Mostly recently, I founded Connectedreams, which is an online data-driven networking platform aimed at bridging the role model and mentorship gap.

Our mission is to promote the feeling of “She did it, so can I”.

We aim at an advanced outlook towards mentor-mentee relationships that is best suited for the incredibly fast and crazy 21st century we live in. Today, people can easily meet and speak with others who share a lot in common, be it in their perspective or ideology and thereby, have a chance to expand their networks.

Connectedreams’ algorithms connect people with their best fit role models and mentors through 1-on-1 recommendations whom they can relate to aspirationally, culturally, demographically, and professionally.

ConnectedreamsYou can  connect with more than one mentor and  then approach a problem  with many perspectives instead of just one. The Connectedreams’ app provides you a chat feature. Now it’s up to you and your connection as to how you want to connect, either just via chat or video or phone call or if you want to meet in person. We believe even a  20 minute call with a person can turn into  a lifelong connection, or even a short conversation or chat can be the solution to your queries.

Before starting Connectedreams I was a Strategic Experience Designer & Ethnographic Researcher with Laboratory of Social Machines at MIT Media Lab, Cambridge – which focused on understanding and designing data-driven innovative technological solutions to create better accountable, transparent and responsive networks, connecting individual stakeholders and institutions.

What # would define your life journey?
#design #research #technology

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
As for most of us my strongest influencers are my Mom and Dad. They were/are my first role models. My mom always inspires me to be a good person first and then do whatever I wanted to do in my life.

Other than that there is not one but so many people who have and are inspiring me everyday.  I am always hungry to learn about new area of study. Whenever I meet someone passionate and doing something interesting it inspires to learn about why they think the way they think, their perspective and about the field.

How did the idea of connectedreams come to be? Tell us about the challenges that you faced down this path and the reaction of your family and the society… And how did you overcome them?
The idea for Connectedreams was born when I attended Clay Shirky’s “Hacking Higher Ed” class back in 2014. Ideas like “traditional schools are obsolete” were being tossed around carelessly (especially after a guest lecture by Kio Stark, the author of “Don’t Go To School”).

This thought about the misconception of traditional schooling was very unsettling for me.  In the context of South-Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc,. higher education is important for girls and young women for their empowerment and to enable them to think and take decisions for themselves.

College lets us step out of our comfort zone, our parents’ protection and their guidance. It provides us with a chance to mingle with different people, in and outside of our community with various perspectives, especially if we migrate to a different city to attend college. Diversity doesn’t just remain a textbook term when you go to college,  but  becomes a wonderful part of your reality and experience as you find new role models in your friends and teachers.

It also got me thinking that not all of us in India are so lucky to find mentors either in their local family circles or within extended network at school/college.

After graduating from NYU and over the next year or so, while I was working at MIT, I couldn’t help but constantly think about ways to solve the problem of “mentorship gap” for women.

I come from a small city (Sonipat) and I understand the immense potential that lies in young Indian women. All they need is a nudge at the right time. Indian women,especially those  hailing from  second and third tier cities, are often forced into the societal family roles and therefore are denied of any chance of having an inspiring and a relatable role model. And most of the time,  this comes at the sacrifice of their further education.

About 4 out of 5 female undergraduates never join the workforce. While the societal pressure of getting ‘married at the right time’ plays a large role  it is also because they never meet women who have overcome these odds to fulfill their ambitions.  There are many Indians doing exceptionally well in their professional fields. However, there are no means to connect with them for guidance/ advice  if you don’t know they exist.

Another troublesome aspect of lack of guidance is that it also affects people who have the best education and resources at their disposal too. Many professionals are hesitant to reach out to their experienced co workers and seniors as they might be busy or due to lack of reply.

Also,  Mentors are needed  for the parents as well to make them see  possibilities that are beyond what is “conventional” and “acceptable” to them.

I spent many sleepless nights worried that no one is working to solve this problem.

We have various websites in India to get two strangers married, but none that people can exclusively use for creating their personal knowledge source, by connecting with many like-minded people. The irony never fails to amaze me.

Another interesting anecdote that helped me solidify my belief in the power of networking with right people at the right time was when my parents pressured me to get married back in 2012. They set up meetings with prospective grooms while all I thought about was how I can learn from their professional experiences and expand my connections. Some of them became my friends and I learnt a lot from them. They all worked in prestigious organizations and few were doing some interesting research as well. While marriage was off the cards for me at that time, I ended up interacting with many cool strangers who shared their work experience with me and taught me a lot.

That is when the idea of Connectedreams came to me.

You can read about the research that went behind the idea of Connectedreams here:
https://medium.com/readers-writers-digest/how-can-we-empower-human-networks-to-create-more-relatable-role-models-397c45b459d1#.adpetnto5

We also made a short video to express motivation behind connectedreams:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjreqmIUBjs

There is always scepticism when you leave the comfort of a full time job to start out on your own. Most of this scepticism actually came from within, not from my parents or husband. My dad even offered seed funding.  My mom, since the beginning, had ingrained in me that I can do much better than I am doing currently and ultimately encouraged me.

I took up part time freelance projects a couple of days a week which helped me fund the initial development of Connectedreams. It took a lot of faith in myself and I am glad I could muster it up at that time.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
There is always an opportunity to learn and reinvent yourself.  I’d encourage to be open to different opportunities. I believe anybody can do anything if they are passionate about it. Don’t be afraid to go after what you love, even if it means changing your career. It is okay to explore new paths. All you need is perseverance and a lot of hard work.

Look for many mentors and differing  opinions. Multiple people who are experts in what they do. The point of all these diverse sources to draw inspiration from is that you get clarity about what you want with your life. Learn from their failures and their success. They have been in your shoes too and are the most reliable source of insight on what the future holds for you.

I also think that it’s super important to be open to trying different opportunities and to keep learning, especially in today’s world. You need to be willing to accept and adjust to the rapid changes of everyday life and learn whatever that comes across your path and embrace it.  Identify what those opportunities are and go after them. I don’t think anything can stop a woman, neither age nor experience.


Learn more about Connectedreams: http://connectedreams.com/

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