Tara Chklovski had the weight of her family on her shoulders.
Growing up in India in what she calls a lower-middle-class family, it was difficult not to notice the poverty around her — especially the pivotal role chance plays in determining the family someone is born into, as well as their access to education, healthcare and opportunity.
Chklovski’s parents encouraged her to pursue a subject that intrinsically advanced the world, hoping it would also advance their family’s situation. “That is definitely the mantra of the times in India,” says Chklovski. “The lower middle class has this drive to get a degree in engineering or medicine or technology so you can lift your family out of poverty.”
She came to the U.S. to study aerospace engineering and quickly found that that same drive to pursue tech didn’t apply — especially in the women she met. The U.S. may be a more developed country, she thought, but here, women actively kind of closed doors to their potential, making blanket statements like, “I’m not good at math.” Chklovski was stunned someone could say that with a straight face, but she was also intrigued. She did some digging and concluded that the “huge, transforming lever” that is education was at the root of the problem.
Chklovski wanted to become a pioneer in the area, so she left her PhD program to start Iridescent, an educational nonprofit that says it’s helped train more than 114,000 people from 115 countries since its 2006 launch. The organization sets its sights on empowering young girls and mothers to become tech leaders in communities across the globe, partnering with the likes of Google, GM and Boeing in its mission to teach AI and entrepreneurship to people who have identified problems they’d like to solve in their own communities.
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