Creating Gender Balance in STEAM w/ Smart Cheli

With Pratiksha Pandey, CEO at Smart Cheli in Nepal, we talked about creating gender balance in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

Could you present yourself and your organisation?
Thank you, Nadia, for having me. Hi, I am Pratiksha Pandey. I am from Nepal, and I have been working in this field for five years. Also, I am currently working as a mentor for the "1000 Girls, 1000 Futures" program for the New York Academy of Science, and I am leading the organisation Smart Cheli (Smart Daughter) here in Nepal. Smart Cheli is an organisation that provides STEAM education to young girls. We offer STEAM workshops and mentorship. In the STEAM workshops, we involve the young girls in project-based learning in our space. During the mentorship program, we connect them with mentors based on their interests. We also provide STEAM workshops in schools as extracurricular activities.

There is no gender-based subject. It's all up to you. It's all up to your interest.

Why did you start this organisation? What was the motivation behind it?
When I was in college, I was doing a Bachelor in Electronics and Communications Engineering - and we were three girls. Before that, many people said to us that engineering is not for girls - and that it is hard for them. But, in my classroom, we were three girls doing the same things like boys and getting the same marks, so it didn't make sense! That made me feel like that there is no gender-based subject. It's all up to you. It's all up to your interest. These are stereotypes that make us feel that we are less capable than others. So, many girls are falling behind and not joining these fields because of these stereotypes. To avoid this, we need to go back to the schools, increase awareness among young girls and make them feel they are not less capable.

What have been your most exciting achievements or experiences during your social entrepreneurship journey? 
Before Smart Cheli, I was engaged with Women In STEM in Nepal. When I was working with that organisation, I was awarded the Power of Radiance Award 2020 for my work in education. Of course, that is not a significant achievement because there are so many things yet to achieve, but this award recognised our work worldwide. Yes, that was the happiest moment in my life!

We are human beings, and we want to face people when we talk to them.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your organisation?
Yes, COVID has impacted us because some schools are opening, but many are still closed. So, we are not going back to the schools, and now, we are just doing virtual sessions for girls. We are not able to bring them into our space and watch their performance by ourselves. It makes everything more monotonous. We are human beings, and we want to face people when we talk to them. The pandemic makes things a bit complicated, but it will pass, and things will go back to the way they were before.

Before COVID-19, what other challenges have you faced as a social entrepreneur? 
Before the pandemic, we planned to reach out to programs in other districts in Nepal and reach out to more girls who do not have access to STEAM education. These plans are postponed for now, but we will resume them after the situation becomes normal again.

What is your vision for the years to come? Do you generate revenues to sustain your purpose or rely solely on donations and government grants?
Currently, we are sustained by grants, and we are also planning to be self-sustained. It is not possible to be entirely self-sustained, but we are planning to generate some revenues, from our workshops, for instance, that will help us in some way. We are also looking to collaborate with the local government to reach more people and seeking other grants or applying for not-for-profit organisation programs. We are trying to make everything more effective and sustainable.

How would you define a social enterprise?
Yes, there are lots of definitions for it. And also, they can be different in different countries. At first, I thought that a social enterprise is an enterprise that serves society somehow and takes money from it, which will help grow the organisation. However, in Nepal, that definition is slightly wrong because a social enterprise is just a company that uses grants and cannot make a profit. So, it's not a profit-making company, but we can use revenues to organise and manage our office.

Let's spread positivity and inspire more people around the world!

Would you like to share anything else with the people who are going to see this interview?
Let's spread positivity and inspire more people around the world!

Thanks so much for reading this post!

If you are a social entrepreneur and would like to share your story, reach out to me via LinkedIn!

This article was updated on October 16, 2021

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Nadia Humbert-Labeaumaz

Entrepreneur, consultant, biosciences and software engineer, working on projects enabling positive impact.