Empowering girls to innovate, aspire and achieve

Organization gives girls an entrepreneurial edge, with "Innovator at Work" Archana Sahay at the helm

By Sara Alvarez Kleinsmith, thought leadership, Dell Technologies

Growing up in the small town of Jamshedpur in eastern India, Archana Sahay saw a difference in the subjects that boys and girls were encouraged to pursue. Boys were directed toward science, engineering and medicine, while girls were encouraged to focus on “softer” skills like home science and interior decoration. This perception wasn’t an illusion. According to research by the United Nations, girls in STEM education programs in India are in the minority at 43%. Only 14% go on to pursue careers in STEM.

When she entered the workforce, Sahay went into the social development sector, working with tribal communities and nonprofits to improve the lives of children. So began a career in corporate and social responsibility, which brought her to Dell Technologies in 2018. It was while working at Dell as the head of ESG and social impact for the Asia Pacific and Japan region that she started an impactful program that would provide girls with access to science and tech training, bridging the gender gap by empowering them to forge ahead in STEM careers.

Breaking barriers to STEM

Student participants in the ShePreneur program

ShePreneur India was created in 2022 to encourage girls to tinker, create, sustain and innovate. Along with programs like other Dell-initiated programs like She Codes, which began in 2020, ShePrenuer teaches business skills to young girls at a grassroots level that will translate to the workforce and better their communities.

The program follows a rigorous formula that prepares girls for the diverse challenges and opportunities presented by tech and STEM careers. According to Sahay, “It builds the critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership and communication skills in girl students by leveraging the power of technology and innovation.”

Students participate in vendor-led boot camps, office internships, product development, testing, and patent filing, and they receive guidance for each product launch. The mission of the program is to help the beneficiaries to make their ideas better in terms of scalability and user-centricity.

Emerging tech for developing minds

Preparing children for the workforce of tomorrow requires a solid education on how to innovate. This goes beyond traditional learning methods and demands hands-on practices and the ability to test, fail and learn. According to Dell’s Innovation Index, 56% of innovation leaders polled in the global workforce are hosting hackathons and scrums to encourage innovation and collaborative problem-solving. Girls in ShePreneur are already a few steps ahead, experiencing this hands-on and collaborative development process with professional guidance and in the company of curious peers.

Sahay says these girls are among the most enthusiastic scholars she’s seen in her career. “I visit a lot of these government schools and tribal areas. And this is something that we have always observed—that the girl students hold so much curiosity. They have that thirst and hunger for learning, so we felt there should be a program for them where we are able to also mentor and individually give them a life-changing opportunity.” Employing various future and emerging technologies, ShePreneur students learn multiple disciplines, including artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, the Internet of things, mobile apps, embedded systems, web design and more.

We are seeing these girls driving the movement of change. And each one of them is creating their own path. — Archana Sahay, head of ESG and social impact for APJ, Dell Technologies

The ripple effect of championing innovation

Although ShePreneur is a young program, its impact is already affecting the participants and their communities. So far, over 320 girls from across the country have been able to tinker and create their way to innovation, with 15 patents filed and more than 300 prototypes launched. Many of the girls’ innovations have already reached the commercial stage, each addressing a real-world problem that can change lives. Says Sahay, “So many of these products that these girls have come up with are products that solve day-to-day issues in their community.” Innovations include an alert that prevents cattle from destroying crop fields by waking farmers to a safety device that protects young women from being attacked while out alone.

However, the most potent impact of ShePreneur can’t be measured. Providing girls interested in STEM a place they belong and preparing them for a career in which their predecessors are a minority is no small victory. Sahay says she’s incredibly proud of the effects the program has produced. “I’ve seen how these girls have progressed. And what’s really fulfilling is when I see their profile on LinkedIn, and they’re writing as founders and co-founders of startups and other organizations. That’s when I feel the impact. And I believe it will affect many generations to come. This is what makes me proud.”

Sahay says that innovation begins at the root of a person’s life. “We must inculcate this learning at a young age. That is how we begin to shift the paradigm. We are seeing these girls driving the movement of change. And each one of them is creating their own path. Programs like Shepreneur are transforming education through technology and cultivating the inclusion of powering girls to learn and grow. And basically, they have a seat at the table, particularly in the STEM field.”

Innovators at Work is a series on Perspectives profiling Dell team members who drive innovation by combining ideas and technology to create life-shaping impact. The series is inspired by Dell’s Innovation Index, which provides insight on what global decision makers are doing to create innovation resilience in turbulent times.