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Crack the Code for Girls

Current student empowers girls in low and middle-income countries through digital literacy
Kavya Krishna with SOW Coder Graduates
Kavya Krishna (center, in white) with graduates in the Egypt chapter of the Society of Women Coders
Photo: Courtesy of Kavya Krishna

When master’s student Kavya Krishna embarked on a tech career in New York, she witnessed firsthand the personal and financial growth that comes with job opportunities. However, she also recognized that not everyone has access to similar developmental experiences. There is a gender-based digital inequality in many low- and middle-income countries, she says, including in her native India. 

“In this day and age, digital literacy is literacy. If someone is not digitally literate, then they might as well be considered illiterate,” says Krishna, who was recently named among Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for her dedication to empowering girls in underserved communities with the skills needed to excel in a technology-driven society. 

In 2018, Krishna and colleague Farah Laurore launched the Society of Women (SOW) Coders, a nonprofit that works with corporations and community organizations in lower-income countries to provide digital literacy skills, coding training, and support to young girls. The venture began with a trip to Haiti and Belize, during which the partners taught coding to 40 girls through a workshop. Utilizing vacation time, days off, and personal savings, Krishna and Laurore built on the promise of this initial workshop, gathering data on the program’s impact and building a community that would maintain students’ learning over time. They also established partnerships with organizations that helped them grow their program into a comprehensive six-month course that includes training in website development and coding with Python, a programming language.

Kavya Krishna
Kavya Krishna

When COVID-19 restricted travel, Krishna created remote opportunities, facilitating online learning experiences for girls located in multiple geographic spaces. Although online learning presented challenges in engaging with local communities, it also opened up new opportunities, allowing SOW Coders to expand its instructor base and diversify the courses offered. Currently, the nonprofit has partnerships with numerous tech companies and civic entities located throughout the United States and Latin America and boasts a network of more than 500 volunteers.

In the six years since its founding, more than 40,000 girls across 423 schools in 57 countries have been empowered by SOW Coders’ programming, with many sharing testimonials on SOW’s website about how taking the course has opened up new paths for them, including studying computer science at international universities and building websites for themselves and outside organizations.

“SOW Coders changed my life by opening up new career paths I did not know existed,” says 2020 graduate Namita Giri in a testimonial. “Instead of following the traditional pathway, I was able to learn something new and meet amazing people.”  

At HGSE, Krishna inspires others to transform their ideas into actions by sharing her experience of launching and scaling SOW Coders, as well as by taking a leadership role in the entrepreneurship pitch competition affiliated with HIVE, the Harvard Ed School's student-run group focused on social entrepreneurship. 

“She knows that it truly does take a village to turn a good idea into action and so, when you listen to her talk — whether in the classroom or online — you hear how she credits others, learns from others, and builds momentum for change through and with others,” says Professor Monica Higgins, who teaches the course Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning. 

Krishna says her time at the Ed School has broadened her perspective about learning and social impact, while also positioning her to connect SOW Coders with a rich ecosystem of resources. In 2023, Krishna and SOW Coders earned a spot at the Social Impact Fellowship Fund at the Harvard iLab, where she was named a semi-finalist for the President’s Innovation Fellowship. 

"Every day, I am privileged to learn from amazing people, interact with fellow leaders in the social impact world and benefit from the insights of our wonderful faculty,” says Krishna. One of her biggest lessons from the Ed School is that “mission-oriented leadership is more important than margin-oriented leadership,” which works nicely with SOW Coders’ commitment to challenging cultural biases surrounding technology use and the presence of women in tech-related roles.

“When I think about the company, I think about it as myself: mission-oriented. From this perspective, the company is just one platform,” Krishna says.


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