At the age of 10, Jaskiran Kaur Rahi won a Sir Peter Blake Young Leader Award for starting a kids’ computer coding club at Queen Margaret College in Wellington.
Today, she’s about to turn 14 and has already founded a social enterprise – Spirit and Soul – with the mission of empowering girls from the age of 10.
REDnews interviewed Jaskiran about how she’s breaking barriers for girls and young women.
When did you come up with the idea for Spirit & Soul?
“I was nine when the idea came about. I went to a coding camp and was the only girl there which made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want other girls to feel the same way.
"Spirit & Soul really took shape in 2017 though, when I entered the idea of a social enterprise to empower girls into ‘Dream Bank’ - an initiative run by the Sir Peter Blake Trust and Westpac New Zealand.
Her dream was recognised and Westpac took her to the 2017 Women of Influence Forum to be a speaker.
“A key part of Spirit & Soul is to inspire young girls from around the age of 10, because there are a lot of other organisations that are running career days and events for girls in year 13 (ages 16 and 17).”
Why is 10 such an important age for girls to be inspired and influenced?
“Targeting girls who are 16 or 17 for career days is too late, because if you wanted to be a doctor, you would have had to already have taken science subjects throughout high school.
“We want girls to be exposed to options and have hands-on experience before high school.
“My mum had signed me up for the coding camp when I was nine. I hadn’t been exposed to that before and although I don’t want a career in it, I enjoyed learning about it. If you never try, then you never know.
“When you’re younger than the age of 10, you believe you can do anything.
“But soon after that age, that’s when you’re exposed to gender stereotypes of subjects at school or extracurricular activities. I thought the issue needed to be addressed early on.”
What do you think is holding girls back from studying subjects like coding and the sciences?
“One of the main factors is exposure, and not being aware of the stereotypes which are indirectly put in their minds through TV shows, the news and what their parents do.
“The stereotypes are everywhere, so the main problem is exposure.
“They might then have the option to try something, but they think they don’t want to, or they dismiss it as an option.”
You have two mentors... how important are mentors for kids?
“Having a mentor is so important, to have someone outside your circle of friends and family who will give you positive guidance in the right direction.
“I found my first mentor when Westpac invited me to the Women of Influence Awards Forum to talk about my journey.
“There, I met Natasha Tae-Lynch, who is an Associate Director for Public Sector Relationships at Westpac. She became my mentor and our relationship grew from there.
“Natasha helped me solidify my mission and vision for Spirit & Soul at the time when it was just an idea.
“She helped me figure out how to execute the idea to create the social enterprise.”
What are you working on at the moment?
“Within Spirit & Soul we are teaching life skills like CPR, how to change a tyre, financial literacy, as well as self-wellbeing and stress management.
"We want to create safe spaces for young women and girls to express themselves and try new things – whether that’s through building confidence or teaching goal setting.
"We’ve also just released our ‘Lead by Example Video Series’, which are a series of videos on teamwork, courage, hope, passion and resilience.
"And we are about to open applications for a new team of young women to start working with us.”