If there is anything that can be surmised about the problems facing humanity in the future, it’s that smart and innovative minds are needed. We must start now by making sure youth today (and future generations) are getting the needed educational opportunities to reach their fullest potential.
Fortunately, we have dedicated people working to fill in the gaps where our current education system falls short. I recently spoke with Archika Dogra, the founder and executive director of Innoverge, a Bellevue, Washington non-profit that is looking to provide greater opportunities in STEM education for the traditionally underserved and underrepresented. Despite being only a freshman at Princeton herself, Archika has built an impressive organization that has already proved successful.
Mary Juetten: When and where did you start?
Archika Dogra: Innoverge is an educational equity non-profit organization promoting STEMxHumanities opportunities for underrepresented youths, originally based out of the Greater Seattle Area. I started my journey in early 2017, when I began co-teaching five students at a local community center called Jubilee REACH in Bellevue, Washington. As of today, I’ve taught over 500 students across the Greater Seattle Area and beyond through free workshops, events, and camps.
We onboarded our very first chapter in late 2017 as well, headed by our current Internal Director Ilana Nguyen in San Mateo, California. In 2020, we re-launched our global operations as Innoverge and built a new structure, brand, and team from the ground-up.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Dogra: Innoverge’s mission is to diversify the next generation of changemakers through STEMxHumanities education, principally placing social impact and humanity at the forefront of project-based STEM learning. Innoverge’s focus has always been on educational equity, particularly for students from underserved or underrepresented backgrounds in STEM.
Our global team has partnered with libraries, youth rehabilitation centers, community organizations, and Title I schools, working with K-12 students to empower them with the resources to use STEM for social good. Our free workshops have ranged from STEMxPolitics to STEMxNonprofits, truly encompassing a mission that promotes intersectional and socially minded STEM education.
Juetten: Who are your students and how do you find them?
Dogra: From the start, our primary methodology has been to integrate our free programming into central institutions within communities such as neighborhood organizations, libraries, and schools. We work with K-12 students from various socioeconomic, racial, and gender backgrounds – primarily from those vastly underrepresented in STEM fields.
Once we build these community connections, we often teach these same students over the long run, from anywhere between a few months to three years. Our Regional Directors also play an enormous role in understanding the demographics of their communities and working with the students in need.
During the pandemic, we’ve been working with students internationally in a virtual context as well. Our Programs team is holding monthly firesides with prominent young leaders in STEM, facilitating a virtual mentorship incubator program between older and younger students, and sending out monthly scholarship and opportunity-focused newsletters.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Dogra: Under a previous project where I co-organized STEM workshops and taught students across Seattle, I gained an instrumental reservoir of skills related to working within education. These experiences equipped and propelled me to expand our programs, raise grant funding, and develop the financial and logistical resources for our chapters worldwide.
Over the past few years, it’s been a constant process of learning and growing. However, the root of all this growth has always been the first 5 kids that I had the privilege of working with back in early 2017 at Jubilee REACH. Through those early workshops, I found the genuine enthusiasm and confidence to grow Innoverge as an organization that provides project-based and impactful STEM education to underserved students globally.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Dogra: Our Executive Board is composed of students across the United States. I currently serve as the Executive Director, overseeing organizational operations and program development. Ilana Nguyen, our Internal Executive Director, helped lead Innoverge’s rebrand in the summer of 2020 and currently handles our internal operations and communications. Aryana Suhartono, the External Executive Director, joined shortly after and leads our programs growth and public relations.
Within our global team, we’ve worked with over 35 Regional Directors across the world in countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Dogra: We’ve raised thousands of dollars in both grant funding and donations from organizations such as Disney, Youth Service America, The Hershey Company, WE Foundation, Vital Voices, and AI4ALL. We endlessly appreciate our donors and grant sponsors who make our outreach possible.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Dogra: Building Innoverge has definitely been an adventure. Some of my favorite memories of working on the organization has been the travel. In the nonprofit space, getting your mission out there is one of the best ways to build support.
In November of 2019, I had the opportunity to travel under the sponsorship of the Qatar Foundation to Doha and speak at the World Innovation Summit for Education. One of my favorite memories was getting to see Shakira talk about her rural schooling project in her home country of Colombia. While meeting individuals from all backgrounds, it was an eye-opening experience to see the collective passion for equity juxtaposed with the diversity of individuals participating in the education space.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Dogra: At Innoverge, success is all about the real impact, opportunities, and doors we open for the students who go through our programs. To date, we’ve worked with over 5,300 youths across 12 countries, spanning 200+ free events, workshops, and camps. The numbers are always wild to think about, but the stories are what really keep us grounded. Hearing our students say that they want to take up a career path they hadn’t previously considered, watching them pitch apps to solve important issues such as homelessness, and growing with them over the years is what defines the Innoverge experience.
One of my favorite successes was our first Remote Learning Program, a 3-week program for 3rd through 5th graders nationwide, launched by our Education team to combat the disparities of hands-on education during the pandemic. After shipping free STEM kits to families across different states, we received immensely positive feedback on our program and guiding curriculum. We’re running another Remote Learning Program in 2021 and hope to expand the number of families that we can work with.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
Dogra: Be ready to put 100% into your cause and don’t be afraid to evolve throughout the journey! Catalyze negative experiences into positive changes and embrace the growing pains of founding an organization.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your organization?
Dogra: Innoverge is preparing for another uncertain and dynamically changing year ahead. We have our virtual fireside chats, mentorship incubator, and newsletter off the ground and running. We’re planning on launching more free remote learning programs during the pandemic, organizing Zoom and hybrid workshops, and working with our Regional Directors holding in-person events.
In the long run, our goal is to build a youth-run organization that will continue to operate and expand in the years to come. We want our vision of combining STEM and the humanities to continue reaching students globally. Our team is dedicated to setting the foundations that will support Innoverge’s model and impact in the long run, no matter which young changemaker is leading our work regionally or internationally.
Thanks to Archika for answering my questions, and to say that I am impressed is an understatement. I wish Archika and Innoverge nothing but the best of luck moving forward. #onwards.