A mother and daughter team, Rachana and Sonika Agarwal, recently launched an exciting website for curated inspiring stories and will inspire young women. The inspiration for the website was the US computer scientist and navy admiral, Grace Hopper.
They called the website “Storydip”, a site that enables everyone to dip into the many stories that are out there in the world and gain inspiration. The wish is that young people, and particularly women will be motivated to explore more, and venture into areas that stretch beyond watching mediocre videos or playing at an online casino.
They concentrate on Hindi and English stories where the leading characters are female heroes. The hope is that these stories will inspire girls to go for their dreams.
The motivation to create the website
Rachana Agarwal has three daughters and says that as her children were growing up, she was constantly looking for better role models for them. She started telling them stories when they were very small and saw how this greatly impacted them. Not only did it seem to have a good effect on their memory, it also seemed pique their curiosity. It caused her daughter, Sonika to explore and begin learning subjects in her spare time. By the time she was 13, she had ventured into the subject of financial markets and at 15 she was teaching herself, via the internet, full-stack web development. An amazing achievement.
This curiosity and desire to learn, mixed with the lack of interesting stories with female protagonists available online impelled Sonika to create Storydip.com which she launched with Rachana who curates the many stories. Rachana is a qualified company secretary but she chose to focus her energy on being a homemaker. She always loved storytelling and was hugely inspired by the story of Grace Hopper. She and her daughter decided to launch Storydip.
Sonika explains that “As a child, my mother used to tell us stories every night. On of the stories about Grace Hopper, a renowned computer scientist, sparked my interest. I also realized that even though I had heard sexist comments all my childhood such as my aunt casually mentioning how all girls were a financial burden to their parents, I was only able to have a positive self-image because of the stories my mother told me.”
Grace Hopper used to run her clock counter-clockwise in order to remind herself that it was possible to achieve things in ways that were not traditional. This was something that stuck in Sonika’s mind. Many of the stories Rachana told her girls were concerned with social issues and made them aware of the lives of girls and women in India.
Sonika says “I got to know that 30 percent of women in India are still uneducated and India’s GDP could grow by 25 percent if they were merely encouraged to study and work. But since not every child has a mother that can search for stories for hours every day, I developed storydip.com to share my childhood experience with those kids.”
Stories can be enormously powerful and impactful. Sonika believes that everyone enjoys listening to stories. Storydip offers everyone the opportunity to hear stories in their local Indian dialects and she points out that from a scientific perspective: “When listening to hard facts, only the language-processing parts of our brain are put to work. However, when listening to a story, all the parts of the brain that would be activated had we been the character of the story activated. For example, if you read the sentence ‘She threw the ball,’ the motor cortex, which coordinates motion of your brain also activates. This gives us the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and allows for empathy and understanding.”
Presently, Storydip has a tag-based playlist of organized video stories from around the internet and across all cultures. It covers old Panchatantra fables and also modern stories which focus on stress related situations, depression and girl power. The intention is to develop these categories further and to also provide real life inspirational stories about things like discrimination, climate change and science and technology.
This mother and daughter team hopes that the platform will develop into something that speaks to young women and those people living on the margins that will ultimately help them to overcome adversity by providing them with stories that they may be able to relate to.
Rachana sees it this way, “On the one hand we have YouTube, which offers all kinds of videos on all kinds of topics, and on the other we have websites such as TED, that specifically focus on original speeches. I believe our website leans more towards the TED-end of the spectrum, but is aimed at a very different audience. It provides stories of multiple genres sorted with an easier filtration interface.” She goes onto explain that the reason for the site is also different. “We offer stories as solutions to problems that children or teens might be facing.”
The website is currently being promoted in Kolkata schools. The feedback that they are hoping to get will help them to improve the site. Sonika is in charge of all the technical details concerning the website and Rachana puts together the stories. Access to the website is free; they want everyone, including those who are underprivileged to be able to use the site.
Sonika actually left PwC in order to focus on creating this platform. But academic work is still very important to her. Sonika says that “Storydip helps me apply that I have studies about coding in real time and understand the theory in depth. The knowledge I gain from studying helps me improve the platform. Of course, I am not able to perfectly balance it. Sometimes, I start doing one thing and completely forget about the other. However, I manage to complete the tasks I set for myself on time.”
Their intention is to procure more users, hear what they have to say, learn as much as possible and to develop it further. “We will also work on a better form of classification and on making the website more interactive, perhaps with artificial intelligence,” says Sonika. She goes on to say “In terms of impact, however, I want to help the 30 percent of the illiterate women in India. I hope Storydip can give them strength to fight as they listen to stories with relatable protagonists and not be burdened by the narrow expectations placed upon them. As a 16- year- old, I might not be able to change the view of society, but I’ll do what I can and hope maybe someday I can make a dent.”