Malavika Vivek is the Executive Director of Girls Make Apps, a national non-profit organization that seeks to bridge the gender gap in STEM by creating free programs and workshops across the country for middle-school-college women.
As a senior at the Middlesex County Academy in New Jersey, she is extremely passionate about science, technology and social entrepreneurship. For her efforts to close the gender gap in technology, she has been recognized as a national runner-up by the National Center for Women and Information Technology as well as a 2017 Stanford #include fellow. Malavika is also the President of her school’s Girls Who Code chapter, co-Captain of her VEX Robotics team, and was honored as a Siemens Competition Semifinalist for her research in machine learning and allergy.
How did you get to where you are today?
I believe that my need for challenge has driven me to where I am today. I love problems and I love them more when they are more complex. The only life where I am satisfied is one in which I am constantly striving to solve a problem. I believe the most pivotal part of my journey has been discovering my passion. In my freshman year of high school, I noticed a rather unexpected problem. I attend an engineering-centric high school with a large emphasis on STEM. I had believed that within this community, I would find many other girls interested in programming and tech. However, much to my surprise, most of the students who participated in computer science activities like clubs and hackathons were guys. When I talked to some of my friends, I found that many of them were intimidated by this field, a field in which they saw only successful men as leaders. I realized then that it was my duty to work to change this, to help create a world where female role models in tech and business were highlighted. It was for this reason that I began my two ventures, Women Tech eXchange and Girls Make Apps. These national organizations seek to provide girls with incredible female role models in the field as well as provide them with a positive first experience in tech.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
My toughest obstacle was often running into roadblocks in my ventures and not losing any motivation. For instance, with my organization Girls Make Apps, we had some initial trouble recruiting participants for our pilot program. This felt like a really big disappointment, personally, because I really believe in the mission we have of providing this great introduction to tech to girls across the world. After talking more with my partner, we realized that contacting middle school tech teachers and guidance counselors in the area we were conducting the program had the potential to help us. The results were outstanding. Within a week, we had filled the program to capacity and it was a huge success. Seeing the pride on the faces of our participants as they showcased their final products was incredible to see and reminded me of the reason I do what I do.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
I believe the main thing that has helped me stay focused and motivated is the belief I have in what I am working towards: a future where girls everywhere know, without doubt, that they are capable of anything they set their mind to. Hearing middle-school girls describing their lack of confidence in themselves because they saw no one in the field who looked like them motivates me to be that someone every day. I want to be that role model younger girls can look up to and the importance of this helps me put aside any doubts I may feel in myself. My mission is far more significant than my personal doubts and I am constantly inspired by the sheer brilliance I see in these girls.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Don’t ever turn down an opportunity because you are scared. This piece of advice was something I read in a book and it really made me demand more from my life. I not only started saying yes to more opportunities, I began creating them myself. Leaping into the unknown was definitely a fear but this advice forced me to peel myself away from my comfort zone and delve into new challenges. I think the possibility of failure is something that hinders a lot of people and you just have to believe you are strong enough to fail and bounce back.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
My biggest advice would be to never get comfortable and be your biggest advocate. Starting a new venture is the breeding grounds for adversity so expect setbacks and use them as stepping stones. Challenges are indeed part of the learning process and if you treat every setback as a blessing in disguise, you will always be motivated enough to cut through obstacles. The other thing that really helped me was being part of a support network of women in tech. Finding this network gave me a way to meet amazing women and lean on their experience and strength to get me through any challenges.
How do we get more women leaders?
We get more women leaders by being women leaders and showing other women that they are not alone in this struggle for equal rights. The more women who see leaders that look like them or have the same background, the more we show them that the possibilities are limitless. In any field where women are underrepresented, we see that intimidation and feeling like they aren’t good enough is the biggest contributor to the lack of representation. It is for this reason that my organization Girls Make Apps try to create more opportunities for empowerment through tech in the world. We believe that by creating a safe and fun learning environment we can show girls and women that they are so capable of so much. In addition to teaching them programming and entrepreneurship, we seek to empower them and give them a lifelong support network that they can count on. This way with every door they open and every glass ceiling they shatter, they can take another woman with them.