(May 17, 2023) A report by multinational marketing research company Frost & Sullivan indicates that the number of webinars grew by more than 153 percent in 2020. In the summer of the same year when the pandemic was at its peak, Indian-origin Dubai-based teen, Netra Venkatesh realised the potential of the webinars and how they connect the world. She was a student in grade IX then and wanted to harness the concept to connect people from far and wide. Soon she launched her social startup SpunkGo, an all-girls global organisation to make knowledge accessible in far-flung areas and managed to reach out to girls in 20 countries.
“I was supposed to attend a short-term course offered by a university when the pandemic reached its height. Due to this, the classes were shifted to the online mode.” Sceptical of how effective that mode of learning would be, Netra saw the course getting divided into a series of webinars and discovered that it was fun and engaging. “The whole concept was very fascinating to me,” she tells Global Indian.
The student of grade XII, Dubai International Academy is happy about the fact that platforms like Zoom and Google Meet have made connecting with people so much easier. The teen with an entrepreneurial bent of mind leveraged this potential of technology to make a difference.
Her efforts have bestowed her with prestigious recognitions. George W Bush’s Points of Light Foundation added her to its Inspiration Honour Roll. She also went on to win the prestigious Diana Award in 2022 which is conferred to youngsters for their extraordinary contribution to society. Recently she received a gift from the CEO of Canon Inc, the Japanese multinational corporation. She was handed over the gift at Canon’s regional office in Dubai. “The gift is a part of the Global Good Award which is given to two young people every year for making social impact. There were several entries from across the globe, five people were shortlisted in my category and I was fortunate to win,” Netra tells.
Making knowledge accessible
Just a few months before she founded SpunkGo, Netra had forayed into entrepreneurship with her startup RentEasy – a disruptive platform in the real estate tech space. She was intrigued by the high amount that sellers, purchasers, renters, and those willing to rent out had to shell out as a brokerage fee. Her father, whose ‘love to explore properties,’ had him talking about the exorbitant brokerage amounts, made Netra to come up with a solution in the form of her RentEasy app.
Already in the mode of a solution provider, she quickly donned the social entrepreneur’s hat driven by her webinar experiences and established SpunkGo. “I realised it is an excellent way to make education available to girls living in remote places.” SpunkGo broadens horizons in the areas of life skills – communication skills and mental health with webinars by experts in the field.
Since everyone was embracing the new normal and the use of technology to reach out during the pandemic, Netra could find expert speakers without much fuss. She has since brought a diverse set of speakers to the SpunkGo webinars, ranging from a lawyer working at Microsoft to a young woman from a refugee settlement in Malawi.
Using social media for good
Netra is impressed by the wide reach of Facebook. “It’s a great medium for targeting specific regions and age ranges.” She used the social media’s advertising feature to reach her target audience – 16 to 24-year-old-females staying in remote locations. In quick succession she was able to form 20 chapters of SpunkGo in countries like ‘Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Singapore, India, UAE, Malawi, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia & Eritrea, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the United States’.
Using social media for a cause, SpunkGo connects girls in each country through dedicated groups so that apart from attending webinars, they can look at people around them, get inspired and grow personally and professionally.
Making a difference
The non-profit initiative, born out of the pandemic, has been offering free webinars to women in rural settings for the last three years with help of 30 young women who are addressed as SpunkGo ambassadors. They take care of the day-to-day functioning of the organisation voluntarily, while Netra handles strategy, social media marketing, communication with partners, and coordination with all of them.
The organisation has partnered with Canada based Simbi Foundation. Under this partnership, members of SpunkGo global voluntary programme conduct book narration sessions for displaced children staying in Bidibidi and Palorinya refugee settlements in Uganda so that they can learn by listening. Netra’s organisation also supports the less fortunate in partnership with Shower’s Education Centre & Orphanage, Dandora Slum, Kenya, The Al Noor Centre, UAE, and Hope Foundation, Chennai.
To raise funds for these initiatives SpunkGo helps startups, SMEs, and individuals in website designing and social media marketing, the proceeds of which are utilised for the cause.
The Dubai-born teen who loves playing the piano, has plans to scale up her initiative in time. Her eyes are also set on a career in the corporate world in the domain of marketing, business, and economics. “Even when the world has got back to its pre-pandemic way of functioning, the webinars are going to be staple as people have gotten habituated to impart and access knowledge through this medium. It is not going to die down,” Netra signs off. She seems to be right. “By 2025, the number of webinars will be 10x over the pre-pandemic level,” states the Frost & Sullivan report.