“We just need to find that one thing we’re passionate about and solve it.” That simple idea drives 15-year-old Gitanjali Rao of Lone Tree, Colorado, to solve the world’s problems, one by one, while enlisting others to do their part.
Rao is TIME’s “Kid of the Year,” selected from over 5,000 nominees. Interviewed by actress and activist Angelina Jolie, it’s obvious that Rao is extremely intelligent and driven to make the world a better place.
“I was like 10 when I told my parents that I wanted to research carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water quality research lab, and my mom was like, ‘A what?’” she told Jolie. Turns out, the technology can detect chemicals in water. She also wants to work on a process that can detect bio-contaminants in the water supplies of third-world countries.
If that doesn’t make your jaw drop open just a little, consider this: She’s also “working on a product that helps to diagnose prescription-opioid addiction at an early stage based on protein production of the mu opioid receptor gene.” She’s a female Doogie Howser, and then some, it would seem.
And on a more understandable level, Rao has also developed an app called Kindly that helps teens understand and avoid becoming cyberbullies, all by pointing out word choices that can be interpreted as hurtful.
“You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is. The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around,” she said.
Not content to change the world on her own, she has partnered with prestigious organizations and academies around the world to present workshops that will inspire others to do the same. She recently celebrated a milestone in that she has now mentored 30,000 students online. She says it’s like “creating a community of innovators.”
Where does she get her news and research? Facebook? Twitter? The Wall Street Journal?
Actually, Rao’s “go to” source is the MIT Technology Review. What, that’s not on your list? Me neither, but now I’m thinking I might just bookmark it, if only to stay up on the ideas that are moving Rao and her generation of innovators.
TIME’s other finalists are equally impressive: a 14-year-old portrait painter who specializes in painting people of color; a 14-year-old disabled girl who helps design prosthetics for other disabled youth; a 10-year-old African American girl who invented “skin color” crayons to help address racism and stereotypes; and a 16-year-old Austin, Texas teen who has been growing vegetables and providing food and cooking lessons for the underprivileged for the past seven years.
Rao and the other “Kid of the Year” finalists are an encouraging sign in a year dominated by discouraging headlines, a pandemic and an increasingly fractured society.
Rao has a suggestion for those who, like her, are passionate about wanting to make the world a better place: Don’t try to solve everything.
“Even if it’s something as small as, I want to find an easy way to pick up litter. Everything makes a difference. Don’t feel pressured to come up with something big,” she says.
That sounds like good advice. We’re not all blessed with the same abilities and resources, but we can certainly change the world beginning right where we are. And, as Christians on our own particular mission to change the world one life at a time, that should especially resonate with us.
Screenshot from TIME