The Infosys Foundation has since its founding in 1996 focused on India, taking numerous initiatives for the underprivileged in areas such as education, rural development and healthcare.
Now, the Foundation has extended its work to Infosys' largest client market, the US, and under the leadership of Vandana Sikka, wife of Infosys chief executive Vishal Sikka, has initiated a host of tech outreach programmes to make computer education more accessible to American students. Vandana says that the organization would be impacting thousands of teachers and millions of students in the years to come.
The Sikkas are based in the US, and Vandana has a Masters' degree in computer science. So it all kind of fell neatly into place.
"I was about to do a startup, when the Infosys board asked if I could take up work for the Foundation in US. We looked at the CSR (corporate social responsibility) needs of America, saw the tech & innovation happening in California, and recognized the dire need for computer science education in the publication accessible to very student as part of core curriculum, alongside other courses such as biology, chemistry or algebra. Code.org is supported by a host of companies including Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. It has funded Girls Who (or government-funded) schools. Computer science was my passion, so I did not hesitate to take up the role," Vandana told TOI in an exclusive interaction over phone from the US.
The Foundation's work is focused on the underprivileged and underrepresented sections of the society, particularly on encouraging young girls to shed the fear of coding by busting gender stereotypes associated with pursuing a computer science degree.
"Believe it or not, one of the most innovative nations in the world doesn't offer computer science as a mandatory subject in its public school system. The more affluent schools offer it as an elective but at a higher grade," Vandana said.
Every job is expected to be impacted by new digital technologies. "To have our students not being taught that subject from an early age is absurd. I think we are setting them up for failure in a world that is highly demanding. We have to look at computer science as the new reading, writing and arithmetic," Vandana said.
Infosys has made its largest grant to Code.org, a US non-profit founded by twins Hadi and Ali Partovi in 2013 that aims to make computer edu Code, which organizes coding boot camps for girls. In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science, says the Girls Who Code website.
"Diversity numbers in the US are really bad. Computer science is seen as hard, geeky, nerdy, and there are lots of stereotypes about women in the field. Most girls don't even try. I did computer science in India and I didn't face such problems," Vandana said.
A lot of Infosys's effort is directed at training teachers. It supports a crowd-funding platform called Donors Choose that enables teachers to submit projects for funding. "We participate in the funding. Every time you train a teacher the impact is bigger. We'll impact 50 million students in the years to come," Vandana said.