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Kavindya Thennakoon: Building Foundational Skills by a Child’s Tenth Birthday

Kavindya Thennakoon: Building Foundational Skills by a Child’s Tenth Birthday

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Kavindya Thennakoon, the CEO and Head of Product of Tilli. Let’s learn about what’s happening there and how Kavindya is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Kavindya, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Tilli?

Kavindya: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Research shows us that one in every three children born in the developing world don’t reach their full developmental potential, both in terms of their cognitive growth and their social-emotional skills. The ages between 0-10 form the most critical developmental window of a human being’s life—did you know that over 80% of a human’s brain development is done before the age of ten?

Spiffy: I did not!

Kavindya: This means that what happens in our childhood: how we learn, and our experiences at home and beyond, have a significant impact on our life outcomes as adults. Tilli builds and measures eight foundational skills (from self awareness to empathy) by a child’s tenth birthday.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Kavindya: I built Tilli for my own seven-year-old self, because If I had learned some of these skills like setting boundaries, articulating my emotions, and communicating my needs, my childhood would have been a very different one. Seeing children (and even parents) build lifelong skills like self awareness and empathy is what keeps us going. Parents who use Tilli often tell us that it was the first time that they had a deep and meaningful conversation about feelings and emotions with their little one, and for me there is nothing more motivating than seeing something you built help parents and their children develop a more loving and trusting relationship.

Spiffy: Can you elaborate on the impact of your work?

Kavindya: In the past eleven months we've reached almost 15,000 early learners and parents. A recent report by Save the Children showed that nine out of every ten children who use Tilli demonstrated more positive coping mechanisms around anger management and empathy. While Tilli is designed for kids, four out of five parents who used it were also able to better manage their own emotions. These terrific learning outcomes are the result of combining great design, cutting edge research, and the power of play.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?

Kavindya: In December last year we launched “Tilli for Classrooms” which is a comprehensive suite of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) tools geared specifically for elementary classrooms. It includes a research-based curriculum that takes only 20 minutes per week, a beautifully designed learning kit for every classroom, a learning and parenting tool, and a dashboard for teachers. It's currently in pilot in a couple of schools in South Asia, and we’re seeing the impact of putting social emotional learning data into the hands of teachers.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Kavindya: Looking back at the past two years, there is one reflection that stands out—the need to define what our own definition of growth looks like. Sometimes in this space, we’re fed rather unsustainable versions of scaling and success, but it’s important to keep the process of building joyful, just, and intentional as much as the end product.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Kavindya—it’s been an honor!

Kavindya Thennakoon is the CEO and Head of Product at Tilli and a researcher at the SPARK Lab at Stanford. Tilli is an award-winning learning tool that builds eight foundational skills before a child’s tenth birthday and is used by over 8000 learners. Tilli is a UNICEF Venture Fund portfolio company and has been recognized by leading organizations in the education space like IDEO, Sesame Workshop, Playful Minds, and UNOSSC. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 28, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.