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Shikha Tandon: Helping Children Overcome Discrimination with Sport

Shikha Tandon: Helping Children Overcome Discrimination with Sport

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and 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 and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hello, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference in the world! Today, I have the privilege of chatting with Shikha Tandon, a member of the Advisory Board at Bridges of Sports. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me today, Shikha! For starters, what challenge are you addressing?

Shikha: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! At Bridges of Sports, our mission is to use sport as a tool to help children and young people, and in turn the community as a whole, overcome discrimination and disadvantage in their lives. Our current work is focussed on the Siddi in Northern Karnataka, a tribal community that resides in the remote forests of this region. The Siddi migrated to India as slaves 400 years ago, and since then they have been living under the shadow of racism and lack the social and economic impetus to nudge themselves out of poverty.

Spiffy: Oh, wow! What motivated you to tackle this challenge?

Shikha: It’s well known that sport has the power to bridge barriers and positively impact communities. As a former Olympian, I have experienced firsthand the benefits of participation in sport and extra-curricular activities. When the company’s founder, Nitish M. Chiniwar, reached out to me with his idea and vision for Bridges of Sports in 2016, it resonated with me, and I’ve been fortunate to be on their Advisory Board since day one.

Spiffy: Excellent. How is your team working towards a more equitable world?

Shikha: Right from the get-go, we knew that in order to truly benefit the local community, we needed to meet them where they were versus taking the children out of it. This approach allowed us to understand, and more importantly respect, the Siddi culture, traditions, and mindset. We have been able to provide them equitable access to sports training by repurposing local grounds and fields, providing academic education both in English and their regional language, and improving nutrition via their own self-sustaining kitchen gardens – an initiative that was started during the pandemic.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent initiative by Bridges of Sport. What impact does that make?

Shikha: Our initiatives seek to support the Siddi and tap into their natural athletic potential. We have successfully built one of India’s first hyperlocal talent identification and developmental systems. In 2018, we inducted a young girl, Nayana Gangarama Kokare, into our program. She participated in the selection trials barefoot, but her drive and raw talent was easily spotted by our coaches. In December 2021, a mere three years into the program, Nayana won a national medal in the 400-meters event. Apart from bringing recognition to the Siddis, Nayana’s journey has inspired many young boys and girls, and has served as a morale boost for the entire village.

Spiffy: Wonderful! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from that experience?

Shikha: As a former athlete, I have faced my fair share of ups and downs in my career. But every experience has been an opportunity to learn and grow. This is the mindset that we aim to inculcate in the young children we work with at Bridges of Sports. One of our former athletes, while she felt that she ‘failed’ to reach her full sporting potential, simultaneously realized her passion for helping others and her love for sport. She channeled her interests and now works as a mentor to the young athletes and manages the hostel where they all live together. This growth mindset enables ecosystems that support all members.

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

Shikha: Our program provides a platform to engage in competitive sport, but irrespective of whether these athletes win medals or not, their lives have been changed for the better just by virtue of participation. This is the true value of our program.

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

Shikha Tandon is an Olympian swimmer (Athens 2004), Arjuna Awardee (awarded by the President of India for achievement in sport), and has won 37 international medals for India. In addition to her role as a member of the Advisory Board at Bridges of Sports, her experience includes working in partnerships and product management roles at various sports, fitness wearables, and technology companies. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 3, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.