Tanya Sachdev is the 17-year-old founder of Empowering Refugee Children (ERC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. She founded ERC with the goal of improving educational accessibility for refugees. ERC’s scholarship program awards $1000 scholarships to help provide financial support for refugee youth. Through support from sponsors and donors, ERC has raised over $2000. ERC has been awarded the Spark Jr. Award from the Better Business Bureau of NC for its work to help local refugees. Besides her passion for refugee education, Tanya also enjoys playing field hockey and running track and field.
What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?
Productivity may look different for everyone, but I find that I am most productive with a routine. I am definitely a morning person, preferring to start my days early with a workout. The workday consists of different tasks each day. Between emails and phone calls to designing websites or social media content, every day is unique!
Of course, on the days with school, the bulk of my time goes towards classes and studying. The balance between school and managing a nonprofit is definitely tough but very rewarding. Lately, I have been also focused on making sure to take breaks throughout the work day. I find that it is so much easier to get work done when my mind is clear and focused.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing ideas to life is a process. For me, it is so difficult to force ideas. Ideation often happens naturally through letting creativity flow. The freedom to create is one of my favorite parts of ERC. Whether creating content or future timelines, I feel so energized by the process.
After finding a few directions for new ideas, I began the process of researching and analyzing to evaluate feasibility and potential. Some of the ideas that looked best on paper often fell flat without this step. Afterward, I work to collaborate with mentors and peers to bring the idea to life. Even after bringing ideas to life, whether content or events, there is a lot of iteration and refinement before the final result.
Though it took me a while, I have also started embracing failure that also comes with establishing anything new. Bringing any new idea to life will have its ups and downs, but ultimately this is all part of the journey.
What’s one trend that excites you?
A trend that excites me is the rise of social media platforms in the entrepreneurial world. The power to connect through social media has made networking and communicating much easier and smoother. I have noticed that the power of connection is so important in the nonprofit world. For example, Instagram has allowed for a greater connection with the community. Social media has aided the ability to spread awareness of the barriers faced by refugees in pursuing higher education.
ERC is all about storytelling and using our platforms to amplify the voices of refugee youth. Through social media, this storytelling has become even more frequent through Instagram posts. The reach of social media has been a great benefactor for our organization, and I look forward to the continual rise of this trend.
What is one habit that helps you be productive?
One habit that keeps me productive is writing down my to-do lists. It is really easy to get very overwhelmed with the sheer number of tasks at hand, so I turn to making lists. Either the night before or the morning of, I work towards listing all the action items for the day. Though it only takes a couple of minutes, I have noticed that having a clear sense of direction before each day helps me stay focused and on track. In a way, I have also found it therapeutic to be able to just write everything down. Of course, another plus for me is the boost of serotonin that comes from checking that to-do box.
What advice would you give your younger self?
My favorite piece of advice is something my parents told me after a bad field hockey tryout: “Sometimes not getting what you want is a stroke of good luck”. Of course, at that moment, I shrugged their words away, choosing to wallow in my misery instead.
Unbeknownst to me, I began repeating that phrase whenever I was affronted with failure. Slowly, my mindset towards failure has changed, now equating failure to redirection. As with any journey, the process of establishing my nonprofit organization was difficult. Receiving many more no’s than yes’s become custom, making it very easy to feel dejected. Remembering that a closed door means another one opens has allowed me to stay positive and continue forging my own path.
My younger self would be surprised with how much of a proponent I am towards the phrase “not getting what you want is a stroke of good luck”, but I am very grateful that my parents shared that piece of advice with me.
Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.
The phone eats first. Something about me is that I love food, and my Explore page on Instagram would wholeheartedly agree. There is something so satisfying about watching a delicious chocolate mousse cake be assembled or a beautiful Italian dinner ensemble. Though I prefer baking to cooking, my phone camera roll is filled with all types of foods ranging from drinks to desserts. My older brother used to sigh in exasperation when I made everyone wait in order to capture the best angles of food.
Nowadays, with the rise in cooking content on social media, I have even brought my brother with me on the phone eats first trend. As a result, I am unsure of how controversial this opinion is anymore, but there definitely was a time when I was on the receiving end of odd glances at the restaurant table.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
In 2020, I started journaling my thoughts every night before going to bed. Though the reason I started was that I wanted to use the new pens that I had recently bought from Target, the habit of journaling stayed with me.
Journalling has been one of my favorite ways to reflect and share with myself. There is definitely a misconception that journal entries need to be essay-length and neatly organized, but I have noticed that just writing a few words helps me clear my head. The practice of journalling has helped me notice patterns in my mood and understand myself at a different level.
Another plus for journalling is the opportunity to look back and see your personal growth or even how days were spent. Looking back into the entries of March 2020 seems like a different world, but it is interesting to be able to see what shows or music I was listening to at the time.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
I call my mom. Though I am reaching adulthood, my mom is still the first person I turn to for advice or as a soundboard. I feel fortunate to have a mom who is willing to listen to my thoughts and rants. Despite my strong belief in inner reflection and introspection, there are moments where I just want someone to talk to.
Going on a run outside is another way that I refocus and ground myself again. I live near many beautiful trails and stepping into nature has a great calming effect.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?
Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. My dad, fond of this quote, often reminds me of it. Therefore, one strategy I have is to not be afraid to reach out.
Many people may have forged the same path you are on, encountered similar challenges, and found solutions. Sending a quick email and setting up a chat are quick ways to receive advice and guidance worth in gold. My father’s advice has given me confidence to reach out to many people who have successes in frontiers that I wish to embark on. I have learned there is no shame in wanting to learn more.
Though I have received numerous no responses, the individuals who I had the privlege of chatting with have provided me with great advice and tips. Ultimately, having such mentors also assists with networking will help as a liaison for your professional and personal development.
What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?
One failure I faced in my career was not being my own cheerleader. Starting a nonprofit in 10th grade led to difficulty in establishing credibility. I knew that I had started ERC after founding a school club (STAR: Students Together Assisting Refugees) to raise awareness on the Global Refugee Crisis and working with local refugee organizations. I knew that I had started ERC after working with a refugee from Syria who dreamt of a four-year college degree in History, but due to her financial limitations, she was unable to do so. I knew that I had started ERC to try to make a difference through providing scholarships, even if it was a drop in the bucket. Though I knew why I started ERC, many people did not and began doubting the importance of a nonprofit organization started by a teenager.
More often than not, I began losing belief that ERC could amount to anything. When there were a handful of yes’s in a sea full of no’s, I began worrying about why I even tried. One of my mentors who currently runs a globally known 501c3 organization told me to reframe my mindset and view my age as an asset. Her positive self-talk slowly helped me embrace the opportunity that came with starting young.
I have learned the importance of mindset and having confidence in what you do and why you do it.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is a repeated business strategy mainly towards businesses that sell products or food, the idea of “weekly” or “monthly” items.
My mind went straight to food with one of the most popular examples of this idea done well as Crumbl Cookies. With their weekly flavor drop every 8 PM on Sundays, people began visiting Crumbl on a weekly basis to prevent missing out.
FOMO exists and the fear of missing out on a specialty flavor or product can really incentivize people to buy your product. Over time, this strategy definitely helps establish loyal consumers. I know that I am not one to miss the monthly ice cream flavors at my local ice cream shop, Andia’s.
What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Canva is one of my favorite pieces of software. I have used a variety of graphic design products from Sketch to Adobe, and it’s ironic that my favorite ends up being the most common of Canva. Truthfuly, Canva’s ease of access helps in so many ways. I use Canva to help make the monthly newsletters that we send out. Check it out @empoweringrefugeechildren on Instagram.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
Personal: Recently, I was invited to a wedding in Texas, and the best $100 I recently spent was on accessories for my Indian outfits. With the last-minute rush, I found myself leaning on Amazon and getting a great pair of shoes along with jewelry.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?
One of my favorite podcasts is “Forced to Flee” by UNHCR which highlights stories of refugees across the world. The seven episodes are so inspiring and are pivotal to spreading awareness about the Global Refugee Crisis with over 100 million forcibly displaced people. I have gotten a lot of value from being able to firsthand hear from inspiring figures like Mary Maker. As I shared earlier, storytelling is powerful and the “Forced to Flee” podcast truly embodies storytelling to enact change.
What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?
The answer may be overdone, but I have to share it. Recently, I started watching “Breaking Bad” after the hype train finally caught up to me. I know that I am about a decade late, but this show kept me glued to the edge of my seat.
But, if you are interested in learning more about the Global Refugee Crisis, then I would definitely suggest “Refugee” by Alexander J Farrell or “Human Flow” by Ai WeiWei.
- Embrace failure as redirection: Not achieving desired outcomes can be an opportunity for growth and redirection. Not getting what you want is sometimes a stroke of good luck.
- Seek advice from experienced individuals: There is no shame in reaching out for advice. Asking for guidance from those who have walked a similar path can provide valuable insights and help navigate challenges more effectively.
- Cultivate self-belief and motivation: Being your own cheerleader is essential. Building confidence, maintaining a positive mindset, and celebrating your achievements are vital
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.