Teenager in Dubai wins Diana Legacy Award for efforts to empower underprivileged women

Netra Venkatesh, 17, runs a volunteer initiative that aims to break down barriers facing women around the world

Netra Venkatesh receives the Diana Legacy Award from the Prince of Wales at a ceremony at the Science Museum in London. Photo: Kensington Palace
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A schoolgirl in Dubai who leads a global volunteer initiative that aims to help young women from underprivileged communities unlock their potential has been presented with a Diana Legacy Award.

Netra Venkatesh, a pupil at Dubai International Academy, established the SpunkGo organisation at the age of 14 in 2020, with the aim of ensuring women from all walks of life are given a platform to succeed. It offers free online seminars about life skills in which female speakers share their knowledge and expertise.

The organisation has helped to support more than 5,000 people from more than 20 countries since it was launched. It has volunteers in more than 20 locations around the world.

“The point in starting this was that everyone has a burning passion and a desire and I think that with the right resources, people are able to make opportunities for themselves,” said Netra, now 17.

This award will go a long way to further our cause of empowering girls across the developing world via education
Netra Venkatesh

“When I initially started working with women who were part of my community, I could see that they had an innate drive for social impact or to be in the professional workforce. This is an all-girl global student organisation and it's run entirely by volunteers. We provide free life skill webinars to women aged 16 to 25 in rural and underdeveloped areas."

International recognition

Netra said she was proud to receive the accolade, which celebrates the humanitarian work of the late Princess Diana and is supported by her sons Prince William and Prince Harry, because it would help to shine a light on the achievements of those her initiative helped.

"I am most happy for the further recognition this brings to the over 5,000 girls of SpunkGo," said Netra, who received her award from Prince William at a ceremony in London last week. "This award will go a long way to further our cause of empowering girls across the developing world via education.

"The biggest challenge that I faced when I was first starting out is not having enough credibility. A 14-year-old approaching you and asking you to speak in a webinar for a bunch of people sounded a bit shady. I think the Diana Foundation and the Diana Award have really helped me build credibility, which will help me get higher quality speakers with more experience in specific topics."

She said she was nominated by someone she worked with. "I was shocked. This was really unbelievable," she said of winning the award.

Netra is the only one of the 20 award winners this year to live in the Emirates. She remains focused on her goal of helping women to take their futures into their own hands.

"I think there's still a culture that tends to demotivate women from achieving greatness," she said. "My main aim was to empower these women and equip them with skills that aren't necessarily taught in school – life skills. Like how to manage your mental health or communication."

She said the online support network could help guide people on how to select the right job and how to find an internship. "I think a lot of the women in rural communities don't have access to these opportunities, they'll never be able to develop these skills that will help them achieve their goals," Netra said.

Hitesh Bhagat, principal at Dubai International Academy, said Netra's work deserved of wider acknowledgement.

"We at Dubai International Academy are extremely proud to see Netra Venkatesh receive this global recognition as part of the 25th year anniversary of the Princess Diana Awards," he said. "Netra, who has been with DIA her whole school life and is a perfect example of a student who has demonstrated the school's values of achievement, innovation and responsibility."

Dr Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Award, said the winners were a tribute to the work of Princess Diana.

"As we mark the start of our 25th anniversary year, these young people couldn't be a more fitting tribute and legacy to Diana, the late Princess of Wales, and her belief that young people have the power to change the world," Dr Ojo said.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:03 PM