The Power Thread sat down with Rina Patel at B Cup near Tompkins Square Park in New York. Rina, 26, is the founder of The Thinkers Global, an innovative company that is setting out to redesign education. She is also a writer and is currently working on a book about her family’s inspiring history.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When my parents moved there, it was mostly farmland. For college, I went to Drexel University in Philadelphia, where I studied business marketing and legal studies. I was all over the place in college – exploring, learning, trying to find myself in this crazy world.
What was the most influential thing you did during your college career?
A few things really paved my path while I was at Drexel. The first was I started a non-profit organization for disabled children and young women who were from small villages around Gujarat, India. My organization was called Aahana, and I spent my winter vacations working on the non-profit in Gujarat.
My parents were born and raised in small farming villages in Gujarat and, although the majority of my family lives in the United States, I spent my summers growing up in the villages my parents were born and raised. I always wanted to go back and I knew I wanted to do something in the villages there.
While at Drexel, I also studied abroad twice. During the fall semester of my junior year, I studied in London and during the final semester in college, I studied in Korea. My experiences abroad really paved the way for my post-graduation decision.
What did you do after you graduated Drexel?
After I graduated, I found myself at a fork in the road. I had an opportunity to work with my father in the family business while working in banking at JP Morgan. The other option was to follow my intuition and move to India and travel across Asia.
I wasn’t ready to jump into the family business, and it had always been my dream to move to India. I knew that this time would be the only time in my life I would have the opportunity to explore and be free. (Plus, it was the only time I would be okay with living out of a backpack for an extended period of time!) So, I followed my gut and moved to India. Initially I went so I could scale the non-profit I had started. But I ended up spending longer than expected backpacking throughout Southeast Asia.
During my years living abroad, I worked with and learned from locals – helping young girls with health education and relationship building. I heard stories from my grandparents and their generation, and I participated in meditation and yoga retreats; all of this guided me through a pretty deep spiritual journey to finding my path and voice.
How was The Thinkers Global born?
The Thinkers was brewing during this period of my life in India. While there, I had embedded myself in spaces where I could facilitate dialogue. Those experiences made me feel alive and satiated. I wanted to create a holistic space for people to open up and speak authentically. I found that when you give someone the room and support to show their true colors, their lives can transform in unimaginable ways.
I also always knew I wanted to work with youth in the States. I found that I was very disillusioned by my educational experience – traditional school did not give me what I really needed in my upbringing. While growing up I felt torn because I loved to learn, but I hated school. So, I began to think: what would it look like to create an alternative education system that allowed students to learn at their own pace while allowing plenty of room for creativity and imagination? The Thinkers Global was created based on my yearning to facilitate spaces for people to open up, paired with my aversion for traditional educational systems.
I decided to move back to the States in 2017. I was a bit nomadic when I returned, and I consulted for start-ups to support myself. In April of 2018, I got serious about building my own company and jumped into building The Thinkers Global.
What does the Thinkers Global look like today, and what is in store for the future?
At The Thinkers, we focus on teaching adolescents the practical life skills they don’t learn in school: topics ranging from healthy relationships, sexual health, and communication to financial literacy and coping with anxiety and stress.
As of now, The Thinkers is directed toward girls. But our goal is to make the curriculum work for children across the gender spectrum. Currently, we have embedded our curriculum in some independent programs in schools as well as some youth organizations. Also, we hosted our first girls summer camp in June!
Our goals for the future are to develop a better curriculum that can be housed on an education technology platform!
You’re currently working on a book. Can you tell us more about that?
I had grown up immersed in stories – stories of my parents immigrating to the States with only $20. Stories of my grandparents and their generation in India. Stories of my ancestors, their migration history, and the ways they used to live.
Being in India always made me feel closer to myself. While I was there, I would spend a lot of time listening to the stories of my grandparents generation. During those summers, learned so much about what it means to be alive and what it means to live in community.
I felt and still feel extremely privileged to have been born and raised in the States and for hearing the stories of the people who came before me. When you listen to someone else’s story, their story becomes part of your story. I believe it is my responsibility to pass those stories on.
My book is about all of this: my family’s history, the first generation experience, and my journey in India.
What has been the most difficult part of your career?
Finding a team of people to work with for my business has been the most challenging part of this journey. As a writer and independent entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time alone in my room writing and working. It gets lonely! It is hard not getting in my head about things, especially when I spend so much time working on my own.
Sometimes, when I was just starting off with The Thinkers, I would feel as if I was crawling up a very steep hill, and I didn’t know when I would see the light. I had to continue to remind myself to listen to my gut and cut out the white noise muffling my goals and confidence.
What makes you feel powerful?
My definition of power has changed a lot over the past few months. A nourishing conversation, where I truly connect with another person, always makes me feel powerful. More recently, I have found my power and freedom when I am fully living and having fun. For example, I have started going salsa dancing, going to open mic nights, and going to events in New York City that I’ve always dreamed of going to.