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"Self-starter" should be Adrianna Tan’s middle name.

In four years' time, 30-year-old powerhouse Adrianna Tan founded three different organizations — all of which empower people and improve lives across the world.

It seems like there's nothing the young entrepreneur hasn't done; she's traveled to 30 countries (and given a TEDx Talk on curing wanderlust); advocated for gender equality, LGBT rights, and using capitalism to empower people; and figured out a way to incorporate her penchant for travel, education, food, and collaboration into successful businesses that have made life better for hundreds of people.


Image via Adrianna Tan, used with permission.

Adrianna's always on the lookout for ways she can improve her surrounding communities via technology and social outreach.

"Being from a part of the world [Asia] with so many wonderful experiences but also so many dire ones definitely shaped the way I thought about life and business.I saw no point in building a company in Asia to solve only 'first world problems,'" Tan told Upworthy.

The first organization she started is the Gyanada Foundation, which aims to fully fund education for underprivileged girls from five cities in India.

The literacy rate in India, especially for women, historically has been low. By the time Adrianna, who was born in Singapore, had spent a decade living in and traveling to India, she had seen firsthand that the bar for education for women needed to be raised. She had already been volunteering for educational nonprofits that were working with girls in need, so she simply decided to start her own.

Image via Adrianna Tan/Gyanada Foundation, used with permission.

Thanks to her foundation, 150 Indian girls receive educational scholarships each year.The foundation has done so well that it won the Public Service Award from Asia Society’s Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative, which included a $10,000 grant.

Next up, the foundation plans to expand: It's working on incorporating a sex-education-through-theater class and a coding class for their girls to get a leg up in the tech world.

Image via Gyanada Foundation/Facebook, used with permission.

In 2013, Adrianna moved on to a project that fueled her food-loving heart: Culture Kitchen.

Image via Culture Kitchen/YouTube.

Culture Kitchen provides pop-up, cross-cultural potlucks of sorts, where traditional dishes are served, and local Singaporeans and migrant workers can meet and interact.

The idea for it came out of the inordinate amount of xenophobia Adrianna was witnessing both in person and online.

"I decided I wanted to create moments for people across different ethnicities and cultures, and class, to meet and eat with each other," she explained.

Image via Adrianna Tan, used with permission.

Not surprisingly, the idea caught on, and in June of last year, Culture Kitchen was awarded $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in flights by Jetstar's Flying Start Program.

Then came Wobe, a program that aims to give Southeast Asian women the opportunity to provide for their families using only their phones.

Image via Wobe/Facebook, used with permission.

The idea for Wobe came out of an all too common problem: "How do we create income and employment to millions of women who need to provide for their families, but can't?"

To the tech-savvy Adrianna, the answer was simple: create an app. The app helps these women start their own micro-businesses, such as selling prepaid phone credit and other digital commodities that are in high demand in Southeast Asia. Right now, they are in pre-launch phase, but their projected impact looks promising — Adrianna says that if the program catches on, they expect Wobe will be able to increase the income of Indonesian women by 30% to 200%.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to collaboration.

Image via Adrianna Tan, used with permission.

Working with others across countries and cultural boundaries is behind everything Adrianna does. Her ability to collaborate with pretty much anyone anywhere is why she’s had so many successes in business — including being named a Top Female Entrepreneur of 2015 by True Global Ventures.

"I've had to learn several languages, more 'slang words' and inter-cultural ways of working with people from all backgrounds. Being able to communicate effectively helps a lot, but more than that it is the ability to 'read' situations and context. That is wonderful for business in more than one way," she said.

Social media makes creating these connections easier — Adrianna says that she's found most of her cofounders and collaborators through Facebook and other networks, and it's also how she stays in touch with the communities she's created.

"I've used social media for many years now, and I've found that it is especially effective for business in the emerging markets, where I work. ... It lets us talk directly to real people in real time, and for that Wobe is able to gain invaluable insights."

Adrianna knows you can’t always look ahead and calculate all the risks, especially when setting out as an entrepreneur — sometimes you just have to jump.

As she puts it, "Look into enhancing your risk appetite and more importantly calibrating it, and then take as much of it as you can," she said. "Nothing will move until risk is an element, and that was my most important lesson."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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