Priya Vulchi anD Winona Guo: CHOOSE Co-Founders
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo: Kids start developing signs of prejudice and stereotyping at 3 or 4 years old. Yet, as students, we don’t remember ever having an honest conversation in school about race until 10th grade.
We realized that racial and intersectional literacy is a 21st-century life skill essential for justice—yet it’s almost never taught in American public schools.
So, in 10th grade (2014), we co-founded CHOOSE, an organization that aims to create racial and intersectional tools for every American, starting with K-12 classrooms.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
Priya and Winona: We often hear conversations about race on an anecdotal level, and sharing our stories is so important. But raising consciousness toward racial inequity without understanding how to break it down isn’t enough. People’s anecdotes require a larger “historical & sociological” context. So, as a solution, we created a book of stories—paired with research—to close what we called “the heart-mind gap of racial literacy.” Within months, our book was picked up by educators in over 40 states. Their encouragement, and our drive to do better, led us to defer college for a year so that we could interview even more people, in all 50 states, and feature them in our next book, Tell Me Who You Are (Penguin Random House 2019).
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
Priya and Winona: We are East and South Asian American. We’ve felt in this grey space—resonating deeply with experiences of both privilege and oppression—but are perceived as “model minorities.” At first, we thought we didn’t have a role in the fight against racial injustice. We’re girls, and we’ve found that others often treat us as naive. We were told we wouldn’t be respected as leaders of an organization. We’re teens, so we were almost never taken seriously.
It wasn’t until we had a mindset shift—with the help of so many incredible mentors across the country—that we felt we could transform these “weaknesses” into strengths.
We realized that, as Asian Americans, we can speak to an experience often left out in this conversation about race. This has given us the general consciousness to shine a light on other forms of intersectional oppression too.
As girls who are perceived as weak and naive, people across the country usually have their guard down when we interview them. It’s allowed us to gain more trust and get access to some super deep, personal stories.
Also, as 18-year-olds, we’ve worked with educators to design a more effective racial literacy learning method—a tool made for students, by students.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
Priya and Winona: We feel responsible for the hundreds of intimate stories that people have shared with us. The people we’ve met, and the painful and beautiful stories we’ve heard, inspire a fierce love and commitment in us to share them as meaningfully as possible.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
Priya and Winona: It took us a while to realize that we can ask for help. Whether it was the 50 people who hosted us across the country, our mentors, the fellow student activists who we learn and grow from every day, or our parents; we definitely could not have done this alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
Priya and Winona: If we did this project alone, we never would’ve believed in our individual selves. That was the narrative we’ve always heard: that we couldn’t make a difference. That’s not true. Through the badass women we’ve met; through our partnership and witnessing each other boldly create, we feel fueled to keep going—despite so many moments of self-doubt. Imagine if girls like us could easily witness the millions of women boldly creating today. We believe it could unearth and kindle hundreds of ideas sitting in the brains and hearts of women across the globe!!
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.