By John McPhaul
Siona “Dolly” Pramoda, 14, of Guaynabo, was named a 2023 Prudential Emerging Visionary late last week for her inspiring commitment to improving the lives of others with her peer-led and experience-sharing online community that teaches young people online safety and privacy skills.
The U.S. and Caribbean “SafeTeensOnline” ambassador, Dolly and her sister Meghna “Chili” Pramoda, 15, who is the global president of “SafeTeensOnline,” oversee a network of some 20,000 teens in 40 private schools in 15 U.S. states and Puerto Rico and three continents in sharing experiences to raise awareness of online risks.
“SafeTeensOnline” identifies students as high-risk based on their usage patterns, awareness and perceptions of cyber risks. Participants then take part in learning modules on online safety topics co-created with experts in the field and led by youth ambassadors, teenagers in middle and high school, in their community.
The network counts on some 1,000 educators and 2,500 parents who serve as mentors to teens.
Dolly said she got the idea for the project during the ongoing pandemic when youths were obliged to take their classes online.
“The pandemic forced us to do everything completely online and make changes in the way we were doing things so it occurred to me that there was a danger to people’s personal data and the idea arose of the website (SafeTeensOnline.org), where teens could be educated,” she said. “I wanted to create a safe place where people could share experiences and learn about protecting themselves.”
With the help of her mentor, Baldwin School teacher Zacha Ortiz, the articulate ninth grader developed a curriculum to educate teens on the risks of online presence.
“The curriculum starts with basics of cyber safety -- identification of risks: privacy, introduction to the idea that your information is a commodity, raising awareness around cyberbullying. We then go into small actionable steps -- the how-tos of setting up your home network securely, when and where it is okay to log into private accounts versus not, etc.,” said Dolly, who also plays violin in San Juan’s municipal orchestra. “And our curriculum proceeds to digital citizenship, and culminates in becoming a cyber security career-ready individual to address the skills gap (3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. alone by 2035).”
As one of 25 Prudential Emerging Visionary winners, Dolly will receive a $5,000 award to help take her innovation to the next level.
She is also invited to attend an all-expenses-paid trip with her parent or guardian to Prudential’s Newark, New Jersey headquarters for a three-day summit in April where she will receive coaching, skills development and networking opportunities with Prudential employees and other young leaders.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Dolly said of the prize. “It will give me the opportunity to share experiences with other people. It will also help me improve on the idea.”
Prudential Emerging Visionaries recognizes young people ages 14-18 whose fresh perspectives and innovative solutions address pressing financial and societal challenges in their communities, the company said in a press release
“The goals of our Emerging Visionaries program reflect Prudential’s overarching purpose: to make lives better by solving the financial challenges of our changing world,” Prudential Financial Chairman and CEO Charles Lowrey said. “We applaud all of our honorees for their commitment to improving the lives of others and creating inclusive and thriving communities.”
Emerging Visionaries is a collaboration between Prudential Financial and Ashoka, a leading social impact organization, with support from the Financial Health Network, an authority on financial health and a longtime partner of The Prudential Foundation.
During the summit, to be held April 22-25, 2023, five winners will also have the opportunity to present their solutions in a pitch-off, where a grand prize winner will be awarded an additional $10,000 in funding. What’s more, Prudential employees will again vote to name an Employees’ Choice Award winner, who will receive an additional $5,000.
The program is an evolution of Prudential’s Spirit of Community Awards, which, over 26 years, has honored more than 150,000 outstanding youth volunteers.
More on Dolly Pramoda and the rest of this year’s Prudential Emerging Visionaries, can be found at prudential.com/emergingvisionaries.