Piya Sorcar, 33
Software that can be localized to teach taboo topics
Despite considerable educational efforts by experts and organizations alike, public awareness in India about the growing HIV epidemic has remained low. So Piya Sorcar, founder and CEO of TeachAIDS, has developed interactive software to educate children about HIV in a way that's sensitive to the country's cultural mores.
When Sorcar traveled to India in 2005, she found that even children and young adults who received training on HIV didn't learn much: cultural taboos prevented educators from speaking frankly about how the virus is transmitted. As she designed her software, she took pains to ensure that it didn't run afoul of those taboos. She analyzed cultural responses to every image used. She recorded narration with correct local accents, created gender-specific versions of each program, enlisted local celebrities for voice acting, and tested to see how much information children retained, even long after the lessons were over.
The cultural sensitivity has paid off: Sorcar's software has been approved and distributed by states in India where other sex education is banned. The software has been designed to be modular, so that it's easy to swap in locally appropriate elements. The country of Botswana has approved it for every school in the nation, and Sorcar hopes to distribute it to countries around the world within five years. —Erica Naone