Teaching “Life Lessons” through Video Games and Interactive Play
(Washington, DC) If you or someone you know has children in the greater Washington DC public school system, Los Angeles Unified SchoolDistrict, or Chicago Public Schools, you may be familiar with the SHAKTI Warriors Program. “SHAKTI Warriors are a new team of contemporary super heroes being introduced into the world. They are urban, hip and, most importantly, 100% committed to children’s well-being. They are here to empower today’s youth to look inside and to develop the superhero that lies within.” Their empowerment curriculum, by the same name, launched in school districts in 2011, and operates both as a digital curriculum (online), and with physical materials such as teacher lesson plans, board games, posters, badges, trading cards, and comic books.
Au’loni was able to catch Lane Jabaay, one of the founders of the H2 Group, and creators of the SHAKTI Warrior curriculum in various school districts around the country. She shared her passion for entrepreneurship, and investment in youth, that inspired her to help create this “for profit company rooted in social responsibility”.
AM: Would you mind giving us a little background on your professional experience, before working on SHAKTI Warriors?
LJ: I hold a degree in computer science and I’ve been working for 10+ years in the IT industry. I’ve spent another 10+ years as entrepreneur. I’ve done work in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors, through various consulting capacities (Oracle Corporation, Symantec), and web design and development. I’m also sort of a serial entrepreneur! I’ve lived in Italy and started a villa rental company, and opened a yoga studio in Chicago.
AM: Would you give us an overview of the SHAKTI Warrior Program in your own words?
LJ: SHAKTI Warriors is a whole-child development curriculum. We use common themes and trends that are popular with kids today, to not only educate them, but to motivate them to positive action. It is both academic and emotional learning. The curriculum also includes a portion on S.T.E.A.M. – (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).
It’s based on a new team of superheroes that are urban and hip, and one hundred percent committed to children’s well-being. We target children between the ages of 8 -12. Our compelling storylines and motivational techniques invite kids to go into training to move up in the ranks and become a warrior.
They do this by developing a hero’s body, mind, heart, and community. They earn points for doing daily real-world activities like going to bed on time, exercising, completing homework and going to school on time, and learning to be an ‘up-stander’ – not a ‘by-stander’ in bullying situations.
AM: How did you come up with the idea for SHAKTI Warriors?
LJ: Well, it started in 2004. I was running my yoga studio, and a business partner approached me about with the idea of using Marvel Comic superheroes to create a line of live action videos for children that would teach various lessons. We approached Marvel but their licensing fees were way too expensive; there was no budget for that! But we had a team of people interested in children’s storytelling. We pulled together a team of young, local writers and began brainstorming about a new team of superheroes with which all children could identify. We conducted a worldwide search for an illustrator, and found our amazing concept artist in Romania. Then, through a series of wonderful connections we began working with Len Wein, an icon in the comic book industry (creator of Marvel’s XMen, Storm, and Wolverine) – to write our comic book series.
Once developed, the challenge became how to get our SHAKTI Warriors in front of kids. We realized the number one place for kids is schools! So we tapped on the shoulders of experts in children’s emotional psychology and healthy lifestyles, such as Dr. Michele Borba, Goldie Hawn and the Hawn Foundation, and KidsHealth. With these resources, we were able to pump up our content and create compelling ways to address the needs of school districts across the country.
AM: How does previous work experience inform this work?
LJ: Incredibly well! I didn’t realize at the time, but my work with for-profit organizations was giving me the tools, understanding, and experience to be the Founder and CEO of my own company. Working for these organizations gave me experience in areas such as managing complex sales cycles, large project implementations, legal matters, and contract negotiations.
AM: How are kids reacting to this program in schools where its offered?
LJ: The kids are loving it, and begging for more! What’s even more exciting is that teachers and parents are loving it too!
AM: What, if any, hardships have you experienced on your entrepreneurial journey?
LJ: In 2007-8, I ran out of funds and had to step back into a more traditional 9-5 job. But after eleven months, I was able to pick it back up, with new insights. During that time, I had an epiphany: SHAKTI Warriors needed corporate sponsors! Companies would love to be aligned with this type of program, because they don’t have a lot of quality options. I imagined that they would be excited to be support all of the things that SHAKTI Warriors represent.
Our vision is to start a movement amongst kids, in which they realize the power they have to make a difference in the world! Sometimes society has a way of squelching the power out of people. Kids still believe in themselves and their power. Our goal is to channel that power so they become effective, happy, well-adjusted members of society. Kids are great!
AM: What advice do you have for others interested in your line of work?
LJ: The number one thing: Don’t step into entrepreneurship too early because you literally don’t know enough. If you have a great idea but don’t have enough experience, chances are it will burn out.
Also, make sure whatever you do, lights you up! Make sure you are passionate, because there are days when you will ask yourself, “What have I done?” If your motivating factor isn’t something more meaningful than money, then there is a good chance that you will peter out and end up walking away after months or even years of funding and effort.
SHAKTI Warriors has seen such a success, that it is currently preparing to launch nationally. Through a non-profit organization, called H2 Group, the company hopes to provide the SHAKTI Warriors curriculum to school districts in lower socioeconomic areas, free of charge. Healthy Heroes Alliance is seeking partners in this vision. JaBaay also mentioned the idea of being able to conduct competitions between school districts across the country, in which they compete to see which district’s children have the strongest warriors.
Her passion for her work is evident, and the vision is revolutionary. We cannot wait to see what is in store for The SHAKTI Warriors. To keep up with the program, visit their websites and social media pages below.
Facebook: Shakti Warriors Superheroes
Kids Site: www.shaktiwarriors.com
Corporate Website. www.swheroes.com