My name is Lokaa Krishna, and I am a change maker currently studying History and Political Science at Columbia University. When I was 7 years old, I founded ‘Happy Hearts Happy World’, a non-profit organization. My vision naturally expanded and the projects diversified which led me on my next philanthropic adventure, the launch of the Lokaa Foundation.
Let me tell you a little more about my journey.
Sunlight passed through the cracks in the orphanage’s wooden door, revealing a dusty floor and a disarray of wailing toddlers and children. A young girl with bangs obscuring her face played in the corner, smiling. When the bell rang, a boisterous wave of children made a beeline for lunch. A light tap fluttered on my shoulder. I turned to see the same girl from the corner. We didn’t speak each other’s language, yet when she held out a haggard teddy bear and spoke to me in a gentle tone. I somehow understood her question: “Do you want to play with me?” I nodded. We were both seven years old.
The more time I spent at the orphanage, the more bewildering the experience became. These children were so much like me, yet fundamentally very different. How could they live without the parental love I found so essential in my own life? However, seeing that seven-year-old’s eyes peeking over the head of her teddy bear taught me about the power of connection, evoking a feeling that would last a lifetime—a genuine desire to create change born out of deep concern and care for others. Although I was just a child myself, I made a solemn vow to do everything in my power to help those children.
My parents, who are transformational leaders and spiritual teachers, encouraged me to live for a higher purpose and prioritize the well-being of others. Yet, it was that particular day at the orphanage that made these abstract values tangible for me. I started small, such as helping the orphanage obtain school supplies. But when I realized that one hundred children lacked sponsors to support their basic needs, I began raising funds for them. By speaking at events and reaching out to hundreds of compassionate individuals in my community and beyond, I helped raise money and found sponsors for every single child.
Years later, in school, I delved into the works of political theorists like John Rawls and Susan Moller Okin. However, it was that day at the orphanage that truly shaped my core guiding principles: “Human beings first; infrastructure second”.
Several years later, with the guidance of my family, I started the World Village Project with the aim of improving socioeconomic conditions and infrastructure in Andhra Pradesh, India. Today, the foundation is actively engaged in developing five sustainable villages. As I grew older, I’ve come to understand that human connection, i.e. people’s connection to themselves, each other, and the earth, is the key to sustainability. Inspired by the people we serve rather than mere statistics, we seek to create a healing environment that fosters meditation and spiritual sessions. It is a place where villagers support and uplift each other through our efforts to provide education, revive local traditions and culture, and develop local industries that empower women and boost employment opportunities.
For me, sustainable development transcends physical transformation of an area; it requires a shift in mindset and priorities. It has compelled me to redefine my sense of self and commit to serving others, helping the communities we support to see themselves in a new light. Today, Santoshpuram, the first of the six villages we have completed, has become sustainable in part due to the unwavering dedication of its inhabitants to serve their families and community. This commitment inspired the Happy Hearts Festival, a bi-annual event where youth come together to volunteer at the World Village Project and other Lokaa Foundation initiatives.
A few years ago, I was invited to give a TEDx Talk in Taipei, where I shared the philosophy I have embraced that puts people at the forefront of all we do. There, I spoke of how important it is to prioritize human connection when working with communities, no matter where they are. I can see the impact of acting on this conviction in the villages where we work. I see the determination to overcome discrimination, their yearning to connect as a community, their sincere desire to do right by their families, and their hunger for experiencing joy. Ever since I locked eyes with a little girl over a teddy bear in an orphanage, I’ve felt incomplete if I’m not supporting others, doing my best to make a difference in our world. Now, I intend to use my education at Columbia University to strengthen my foundation, to hone and shape my ability to enact change.