Ramona Pierson, CEO of the personal learning technology company Declara, has an inspirational life story of overcoming the odds. In a public talk at The HEAD Foundation, co-organized with UN Women, she shared how lessons learnt from the traumatic period of her life shaped her in innovating educational systems and learning technology.
After being seriously injured in a traffic accident at the age of 22, Pierson spent 18 months in a coma and 11 years being blind. She survived because an ingenious passer-by used a pen to open her windpipe and vent her collapsed lung, so that she could breathe until she got to hospital. Her doctors and surgeons applied the most innovative of treatments on her, often the riskiest ones, especially since she was given little hope for survival then. Even more fascinating was her long process of rehabilitation. Placed in a nursing home after the initial surgeries, dozens of senior citizens helped her relearn basic daily functions such as crossing the street, as well as new skills like reading Braille. That taught her many lessons. Moving people from working in silos to collaborating was the best way to enhance existing knowledge. Decision-making could be made easy by studying patterns in data and daily life. Multiple sources of information could be processed simultaneously rather than serially, akin to using two hands to read Braille on two pages of text. Equipped with experience in military code-breaking work and academic training in neuroscience and education, Pierson went on to a career in the Seattle public school system to creating start-up companies offering cutting edge technological products.
“I am here today because of people innovating, taking risks, helping me and everybody out there,” she said.