Two high school best friends became moms passionate about emotional intelligence and launched a program for families to help kids find happiness and success. Here are their best tips for entrepreneurship and fostering your kids' passions.

By Maressa Brown
May 06, 2021
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Growing up with a divorced mom who had immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was in her 20s, Amber Trivedi says she learned to live frugally. "In hindsight, I think we were fine [financially], but my mother always instilled this idea that we're poor, and we need to be smart," she recalls, noting that philosophy caused her to think about money carefully and do the most with what she had as an adult.

Similarly, Gwen Palafox grew up in Malaysia to Chinese immigrants. At 6 months old, her family moved to North America. "I really saw my family come from nothing and utilize every resource they could in order to ensure a more solid future," she notes. "They didn't have any degrees, so when they immigrated, they used their creativity, enthusiasm, and passion and a lot of hard work to make things happen."

The two women met in high school in 1992 and connected on their effort and ambition. "One of the first things that Amber and I really connected on is the way in which we studied," says Palafox. "We were able to study together and be productive together. And there was always this idea of, 'We can do whatever we need to do. We're going to get the grades that we need to get.'"

The pair were also both "very extroverted" and involved in many extracurricular activities which led to formative experiences like traveling together. Still, after high school, life took the best friends in separate directions. Trivedi went to Johns Hopkins University and studied behavioral biology, later spending time in both Los Angeles and Chicago as a breast cancer researcher. When she became a mom and PTA president at her kids' schools, she realized there was a push for social and emotional development.

At the same time, she had been researching ways to connect better with her kids and dove into research on emotional intelligence, defined by researcher John D. Mayer as "an ability to recognize the meanings of emotions and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them."

Trivedi recalls, "I really wanted to instill those emotional skills in my children because it just supercharges their academic learning and their extracurricular skills."

Meanwhile, Palafox had gone on to become a psychologist who has been in private practice for 10 years. "My specialty is really now ushering teens to adulthood and really ensuring that there's a model of sustainability and joyfulness in someone's adulthood when they have a disability—neurodevelopmental, genetic types, and physical disabilities included," she explains.

In 2017, Trivedi started looking for a partner with a background in psychology to partner with her on a program called Odyssey. Her concept: create a social-emotional learning (SEL) program that would help parents learn proven techniques to stamp out family conflict, create more quality time with kids, build emotional intelligence, and pave children's path to happiness and success. She immediately thought of her old high school friend. "We had such a great work ethic, friendship, and approach to life with positivity that made her a natural fit," says the now mom of three.

Together, they came up with a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum for parents, which they can access directly or through their child's school. The learning activities include scripts that help parents bolster their kids' emotional vocabulary, creating a lexicon for their toughest feelings, and tackle tough topics like anger, disappointment, and sadness.

Trivedi says their mission was to empower all parents. "If we all learn [about social-emotional intelligence], we'll all be so much happier, and our kids will be happier, and if we know how to interact with others, it might get to the crux of some of the deep conflicts within society," she notes.

The friends and business partners began funding Odyssey themselves, initially striving to build an app and later having to pivot due to financial constraints, all while maintaining their full-time jobs. The program officially launched at two schools in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit. "The two schools were really looking for ways to support their students with social-emotional learning and decided to roll us out district-wide to 9,700 families," says Trivedi.

Now, the pilot program has been active for over a year. "We have been really satisfied hearing the experiences of these families, putting our curriculum to work, and hearing about the connections that it has fostered for them," she notes.

The two moms are now sharing their best entrepreneurial tips and insights on nurturing not only your child's social-emotional intelligence but the passions that could lead to financial gain later in life.

Surround Yourself With People Who You Admire

Much of Odyssey's success could be attributed to the fact that Trivedi and Palafox truly inspire one another.

"I try to surround myself with people I admire," says Trivedi. "I have been so fortunate to work other strong women and moms who were putting their career in focus and not letting that sacrifice their role as a mother and vice-versa. And I think Gwen and I really have that shared vision. It comes down to having shared values that you're not going to compromise."

Consider What You're Investing In

As an entrepreneur, Trivedi says she's started to view money as investment. "Anything that you spend has a return on investment (ROI), whether it's more financial success or whether it's bringing you happiness," she notes.

And being an entrepreneur has helped her prioritize those investments. "If you have a lofty goals, but you only have limited resources, then you have to identify what is most important to reach your goals, and then invest in that," she says. "And it's somewhat freeing to be able to let other things go knowing that you already thought through what's most important and [want to] invest your resources there."

Be Fearless and Passionate

When Palafox had her daughter in her 30s, she started thinking about the financial habits and philosophies she wanted to pass onto her. She landed on encouraging her to "be fearless about pursuing what she wants to do" and noting "that with enough creativity and flexibility and work, she can make a wonderful life doing what it is she loves." And she believes that passing that knowledge along "is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids."