By Anshul Tewari:
I still remember the 18 year old me walking into the office of a well reputed private college, to convince them to sponsor Youth Ki Awaaz, and being made fun of for starting something as stupid as a blog, which made no sense, no where. That was one of the hundreds of exactly similar meetings I had over 3 years, from 2009 to 2011.
Why did I have this meeting? Because 5 years ago, on this very day, a decision changed my life. 5 years ago, on this day, I founded Youth Ki Awaaz. I still remember the naive conversation I had with my mother, a debate over what the name should be. A decision out of sheer frustration – that I as a young person do not have enough stake in my issues, cannot speak up about them, and cannot relate to the decision makers – led me to start youthkiawaaz.blogspot.com – the then personal blog.
My initial ideas for a career were more towards doing a business undergrad and moving to a plush corporate job, but sometimes the decisions you take and the sacrifices you make go a long way in creating something that is truly epic. My realization of doing something that contributed more towards the society made me sacrifice a lot too. From losing ‘friends’ and a flourishing social circle and being stereotyped as ‘boring’ because I chose to start a company when my peers were enjoying college, to making the decision of never joining a conventional job or take up a career like millions of others. Why? Because my dreams were bigger than this. I was in love with an idea. I wanted to live a life creating new, better and more social tools to make it easier for people to speak up against violations, against problems, for solutions and togetherness. I realized that my life’s passion lay in this – and not in the convention. My short stints at Indian Express and Wall Street Journal India reinforced this belief. I knew that it was nothing but only entrepreneurship, and Youth Ki Awaaz in specific, that I could do. It was more than work. It was a way of life.
While I was in college, there was no worry of sustaining the platform, but once I took the plunge full time in the last few days of my college, the valley of death grew deeper and deeper. Passion and all is great, but this was the real test. It still is. My conviction towards entrepreneurship, and YKA was so damn strong that I knew that I HAD to make this happen. It was either this, or being caught in the daily rut of life doing things that I could never fall in love with – and killing myself over it. I had to turn it around in our favour. Working 22 out of 24 hours, everyday, trying to find out ways of making things work might sound like a crazy thing to do, but it was the best kind of addiction one can experience. I did, and still do.
I remember a time when virtually no one around me believed that Youth Ki Awaaz would ever make it. No one had heard a blog making it there. No one knew of an alternative media outlet that would be able to impact lives, stay independent, and stay here for long. But that was the fun. That was the most epic challenge I had ever faced. While many were driven by the thought that I was doing the wrong thing by taking this step, I was driven more towards doing it, failing, learning, creating, failing again and creating again. I ignored the pessimists who would push me towards the convention. I focused more on expanding my circle, meeting and working with like-minded people, understanding the depth of the issues I was talking about, creating free spaces where any youngster could speak up about the issues they felt passionately for. I became a networking monger, a social media geek, but above all, I became a completely different person. My view towards life, the intricacies of it, dealing with the best and worst of situations – it all changed.
It’s been 5 years since I founded Youth Ki Awaaz and I’ve never been happier. Over the past 5 years, I got the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most amazing people I know. I got to lead a 50 member strong team, build with them a program to mentor over 1500 trainees on how to express themselves on the most crucial of issues, facilitate over 20,000 discussions on thousands of issues, deliver hard hitting opinions to an audience of millions every month, and create India’s largest platform for young people to express themselves on issues of importance – freely, fairly, fearlessly. The most I learnt was from the people who really run Youth Ki Awaaz – YOU! The everyday folk who chose to believe that Youth Ki Awaaz would represent them, their voice, and get them justice! Your voice was the reason why the Government took action on the issues we reported and opined on, your voice was the reason why young female students have freedom of mobility in IIT Madras, your voice was the reason why Irom Sharmila became a sensation on the Internet, and why the cops took suo motu action on crimes against women, and much much more! You have been the reason why I never took up a job, why all of us at YKA stuck to it and stick to it. Moreover, we got some crucial recognition as well. From two prestigious United Nations awards, an award for being theÂ Champion of Social Transformation by the Baha’i faith, and a steady audience of 5 million readers a month – Youth Ki Awaaz has been spearheaded by the everyday youth.
At Youth Ki Awaaz, every staff member is an innovator. It is not a job for anyone, but a pursuit for passion and a common goal. We’ve built a culture where there is minimal focus on doing things in a strict tried and tested format, and a maximum focus on experimenting new things, failing and learning and finally getting it right. We focus more on building a business model that does more good to the world, engages more people in issues and solutions, and gets them acting – an ever evolving model that focuses more on the growth of young people than the growth of organization, which, happens on its own.
With me, have been my strongest supporters, my parents and my siblings who never gave up on me. Who are still standing strong as we try our best to make Youth Ki Awaaz reach more people, grow more and do more.
Are we there yet? No. Are we successful? Not yet. But we are driven by the fact that come what may, we will keep building tools and technologies that empower the everyday youth and make them a stakeholder in the country’s issues.
And while I write this, I see you. I feel your passion. I know you fell in love. But I also know your fear. The fear of being on the safe side. Get out of it, give this a shot, try it out and let your passion run through you. Make it a way of life – it is beautiful!