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Youth Ki Awaaz’s 5 Years: Why I Never Took Up A Job, And Why It Made All The Difference – A Note From Our Founder

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By Anshul Tewari:

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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 the 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!

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  1. Aabha Midha

    HeartyCcongratulations to Youth Ki Awaaz and you on your 5th anniversary. It is your conviction, passion and perseverance that has brought you here. And you have miles to go, miles to achieve. My best wishes to you and YKA on this momentous day.

  2. Kritika Singh

    Congratulations to you on the 5th Anniversary of YKA and thankyou so much for providing us with a platform where we can raise our voice and even get to know about so many issues and their solutions at one place altogether. Hope YKA gets bigger and better day by day 🙂 (Y)

  3. Chirag Aidasani

    Reading this has really motivated me . I am currently pursuing a professional degree as i had given into my parents ambitions which were really not mine .But after completing my college i plan to do what i dreamt of doing ever since i was a child . Your story has really given me a ray of hope that handwork with proper planning can take you a long way and that you don’t have to listen to what society says and follow your heart . Truly a pleasure reading your article and i hope to follow in your footsteps and achieved what you have achieved in my field of interest . God bless you and may reach even more greater heights . Keep motivating us Youth 😉

  4. Rupam

    Inspired is one word that I can say. There are startups and entrepreneurs all around with their own specific visions, but the vision that Youth Ki Awaaz has worked upon and is working upon, is something that sets a tone for how we move towards the future by creating a different medium of expression of self. To that Congratulations Anshul Tewari, Congratulations Youth Ki Awaaz.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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