On National Youth Day, let’s celebrate the young talent leading social change in India
You don’t exactly need statistics to see just how young India’s population is. For a 30-something, a walk through practically anywhere – mall, streets, local markets, residential areas – is enough to feel just a little old, because everyone looks that much younger! But if you do need statistics, here’s one for size – 50 percent of India’s 1.3 billion strong population is under the age of 25. Over an astounding 65 percent of this are less than 35. With its new ideas, energy, and an open worldview, India’s youth population can be a breath of fresh air needed to solve social and economic challenges. But the actual outcome often depends on how this youthful energy is channelised by government, organisations, and society and how deeply engaged this youth is with civic and social matters.
The good news is that India has some strong examples of youth making a deep positive impact on society, business, and politics. From startups and corporates to the development sector, travel and tourism to entertainment, media and social commentary, the last few years have seen the rise of young Indians as crucial and articulate narrative shapers.
On National Youth Day, that commemorates Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy and ideals, we look at some stellar young Indian talents who have proven to be role models for not just our young population but for all of us.
Nazir Ahmad Ganaie, Valley Skill and Craft Development Institute Kashmir (VSCDIK)
Job creation and upskilling in the troubled valleys of Kashmir is no mean feat. But that is exactly what Nazir Ahmad Ganaie is doing together with his teammates Umar Maqbool, an IT graduate, Ishfak Ahmad, a mass communications graduate, and Shabir Ahmad Ganaie, an Urdu postgraduate. In light of Jammu & Kashmir suffering the highest unemployment rates in the country, these four changemakers pooled their resources together and started VSCDIK about a year-and-a-half ago. The core focus of the institute is to impart skills that make Kashmiri youth employable. Starting with basic courses in plumbing, electricals, mobile repair, and computers, the institute has since graduated to courses like web and graphic design, English, and O-level courses.
One of Nazir and team’s biggest successes so far has been the institute’s affiliation with Kashmir University. The affiliation will make them more mainstream and hence more accessible to young Kashmiris looking for skills, employability, and jobs.
Upasana Makati, White Print
Beyond basics like banking and primary education for the visually impaired, Upasana Makati’s White Print is an exercise in including them in the mainstream political and social discourse of the country. Founded in 2013 and published monthly by the National Association for the Blind, White Print is the country’s first lifestyle magazine in Braille. It covers politics, art & entertainment, technology, food & travel, and profiling stories.
White Print also encourages visually impaired individuals to share their poems, articles, and op-eds and gives them a platform to share their stories with the world. Nominally priced White Print’s business model relies mainly on ad revenue. In a success story like few others, it has found the support of big brands like Coca-Cola, TATA Group, Raymond, and Aircel over the years.
Ria Sharma, Make Love Not Scars
‘Make Love Not Scars’, founded by Ria Sharma, is an NGO that works for justice and support for acid attack survivors. The project started as a documentary on acid attack survivors that Ria worked on while pursuing her undergraduate degree at Leeds College of Art. She stayed back in India after completing her project to set up Make Love Not Scars in 2015.
In its initial days, the NGO only focused on giving a platform for survivors to share their stories. But in just over two years, the organisation has grown and now does the monumental work of ensuring emergency medical and legal assistance, therapy, and rehabilitation for survivors of gender-based violence. It also empowers them with skills and training for stable livelihoods. Make Love Not Scars also engages government bodies and media for awareness campaigns about gender-based violence. In a short time, Ria’s work has touched the lives of more than 70 survivors.
Chetan Gowda, Khoon
Chetan was just 16 years old when his teacher passed away due to challenges in finding a blood donor. Moved by the incident, the young boy set up Bengaluru-based NGO Khoon. With the help of a helpline number and several awareness workshops, Khoon now has over 50,000 blood donors registered with it. Chetan’s efforts bore fruits when in merely two years, his NGO saved thousands of lives and even expanded to far-flung states like Assam, where he managed to register over 500 donors.
A story of determination in changing the system, Chetan, now 17, is looking to conquer the deficit – of three million units – in blood banks across India. A clear proponent of age not being a barrier when it comes to inculcating social reform, hopefully, many will join his ranks and lead this change.
Adarsh Krishnan, SBI Youth For India Fellow
The man-animal conflict has been a constant issue faced by many farmers. Losing yield to wild animals due to encroaching farmlands has been recognised by many as the predominant problem. Looking to plug the issue, 24-year-old Adarsh Krishnan, a civil engineer from Chennai, has implemented technological solutions to protect crops from wild animals. The long-term impact that Adarsh is aiming for is to introduce tech-enabled farming practices in the Champawat district of Uttarakhand. As more and more below-poverty-line (BPL) farmers abandon agriculture in search of better income and futures, the solution is timely and has been impactful in 10 revenue villages in the state.
With an average annual household income of a meagre Rs 8,000-15,000, these farmers were dealing with the added burden of their crops being attacked regularly by wild animals like boars and deer. Killing these animals is often not an option as the law protects several of these wild species. Under the supervision of BAIF Development Research, Adarsh introduced the region’s farmers to bamboo carriers, incandescent bulb heaters, and electronic fencing equipment. Adarsh, who presently works as an SBI Youth for India fellow, is now in the process of procuring CSR funding to extend the technology to cover the 10 villages that need the equipment.
Amit Amarnath, Youth for Parivarthan (YFP)
Founded by Amit Amarnath, Bengaluru-based non-profit YFP has been cleaning up Bengaluru’s unofficial garbage dumps since 2015. In two years, with the help of an army of volunteers, YFP has spot-fixed over 100 such spaces across Bengaluru, including Mysore Bank Circle in Gandhinagar, Madhava Rao Park, the entrance of the Uttarahalli Lake, the flyover near Ramakrishna Ashram in Basavanagudi, and the Diary Circle underpass. Not just limited to cleaning up, YFP also removes illegal posters, paints walls with Warli art, installs benches and CCTV, and more. In addition, YFP helms plantation drives and initiates cleanliness drives in educational institutes, including Konankunte Government School, Mount Carmel College, and Kumaran’s PU College among others.
According to Amit, the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission has made their work a tad easier with less opposition from residents of the areas where they undertake spot-fixing. The relationship is by and large mutually beneficial, with the success of the mission depending on the work of non-profits such as YFP.
Harshit Gupta, Womenite
Founded by 22-year old Harshit Gupta, Womenite is a youth-led initiative that works for women’s empowerment. A social organisation fighting the social patriarchal setup, it covers several aspects of gender equality. Since 2015, Womenite has organised offline events and online campaigns for awareness and education. The organisation’s 40+ members mainly comprise of students of Delhi University and colleges, along with expert clinical psychologists and gynaecologists.
Womenite has conducted gender equality, child sex abuse, and menstrual hygiene workshops in over 40 schools and not-for-profit organisations and more than 15 colleges, touching over 10,000 students. Womenite has been recognised as star changemakers at the Global Action on Poverty Forum in 2016, World Merit Day 2016, Make Room India Programme 2016, and Vatican Youth Symposium 2016. The organisation was invited to the UN Women headquarters to share their story.
Vandyaa Lakkaraju and Rekha Mutyala, Isham
NIFT graduates Vandyaa and Rekha are doing their bit to preserve dying crafts of India and are on a mission to provide a livelihood to India’s impoverished artisans with their pet project, Isham. The company works with five artisan families in Andhra Pradesh to bring dying crafts like leather, brass sheet metal, and lacquered wood products to urban spaces. Ishma does more than just provide a platform for artisans to sell their products; it also provides basic training and orientation on product design under the company’s private label.
In a short time, Isham now has a studio in Hyderabad, and its products are gaining steam on its own e-commerce website as well as on online marketplaces such as Jaypore and Novica (helmed by National Geographic). But Vandyaa and Rekha count social impact through livelihood of artisan families as their most important achievement so far.
Ashwath Hegde, Envigreen Biotech
24-year-old Ashwath Hegde has taken on a monumental challenge – replacing the convenience and cost-effectiveness of plastic bags with alternative eco-friendly options. With a presence in seven countries in just over one year, Envigreen Biotech produces plastic-free bags made from vegetable waste and oil derivatives. The bags naturally decompose in about 180 days and have been certified by Karnataka State Pollution Control Board as well as by TÜV SÜD South Asia. Ashwath’s efforts were also recognised by Forbes, who featured him in their annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017.
Karthik Naralasetty, Socialblood
Karthik is an Internet entrepreneur and founder of social-networking-for-blood-donation site Socialblood. After dropping out of Rutgers University in 2009, Karthik set up an Internet startup in Bangalore. But soon, a rural family’s struggles with blood transfusions for their 4-year-old daughter caught Karthik’s attention. Socialblood was born out of this story. A Forbes 30 under 30 innovator, Karthik’s Socialblood is building a strong, trusted network of blood donors, hospitals, and blood banks on the web.
Divyanshu and Mukul Malviya, student innovators
Commended by the National Innovation Foundation and multiple awards such as the Ignite Award in 2014 and National Grassroots Innovation Awards in 2017, young brothers Divyanshu and Mukul from Rajasthan built a litter-picking machine as a school project after they were deeply moved when they saw a sweeper picking litter at a bus stop.
The machine comes with an inbuilt wrapper picker and holds great potential for municipal bodies, residential areas and complexes, schools, and public spaces. Solving an oft-overlooked problem, the brother duo’s project has been in sync with the country’s Swachh Bharat Mission. Realising the potential of the product, the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology is currently in the process of helping sustain, commercialise, and scale up the project.
Clearly, with stories like these in every corner of the country, the future in safe hands. More of us could find the right kind of role models to emulate, and the system needs to support and encourage them more often. These young, empathetic individuals are setting the right examples – let’s celebrate them this National Youth Day.