In Conversation with Anshul Tewari

Anshul Tewari is an Indian media entrepreneur best known as the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of YouthKiAwaaz, a mouthpiece for the youth.

What made you go by this name?
Since forever, young people have been told off and subject to stereotypes of apathy around socio-political issues. As a young person myself, I was frustrated at the thought that this country’s current generation did not have a stake in the issues, policies and politics that directly or indirectly affected them. In other words, their ‘Awaaz’ or voice did not matter in decision making. I had been a blogger since I was 14 and blogging came as a very natural response to this lack of platforms. The name ‘Youth Ki Awaaz’ came about over a casual conversation I was having with my mother - about the current state of affairs of the mainstream media.

If you had to describe what you do to someone you’ve just met, what would you say?
I’d say that I run a citizen-driven media platform for public participation, to drive impact and social change.

Describe a day in your work life.
My schedules are very erratic. There’s no single format to the day, because I have something new coming up practically everyday. I wake up at around 7am, and the first thing I do is check my email. I reply to the ones that are most urgent, and then go about my day. I either come to the office at around 10am, or around 12.30- 1pm. There’s no fixed time, it depends upon the work. Work then goes on for the entire day, and I end up sleeping at around 1am.

Describe an ideal day in your work life.
My ideal day would just be me trekking in the mountains.

How did you reach the platform you’re at, presently?
To put it very simply, it was a very timely intervention. It started at a time when nobody else was doing this. So that was a huge advantage. We created a volunteer-based journalism environment. Also I think the fact that I was doing it on my own had a role to play too. I did not have anyone to answer to. I could try everything I wanted to, so there was always that advantage. I think all of that came together and contributed to it. Also, the tireless effort of hundreds of volunteers in the initial three years had a huge role. A couple of volunteers worked for as long as three or four years – not even months, and they used to give it 6-8 hours a day. That’s pretty much equivalent to working full time- and they were all doing it alongside college. That was extremely crucial. Without that, I don’t think it would’ve been possible.

Where do you go from here?
We’re very focused on expanding fast now. If you talk about short term goals, we’re looking to expand all over the country - basically, reaching out to whatever age groups, colleges we’re missing out on, where we can reach. We’re looking at expanding internationally as well, so by the end of this year, we’ll start actively reaching out to writers in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, hopefully. We’re also thinking of launching an app very soon.

Which one of your own stories has influenced you the most?
When the 2011 middle- east crisis happened, there were a lot of Indians who lived in the middle east to work. One of our readers, Pranay, told us that his father was in Libya, and he has had no contact with his father. He found out that US and UK had sent their ships and planes to get their citizens back, but India wasn’t intervening; and Pranay’s father, along with many other Indians, was stuck there. So Pranay reached out to us saying that he’s been trying to reach out to the mainstream media, and that there’s been no response from their side, and asked if we could do something about it. That was 2011, YkA wasn’t as big, we didn’t have any contacts. So I told him to write about it and publish it on YkA. That article went completely viral, it was all over the place. Bloggers were taking it up and re-publishing it on their blogs, it went to hundreds of places. By the end of the day, we got a call from CNN IBN, saying that they want to do a story on Pranay and there was so much pressure exerted by the press that the Government actually issued an order to get the citizens back. Along with Pranay’s father, they got 16,000 Indians back. That was our first ever impact story, and it went viral on a huge scale. And that also shut the skeptics up- the ones saying that social media couldn’t achieve anything, because this was one story that went viral purely because of social media.

Has there been any particular instance that has influenced you the most?
I was bullied by my classmates when I was in college. But that changed my life because that was when I realized that people face violence and violation on a regular basis. Before that instance, I used to wonder how difficult it could be to speak up, but it was only when I was in that situation that I realized that speaking up is actually very difficult. Facing any type of psychological, physical, or any other type of violence, and to retaliate and speak up is very tough. Also another thing I realized, or rather experienced firsthand, was that whenever you’re facing any kind of violence, the people around you won’t intervene. So those three years of college completely changed me.

What, according to you, is more important- the idea, or its execution?
Both are equally important, but I think an idea doesn’t matter if there’s no execution. Everybody comes up with an idea, but not everybody executes it.

What does it take as a person, to do what you’re doing? What were the circumstances involved?
Firstly, a lot of perseverance and a lot of patience, because it’s not easy. They have to be impatient with a lot of things, a lot of decisions- with the delivery of results, for instance, but they can’t be impatient when it comes to ideas. People take Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples when they talk about entrepreneurship, and beautify it, however the reality is very different. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Reality often includes giving up your social life, your friends, moving out of your house, maybe. It requires a lot of focus, because it’s very easy for entrepreneurs to lose focus, especially young entrepreneurs. I myself lost focus a lot of times when I started. But now I see that these days, entrepreneurs are a lot more focused, as compared to 2008. They start with a focus already, which is a great thing. It took us seven years to shift from the start up phase to the growth phase. For some people, it could take a year, for some people it takes ten years.

Are you involved in something other than this?
Professionally, I’m also on the board of directors of Collectively, which is a collaboration between Unilever and World Economic Forum. As a part of the board, I help them streamline their vision, because they’re also targeting young people. It’s a media platform that wants to create a more sustainable planet. So I help them understand what the target audience actually likes. I’m also on the board of advisors of the World Summit Youth Award. We got that award in 2010 ourselves. I’m also informally helping a couple of startups.

If not this, what?
I don’t think there’s any other answer. I guess I’d end up as a journalist, but I might as well have quit. I haven’t imagined a parallel universe.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?
Earlier, it was very difficult, because I was too engrossed in my work, but over time I’ve realized that it’s unhealthy. Your brain can be functioning and thinking about that all the time, but you don’t always have to be physically present. I’ve had times when I worked for 72 hours straight, and then just had a blackout after that. So getting an office helped. It set things and added a bit of pressure, in the sense that, a particular amount of work had to be done in a particular amount of time- or at least the major chunk of the work. So once you get out of the office, once the major work is over, you can actually go out, hangout with friends.

Do you prefer print media or electronic media?
Online media. Not the mainstream electronic media, but the digital media. It’s faster, it has a larger outreach, and it’s growing really fast. People who don’t have access to online media right now will have access very soon. It is the future- and I’ve always believed in having a futuristic outlook.

What has been your best experience while interacting with people who respect your work?
I was working in Kazakistan last year. I went there for a conference. I met Pranay’s father, who was working there, as well. We met and he told me exactly how the 16,000 people were rescued. That was the best thing ever.

If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?
“…”

Do you believe in the butterfly effect?
Yes.

So, do you think you’re making a difference to the world?
I’m not sure. I think all of us, together, are making a difference, yes. But individually, I’m not sure.

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