Ishita Chaudhry is just like any other woman in her mid 20s except for the fact that she is the CEO & Founder of The YP Foundation, one of the largest youth based and youth run NGOs in India. It took one incident to change her perception and made her determined to give back to the community, the community she is a part of.
DesiQube is honored to have an inspiring leader to talk about what it means to be the CEO, and more so when its a non profit and youth based & run organization. We present you the 1st of this 2 part interview series with Ishita Chaudhry on her journey, entrepreneurship, social activism & The YP Foundation.
1) Tell us something about yourself ?
Neurotic, happy and sarcastic is a good, if slightly unhealthy way to describe me. I did my schooling inDelhi and Dehradun in the middle at Welham Girls School, graduating from The Shri Ram School finally.I genuinely have an awesome family, in the truest sense of the word. A super sarcastic, intelligentand beautiful grand mother, who is also one of the first Indian women to play Squash nationally. Myparents are an eclectic mix of east meets west, both born and brought up in India, my dad spent alarge part of his growing up and working years in England and my mom’s fairy desi, in the true sense of the word. They had one of those Hindi movie type love marraiges, boy meets girl, they hate each other at first meeting and the rest as the movies say, is history. I tease them a lot about that.
My weakspot is my younger baby brother, who’s five years younger to me and can get pretty much anything out of me that he wants. We’re very close as siblings. My family is my rock, they have put up with everything, from having over 100 young people who are virtual strangers work out of their home togiving up their bedrooms for meetings, training sessions and feeding post college and school hungry young people. They have phenomenal patience and are insanely encouraging. It’s unusual I think, foryounger women to have families like mine, who are conservative about many things, but not about encouraging women entrepreneurship. I heart them.
As for me? I’m a bit schizophrenic really speaking. Personally, on the quieter side, not super social at all – you really won’t see me at a club dancing on a Saturday night. I chill mostly with closefriends, love watching movies, largely geeky and totally techno happy. At work and with my family, I’ma thorough chatterbox. If I’m not reading, writing or spending my time online, it’ll be music. I’ve been playing the piano for the last 10 years now and I sing. By training mostly Indian Classical, and of lateby interest Opera and Jazz. That’s pretty much what I go back to. I have a craze for collecting different kinds of coffee whenever I’m traveling and there’s my addiction to much needed sleep, whenever that comes. If I’m near water, I love to swim.
I don’t have very specific future ambitions, contrary to how compulsive I am about needing to get everything done on time at work, I’m the happiest when I go with the flow and I honestly can’t planmy life more than 1 year at a time. Two things floating at the back of my mind that have stayed – I really want to be able to use something like The YP Foundation as a model where I can help young people from diverse communities be empowered. Social justice, feminism and human rights are not justwords for me, they’re a huge part of what I struggle to work for, live with and understand. It’s more apersonal goal, where I want to be able to see young people access resources, systems and information much more easily to access their rights and express themselves. The other is music. I want to go backto singing, either formally or maybe as something I’ll study, but I have a feeling that the space between music and working for women’s rights is pretty much where I’ll always find home.
2) How did The YP Foundation came into being? What inspired you to start this foundation?
On 27th February 2002, over 30% of India’s over 1 billion population, that is under 28 years of age,marked their calendars as being living witnesses to the Godhra Riots in Gujarat, one of the worst communal violence incidents in India’s democratic history since independence. In April that year, the Confederation of Indian Industry hosted a conference on ‘Social and Ethical Breakdown in India – What shall we the people do?’ a concerned attempt after the Godhra Riots to garner citizen action. A young girl of 17, by chance, fate and just a little bit of luck, found herself on a panel in that session, as one of two representatives of a generation of young people that were largely absent from the gathering. I had been asked to speak on what young people in India felt about the riots.
It seemed simple enough. Except it wasn’t. When I tried to comprehend what a generation of young people in India felt about fundamentalist riots in a secular democracy, I didn’t understand much at all.It hit me hard, that despite my privileged educational background in a country where only 54.5% of women and girls have access to primary schooling, I didn’t have an informed opinion. Although I was articulate, I was disconnected, without any real knowledge of the potential within myself and with little real understanding of politics and of my identity as a young person growing up in India.
As a privileged high school student speaking at a national forum, I was articulate in my need to demandgood governance and my desire to see accountability. In addressing these decision makers, I also began to question my own silence, the entire debate around power, identity and privilege and my ownlack of action as a young person.
The realization that it could take an event as horrific as the victimization of an entire community of people to move us into doing something more than to sit, pontificate and posture in the comfort of ourown homes stunned me. This wasn’t first time we had known or witnessed riots; we weren’t the first generation of young people in the world to the address the aftermath that violence, stigma, prejudice and discrimination leave. Yet we joined the ranks of those who have remained silent to these injusticesover the years, whose silence has often been misconstrued as submission, acceptance or disinterest.We chose to disengage, without really ever considering the alternatives as a choice. My curiosity in wanting to challenge the education I had received within the four walls of my classroom and applying it outside to life, began a journey of learning that I am on today.
That year, that month, was the beginning of series of sparks that lit a fire in me, that changed irrevocably, the direction of where my life was headed. I began to challenge the points of intersectionality in my multiple identities, the labels I had adopted at birth and had never questioned since, my gender, ethnicity, identity, privilege, nationality, sexuality and religion. I met the Director and Programmes team at the India Habitat Centre at the time in Delhi, and they agreed to unstintingly support the birth of a youth led organization. And on 26th July 2002, we had our first meeting, with 300 young people and children from across the city, on how young people could challenge and change thestatus quo in Delhi.
3) How does it feel to be the CEO & Founder of an organization that aims to bring a positive social change in the society?
Sleep deprived and how! I think the title of CEO or Founder sounds very glamorous, but really isn’t, when you’re a small organization, with limited resources and lots of work! You do everything and pickup the back end when others can’t – that goes with the territory and you can’t say no. I love the teamsI work with though – it would be virtually impossible to give this kind of time to a job if I hated the people I worked with and the teams of young people I work with are just super fun.
–Catch the second part of the interview and more about The YP Foundation in the next segment of interview.