Everyone deserves a second chance in life, whether it is related to an opportunity, career or health ! This simple premise, based on social good, is difficult to execute, but has profound implications for our society.

Radhika Joshi, Young Changemaker, Founder at The Second Chance Project, works towards addressing social issues regarding lack of awareness of organ donation in India, because of which many individuals lose their lives and their second chance.

Coupled with persistence, such initiatives gradually lead to social transformation of the society. The lesson is, start small but think big. With this attitude, challenges lead to out-of-the-box thinking !

Radhika, tell us about your background?

I grew up in a small town under the foothills of Himalayas, known as Dehradun in the state of Uttarakhand. I did my schooling from the St. Joseph’s Academy, Dehradun. I come from a humble family background, where I spent time with my grandparents. My father works at an Insurance company and my mother is a high-school teacher. I also have an elder sister who works in the social impact sector, and promotes sexual and reproductive health and hygiene. 

My school has been instrumental in my changemaking journey from the very beginning. Small responsibilities growing up like monitorship in classroom and taking part in extra-curricular activities were stepping stones in my leadership journey. I was also given a chance to be a part of the School Student Council, which helped me hone my skills as a leader.

Growing up in a small town, I have always been curious about societal norms and challenges. I decided to study social sciences in college so I could equip myself with theoretical knowledge that could help me find practical solutions to real-world problems. While in college, I joined the Students’ Social Reform Initiative Club, which worked towards various social causes. This is when I got a taste of community service and social responsibility. Since then, I have been volunteering for various social causes including mental health, environment and girl-child education. Thus, I started familiarizing myself with non-profits and organizations working for social issues. Currently, I am pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the Sophia College For Women, Mumbai. I am interested to work in the social impact sector.

Why did you choose to work on a social initiative?

Changemaking was not something that was sudden, but for me, it is a process which is constantly evolving. Small responsibilities taken by me, created a mindset to continue bringing about positive change in the society.  

Since I was young, my parents always encouraged me to spend my vacations in a productive way, by either learning something new. This helped me in inculcating new skills as well as meeting and interacting with different individuals. After appearing for my 10th board examinations, as part of a compulsory school component (SUPW), I volunteered with an organization called Cheshire Home, where I got an opportunity to interact with individuals suffering from mental as well as physical disabilities. Such experiences motivated me to continue utilizing my vacations in college by working for various social causes and contribute towards them.

I’ve worked on societal issues such as mental health, education, LGBTQIA rights and women’s health and hygiene. I was a part of the YES FOUNDATION Media For Social Change Fellowship 2018, during which I went through a one week Induction Training Program, where I was trained by renowned industry professionals. As part of this program, I worked in a not-for-profit organization – Antarang Foundation – for a duration of 7 weeks, where I worked towards addressing the problem of unemployment among youth from Mumbai’s urban slums. This fellowship gave me an insight into the development sector and enabled me with skills that will help me in the long run. It empowered me to become a responsible youth citizen, and helped me make an effective use of the power of digital media, for the betterment of the society. 

During the summer of 2019, I joined as a Community intern with a Dehradun-based NGO known as Saheli Trust, where I helped facilitate door-to-door surveys in over 300 households in 10 slum communities to capture critical metrics on issues faced by local women. Apart from this, I also provided literacy classes in Computers and English, and enabled 100 women from under-resourced backgrounds with functional knowledge. 

I liked to spend my time after college and even weekends, by volunteering with various NGOs including Child Rights And You (CRY), where i worked as a fundraising volunteer and actively raised funds, along with my team, to contribute towards the education and upliftment of the children. I strongly believe that children are the future leaders of our nation and they have the right to receive quality education. I also worked as a volunteer with the NGO Adveka Foundation, where I helped facilitate mental health workshops for caregivers of cancer patients and children with special needs. 

Such experiences of working for various social causes helped me understand these issues from multiple perspectives, and reflect on society in a holistic manner. They also helped me in networking, become a more socially-aware individual and meeting like-minded people who are passionate to positively impact the society. 

While I continue to volunteer at several NGOs, June 2018 was a turning point in my life when I lost a loved one to kidney failure. I then realized the stark reality of organ donation in India and how it is a public health issue that requires awareness. This led me to founding my own initiative— The Second Chance Project. I researched extensively on the topic, and became aware of the stark reality that every year in India, about 5 lakh individuals lose their lives due to the unavailability of organs, and only 0.86% per million people donate their organs. The primary cause is the lack of awareness about organ donation in India, and the age-old myths associated with it.

For my efforts in helping the society, I have been selected from over 1200 applicants for the first Indian cohort of the ‘Ashoka Young Changemakers’ by the Ashoka Innovators for the Public, who recognize youth who bring large-scale social change.

How did you feel when you just started off working on your initiative? Did you face any resistance from society/ parents/ friends/ family/ teachers?

Since the beginning, I have had the support of my family. However, they were a little apprehensive about me working for a cause like organ donation, as there were various news about organ trafficking and kidney rackets in media. Later, they understood the need for such a programme and have been the backbone of the venture along with my team members.

When I had just started contemplating this cause, I was met with a brick-wall of resistance, ‘Why do you want to do this? Sure, there are other causes?’ I feel it is because of the connotation of death as well as the myths related to organ donation, but organ donation can be a very positive experience since one organ donor can save upto 8 lives and enhance many more!

My idea of beginning an initiative of my own was inspired by my mentor and elder sister, Sumati Joshi, who is the Founder of Mission SanScar, an initiative addressing sexual and reproductive health and hygiene. I have been fortunate to have a mentor at home! 

What are the challenges? How do you address them?

Challenge 1: Self-doubt: In the beginning, I doubted my ability to start a social initiative and was also apprehensive of what others will say. I gradually realized that there will be many people in life who will doubt our ability, but it is more important to focus on those few people who are there to support it, even if it is one person! In the beginning, since I was the only person working on the initiative, it got quite overwhelming for me and I had to manage a lot of work along with my full-time college studies. That is when I decided to build a team. I posted about my initiative on my social media platform, and a few of my school friends showed interest in being a part of the project. Along with my team, I reflected on the strengths of each team member, and divided the work amongst ourselves. We respect each other’s views and work collaboratively! 

Challenge 2: Lack of knowledge: Since I do not come from a medical or legal background, I did not have much knowledge and subject-expertise about organ donation. I did extensive research online, but felt that the information that I acquired was not enough. That is when I searched online for NGOs working for organ donation in India. I found one of the NGOs MOHAN Foundation, who did extensive work regarding this cause. I reached out to them through email and personally met them to explain them about my project and my curiosity to learn more about it. I also joined as a volunteer with that NGO, and was fortunate that their Program Coordinator was ready to mentor me and she still continues to guide me! Through this challenge, I also understood the value of ‘collaboration’ and how it is important to collaborate with like-minded individuals and organisations, through which I could create greater positive impact and learn from others.

Challenge 3: No funding: Lack of funds was a challenge that I faced, but this made me think out of the box, and come up with creative interventions to spread awareness about this cause. We use innovative, easy to implement and cost-effective methods such as information sessions, street plays, and art. To engage young children, they design ‘organ donation aprons’ by reviving simple household kitchen aprons with colorful drawings of body parts to highlight the importance and function of each organ. This is especially useful when there is a lack of infrastructure in different schools they operate in. 

More about your work – 

What problems do you solve? 

I work towards solving the social issue of lack of awareness of organ donation in India, because of which many individuals lose their lives. 

What skills are needed for job? How did you acquire the skills? 

Being a changemaker, some important skills needed for my work are networking, public speaking, research, and team management, to name a few. 

By working for various social organisations and attending events, I inculcate my skill for networking. It is important to remember that we should not work in isolation, and have a network of like-minded people whom we can also reach out for help and guidance. Conducting awareness sessions requires the skills to speak among public. From being a shy and introverted individual, I am gradually evolving to be more confident and the more I practice this skill, the better it becomes! Research is an important aspect in this area of work, and I seek active guidance from my mentor to hone this skill. Team management is important so that the team members work collaboratively, work on different aspects of the work as well as learn from each other. I am still learning and trying to improve my skills!

What is a typical day like? 

I start my day with yoga and meditation, which helps me have a calm mind. The first half of my day is mostly spent in college. I spend my evenings working on my initiative along with completing my college assignments. I also spend time doing activities that I like, which includes gardening. I end my day with writing down the key highlights of my days in a gratitude journal, along with focusing on what I learnt that day and what I am grateful for. 

What is it you love about this job? 

The opportunity to give someone a second chance at life!

Awards, prizes, accomplishments: Ashoka Young Changemaker ; Awarded by SBI Foundation and UN Volunteers for my contribution towards the cause of organ donation.

How does your work benefit the society? 

My work’s key focus is to raise more awareness about organ donation in India, and help reduce the myths as well as misconceptions associated with this cause. Most people are ignorant and unaware about this cause, but through the work that we do, we are sensitizing more individuals about this cause, so that if they are in a situation where they can donate the organs of their loved ones, at least they will think about donating it and help someone who is suffering from an organ failure, get a second chance to live! There are thousands of individuals in India registered on the waiting list, looking for an organ donor to save their lives. One person who donates their organs can save upto 8 lives and enhance many more! The organ donor can positively impact the lives of not only the individuals in need of organs, but also their family members who lives are affected indirectly. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

The most memorable work done is to help facilitate an eye donation of an individual, after the donor’s family members were confused how to go about the process and contacted me for help. This has made me realize the power of my initiative to help save lives and motivate me to continue working for this cause!

Your advice to students based on your experience?

As young people, we are often not taken seriously and our ability to bring about change is doubted. It is important to have belief in ourselves and be confident to work towards the social cause that we are passionate about. I believe that the role of a mentor is very crucial in a changemaker’s journey. Thus, it is important to find a mentor who is willing to guide us in our journey to bring about change. Being students, it is also important to focus on our studies and learn to prioritize as per the situations. Also, we often feel that change should only lead to large impact and can be done by people who hold powerful leadership positions, but it is important to remember that no one is too young to bring about a positive change, and no change is too small!

Future Plans?

Right now, The Second Chance Project is active in Mumbai and my hometown, Dehradun, but I want to scale it up to other cities and smaller towns. I want to expand the scope of my project in Dehradun, and initiate a program specific to eye donation within the city. I want to make more young people to be aware about this cause, and in turn, help us in sensitize others. I want to help remove the taboo associated with organ donation in India, and ‘normalize’ it.