Competitive Sports is a great teacher, imparting the life skills of dedication, persistence and resilience to help you continue on the path that you firmly believe in, no matter what the resistance !
Sriram Sankar, Youth Venturer, uses his past experiences to help students realise their dreams, by supporting, encouraging social entrepreneurs and helping them setup their business.
Sriram, tell us about yourself
I was born in a small town in the Nagapattinam District in Tamil Nadu but I spent the first 12 years of my life in Bangalore. Put into swimming classes at the age of 3 at the advice of my paediatrician, I trained for 16 years and ended up winning many laurels at the National level.
In a unique combination, Being a science student till Grade 12, I am now studying Chartered Accountancy.
My parents are great. Despite being working parents they have always supported my decisions for what they are and at times have made me realize what I need to do. They have taught me that life can go both ways and that one must learn to adapt to it. My grandfather always told me, “Learn to live like a farmer till you become the landlord.” That is probably the best advice I have got.
Why did you choose to work on a social initiative?
I came to Puducherry when I was in grade 7 and that is when my life took a turn for the better. I started to get interested in practical science and environmental conservation. It was the year 2016, the same year that Madam Kiran Bedi became the Governor of Puducherry. Engaging in her environmental reform activities is what got me interested in Social Changemaking and my school led me to being interested in Entrepreneurship. The unique combination of my interests in Social Changemaking and Entrepreneurship made me understand the concept of Social Entrepreneurship.
I started thinking about starting a venture when I went on my first Beach Clean-up drive along with my friends at school. We cleaned nearly 4 km of beach and collected over 100 kgs of plastic waste alongside dead marine life. This experience got me reflecting and motivated me to do something that reduced the impact of plastic waste on the environment. It was the same time that we were reading about a process known as ‘Pyrolysis’ in my Chemistry class and I wanted to do that same process with plastic waste.
Everyone wanted me to do what an average 9th standard kid would do. But my class teacher and principal (Nisha Ma’am and Sugandhi Ma’am) believed in me and so did I. I went to colleges and universities to meet professors to understand the process, they explained it to me but insisted that I do not do it, primarily because I am young. That experience actually pushed me to prove that age doesn’t matter. All that matters is Determination, Dedication and Attitude.
I met a great inventor as a mentor in Karaikal, a town nearly 6 hours from the place I live. Every Friday after school I would catch a bus to Karaikal, spend the weekend working on the project and travel back to attend school on Monday. It was hard and went on for nearly 6 months.
I worked on pyrolysis to dispose of plastic in localities. I got to be an Ashoka Youth Venturer for this. This is when I realised I got a chance to showcase my idea, a chance that many do not usually get. And hence I started free sessions for government schools and orphanages so they have equal opportunity. Later I started an event called ‘Changemaker Fest’ where anyone with an idea can come and make their dreams a reality. Now I work at a company called ‘Imagine Earth Private Limited’. We are now doing this on a national level.
How did you feel when you just started off working on your initiative? Did you face any resistance from society/ parents/ friends/ family/ teachers?
Starting the project was a great experience. None excepy 4 people(parents, class teacher and principal) believed in me. The experts I went to ask for help declined my request. The society was not fair, in fact, it was horrible. If there is one thing I learnt, “Only one person’s thought concerns you and that’s yours.”
I worked hard and long. I got to know the people who trust me, the real relationships in life and not the shallow ones. Always believe in yourself.
What are the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Well, to be frank, there were only 2 challenges I faced.
The main one was my age. People ignored to take me seriously just because I was a kid with no experience. They gauged my work not on its merit but with the age of its maker. I really hated that. That’s when I promised myself that I would do what I wanted to do no matter how hard it was, no matter who opposed it and definitely not because I am young.
The second one was studying. I am a really average student. I could hardly keep up my grades. People and society as a whole think of marks as the only way one can ascertain intelligence. My marks are not who I am. I am good at different things. Learning to see a kid’s heart and interest is the most important thing. Life is not about marks, it is about doing what we want to do.
Tell us what you do currently
Right now I work to help students realise their dreams. The problem being solved here is changing the mentality that a young student’s ideas and dreams are not very important and need not be looked into. I have helped an 8-year-old girl set up her own craft business. Social Entrepreneurship is something I advocate for young minds.
Skills are needed, but most importantly all one needs is heart and soul. Communication, teamwork and creative thinking are what is really needed. Everyone has these skills. It’s not about learning these skills, it’s about tapping into the inner potential that the person has as a leader and a team player. According to me, everyone is great on their own, we just need to let them choose their own future and support their decision.
A typical day for me starts at 5:30 in the morning. I have live classes for my Chartered Accountancy course from 6 am. Then I start working on my projects and company affairs from 4 pm to around 10 pm taking some rest in between for around an hour or so. I then start working on helping with queries and developing strategies of business implementation for budding entrepreneurs who we have helped. That keeps me going for the next week. It’s hard but it’s something I love to do and will do till I am satisfied with what I do.
I love the satisfaction I achieve from what I do. The smiles, the joy and the talks we have with budding Changemakers and Social entrepreneurs after they have interacted with us keeps me going. This job is the best I have had and will continue to do it even if I become a Chartered Accountant.
I have received quite a few awards, prizes and achievements. The Puducherry Government, The Journalist Union of Tamil Nadu, Entrepreneurship Development Cell of several colleges and other NGOs have recognized our work and have appreciated our work.
How does your work benefit society?
My work directly helps young minds to do what they want to. We do not force them to choose between the options instead we let them make the options and then choose. Society needs to understand that giving a few options and letting them choose amongst those options is not as effective as letting the person explore all possible options.
Any memorable experiences?
Every student we meet and interact with is an experience on its own. We are presently working with a tech startup from Bihar. Being run and managed by a 19 year old along with his peers is a great sight. We have always worked alone, but now when we are making new partnerships, it feels nice. This project is something that is very personal to me. I started my social enterprise with the Changemaker Fest a couple of years ago and we are now doing it nationwide with new partners. This is a very specific memory I cherish.
Your advice to students?
My advice is very simple, “Love what you do and do what you love.”
Always have a team that will have your back no matter what, good or bad. And it is important to find your own advice. Experience is the best teacher one can ask for. It is not bad to make mistakes, it is only bad if you repeat the same mistakes. Always make someone happy everyday.
I am currently doing my CA course and also managing a few ventures and businesses of my own. In the future I wish to continue what I am doing right now. I just want to make the best out of what life has to offer. Helping students and other young minds to start their own social enterprises to help the society is my plan for the future. Everyone is born a winner but very few realize this. My goal in life is to make as many people as I can to realize that they are champions in their own right.