The younger generation is like a double-edged sword that needs to be handled carefully to reap the benefits of their energy by channeling their enthusiasm in a positive way. But, only youth understand youth !

Siddhi Shah, Youth Venturer, works on various issues and projects to give youth the right platform to fully realise their potential and contribute positively to socio-economic development.

Siddhi, tell us about your background?

I grew up in Pune city which is rightly known as the Queen of the Deccan in the state of Maharashtra. I completed my schooling from St.Anne’s High School and my junior college from Abasaheb Garware. I recently completed my Bachelor of Science in Economics from MIT World Peace University and am currently pursuing a postgraduate diploma in International Business from Symbiosis University. My father is a businessman, and my mother is keen in cooking and has pursued that as her profession. My brother is the founder and executive director of Action for Pune Development and has a consultancy firm. My family has been my biggest support system and reason for what I have done till today. I got my biggest inspiration from them since I have seen them doing community service from a young age. 

Since I was a child, my mother has encouraged me to join various extracurricular activities and therefore, I am keen in drawing, singing, instruments and sports. Later I also developed interest in debating and robotics. By the time I completed my Bachelors, I gained interest in the field of finance and started preparing for the Chartered Financial Analyst examination and completed over 50 certifications in that field and related topics. 

I was 13 when my brother actually started this initiative and established an NGO. My journey too started then since I joined along and am representing the same NGO named “Action for Pune Development”. I will tell you about this journey in depth a little later. I also did few internships, and I was the executive director for KITs Model United Nations for the UNEP committee.

Why did you choose to work on a social initiative?

We all see a lot of inequality in the society! But very few of us take steps to bridge the gap between the privileged and the under-privileged! Being from a privileged family, I had realised one thing, that giving and helping others gets the best kind of satisfaction. There were a lot of problems around and changing them was not a “one person” thing but needed years of collective work. So, when we started working, one thing that we realised was that along with social and community work, it is very important to change the mindset of the young generation. Youth plays a significant role in achieving socio-economic development. Today, the world has 1.8 billion young people across the world and India is a nation having the highest youth population. Young people are energetic, full of ideas and have the courage to act. But, to get this energy channelized positively, we need to give them the right platform and it’s essential to make them realise the difference between ‘what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad’. Basically, when I say this, I’m talking about making sure that we work on changing the mindset of young people positively, and eventually resulting into a better, well-mannered and civilised generation. In the coming years, it is estimated that India will become the third largest economy in the world and certainly, these estimations are made considering that today’s youth population will significantly participate and lead the developmental process. But to achieve overall growth, we must make sure that today’s young people understand their role in development and this is what we are exactly trying to do. We worked on various issues and projects in a span of 8.5 years and have observed significant change. The journey started in 2012. When we started this organisation all the members were below the age of 16. When we unite, young people can create wonders and I have experienced it! The sole purpose was to work with likeminded people and APD was the right platform to do so!

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

Fortunately, my parents always encouraged me to work for the society and that is how I got into community service.  APD was a platform for people like me and soon, I joined APD as a full-time member! When I started working with several like minded people, that was the time when I realised the power that we all as young people have! But one thing that we observed was that it is very tough to change the mindset of older people since they are very stubborn, but since youth is tomorrow’s future, we planned on working with them.

What are the challenges you faced? How do you address them?

Initially, it was a simple concept with very limited vision, and we named it “Action for Pune Development”. When you look at the name of the organisation, it suggests that it’s a city-based youth organisation, but that was because we had no clue as to what young people could do and how far we could reach. We faced few challenges like:

Funds generation: When we started, there was no one willing to fund our projects and we decided to contribute Rs.50/- each! Later, we realised that we do not require money to really change the world, just an idea and voluntary strength and that is what we focused on! Since then, this is how we work! 63 members contribute Rs.50/- each and that’s all! Another way that we raise funds is by collecting waste newspapers(raddi’s) and recycling it! We never accepted donations because that makes us liable to do the kind of work someone else wants us to and young people would never do that! So, no donations, only contribution and clear focus on encouraging young volunteers to work!

Collaborations: We had a clear intention of involving more volunteers but had little clue of how to reach them. So, we started collaborating with schools as they have the highest student participation and started doing various activities. Soon we collaborated with more than 15 schools. Social media too placed a significant role. Young people are active on social media. We decided to use social media positively which proved to be the most powerful way for mobilising young people. 

Tell us more about your work ? 

We did various activities related to road safety, women empowerment, environment, corona essentials, blood and plasma donation, skill development, donations and many more. We started focusing on addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. AfFew significant events were the Voice of Pune, Parivartan 2016, etc. We worked with several national and international organisations. We started working with educational institutes and made it a point to have projects in diversified areas so that youth gets an opportunity to work in whichever area he/she wants to.

APD received recognition from Limca book of records, Golden book of World records and India book of records for its efforts and work towards youth engagement. We received the United Nations My World Innovations award for reaching out to half a million people with the My World 2015 survey. APD also received the special consultative status for the United Nations Economic and Social Council. We contributed to the third UN global road safety week #SaveKidsLives.

I was a youth fellow for the “Safer Roads, safer India” campaign by Youth Service America and Underwriters Laboratories and the Youth Ambassador for the My World 2015 and World We Want 2015 survey. I was associated with the Save Pune Traffic Movement for the “Safe You, Safe Me” campaign. 

You can find detailed activities on www.apdindia.in

How does your work benefit society?

Our work essentially is to spread awareness about various problems and finding solutions by engaging young people and making everyone realise that they can be change makers and have a positive impact. Since inception till today, we have encouraged many people to contribute their time and work for helping others and solving problems. We have also tried to plant more, provide saplings, and also enhance the environment. According to me, what we have mainly achieved or given to the society is that we have with our work encouraged people to give back to the society and change their mindset. In order to have a better future, we have to start working today. It is the time for us to stand up! Raise a voice, think out of the box and act!

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

We had an activity where we taught over 500 girls how to use computers and basic English. This activity is particularly close to me because I strongly believe in women empowerment and the school had many computers but no one to teach. This meant that they didn’t use the resources well and computers and English had become the need of the hour. When the course was over, we actually saw the transformation and confidence in the girls and the happiness that they possessed. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I have met many children and young people who give excuses to do some kind of social work by saying they are busy and don’t have time. I have also met people who do community service and have some certification that might help them. But giving back to society is much more than that. We should have a selfless motive to work. It is our future and lives that we are eventually trying to improve and this is only possible by knowing what is correct, what should be done and how to bridge the gap between the privileged and underprivileged. We believe in today’s young generation because it is independent enough to judge between right and wrong! Youth has a crucial role to play and help our nation to achieve its long-term goals! It is only when we will come together and work on solving the issues around us , when will we achieve an equal livelihood for all. The younger you start, the more experience you get and the more satisfaction. Excuses can help you avoid your part in solving the problem, it will not avoid the problem itself. 

Future Plans?

We will continue to work on our long-term goal on creating a more civilised young generation! We plan to do various activities and campaigns. We want to help solve the various problems that are being faced and overcome all challenges.