Anoushka Sinha is the visionary founder of the Anupam Foundation, a youth-led organisation addressing gender equity, accessible education, and climate change.
In our final Featured Fellows Q&A of 2023, Anoushka shares her journey from 12-year-old local activist to global advocate leaving an indelible mark on over 100,000 lives. Hear her inspiring story of resilience, activism, and the mission to create positive global change below.
The RSA is a community of changemakers. What inspires you to be a changemaker?
I knew I had to step up to ensure that no child, especially girls, is left out without getting access to learning. I also wanted to change the narrative of a male-first pipeline and the male dominance that I had always experienced because I knew how those toxic stereotypes and attitudes negatively influenced millions of females in my country.
I knew that, in addition to raising my voice, I had to take concrete steps to build a large network of changemakers to support that effort to make change happen. The inequality, defiance, lack of support and leadership from our elected leaders to even talk about issues such as female infanticide, gender-based violence and gender discrimination was alarming to me. As a young girl myself, I found that silence to be deafening and I knew that until I took a stand, I wouldn’t be able to change the status quo, so that is why I am the leader I am today and continue to be.
What inspired you to become an activist at such a young age? What continues to motivate you, over a decade later?
I grew up in a fairly patriarchal community. I was the first female born in my joint family. As women, we never had the agency to make decisions or pursue passions and everything we did was funnelled through a hierarchical system of men deciding if this would be the right thing to do. Oftentimes, my passion to pursue music and the creative arts such as dancing was perceived as if they brought dishonour to our family name and I was often told to stop going for local stage shows and competitions by those older in my family. I witnessed inaction and injustice everywhere: female infants being killed, abandoned in other states, girls forced into early marriage, dowry harassment and many being confined to their homes and stripped of their rights to get an education.
I saw many girls like me being treated as commodities and not given a fair chance at life. Witnessing those injustices really fuelled in me the drive to take bold action and become a changemaker even if it came at the cost of name-calling and constant harassment. In fact, the pushback was exactly why I started and will continue. I am motivated to continue multiplying my impact each year until every girl has equal rights to their freedom and liberty and no child is forced to stay out of school.
To put it simply I wouldn’t want any girl to go through what I faced throughout this journey, be it the strenuous fight to get access to my education or navigating the odds in an all-women household after my dad passed away and ensuring every child had equal access to their rights, dignity, and freedom.
You’ve been growing this charity from small self-led tutoring sessions on your veranda to community-wide initiatives like the Happiness Drives which reach thousands of people. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced along the way?
I started my activism locally. I was the first young vocal advocate for these issues in my community and the few across the country. Many, especially men, struggled to accept a girl speaking out against the long-standing injustices in our country. My mom and I would often be subjected to name-calling and bullying. Very few of the families I began working with were even ready to listen to our cause, but I didn’t let that stop me. What I began from my home as an adolescent is now one of the biggest youth-led movements across the country. I have left an imprint on over 100,000 lives and this number is exponentially growing as you read this.
As an organisation and foundation, we focus on nurturing the ‘unique’ skills and talents of each child, girl and youth. Empowering them to become anything that they envision to be. We work on their overall, holistic development. We do capacity building, skills training, creating peer-to-peer spaces, spreading awareness, and providing them with learning, resources and tools needed to become well-rounded individuals. We are constantly evolving and audaciously creating and implementing new programs to help them shape these young girls into bright citizens of today and tomorrow.
You’ve brought your ideas and mission to global institutions like the UN. How do you ensure that you continue to share the lived experiences and voices of the people you strive to help?
The work that I do is multidimensional and intersectional. I work on climate change with a lens on gender. I advocate for education with a focus on the global south. I provide online learning opportunities through ScholarBack, mentor young girls through GirlLytical, and empower the next generation of leaders through Happiness Drives. With all of that comes a lot of diverse perspectives from young people that I work with and hear from across the world. I always ensure that whenever I am going to places and boards of decision-makers, I carry their voices and messages as tangible pieces of information to ensure they are not just represented but also heard.
One example of this would be my new campaign, with which I shared letters from young children from India on what their dreams for the future are and what world leaders can do. These letters were written in English and some in their mother tongue; Hindi. During my meeting with philanthropist and world tennis champion Roger Federer, I ensured I clearly expressed their needs and gave him the letters to read and include in his future processes and work. We hope to bring more young people along to become a part of this campaign so that their voices can also reach these powerful decision-making spaces and be echoed by world leaders.
Through the Kahaani Collective, we are inspiring and empowering unique schools of thought and diverse storytellers to come together and share their perspectives on the climate crisis. Through this work, we hope to raise awareness about this pressing issue and prevent greenwashing; creating a platform where everyone has the opportunity to share their side of climate change, which is why I truly love the poem from RSA Shorts by George the Poet on Climate Change.
What does success within the Anupam Foundation look like in the next five years? Or 15 years?
Our flagship programmes such as Roshan Bharat, Girllytical, ScholarBack and more all come under the umbrella of the Anupam Foundation. As a foundation with multiple workstreams and partners, and now a global audience, we are looking to increase our footprint in more countries catering to different audiences. We have already reached 100,000 people and are currently preparing to roll out some exciting new announcements in the coming year to increase accessibility, communication and collaboration amongst our beneficiaries, partners and audiences.
We want to impact as many young people as we can. As a founder, I have been working closely with UN Women, the World Bank, and UNICEF, among others, to bring to light the work I do to raise awareness and grow the community. We are also currently recruiting. We’re inviting any young person reading this, who is passionate about making change on a global stage and wants to join one of the biggest youth-led Sustainable Development Goals-focused organisations to look at those opportunities. We offer capacity building, global leadership opportunities on the world stage and a community of youth leaders to learn from. As an organisation, we have so much to offer and simultaneously learn to ensure we are bridging the gaps and providing the youth with tangible solutions.
What advice would you give to young activists hoping to tackle institutional change like gender equity and accessible education like you?
Expect confusion, misconceptions, scepticism, criticisms and sometimes even outright hostility. Don’t let that deter you from your mission. In challenging moments always, remember why you started. As change agents, you are trying to bring in a shift from the norm, and that might irk some people–that is completely understandable. Don’t take everything personally. Have strong self-belief and trust yourself to bring the change that you are hoping to see in the world.
What does being an RSA Fellow mean to you?
The RSA Fellowship allows me to strengthen my capacity as a global citizen. It gives me diverse multidisciplinary perspectives and connects me to incredibly talented leaders, all of whom are changing the game and bringing life to movements and missions that matter to them. This community has also provided me with an open forum of intergenerational mentorship and learning experience that has shaped me in various ways. I am grateful to be a part of this vibrant and supportive community that embraces every Fellow with continuous support. I truly feel the values of residence, strength and accountability shine through in everything I do here.
More Q&As with young changemakers in our Featured Fellows series
Zita Holbourne discusses her inspiring work, the fight to achieve equality and representation, success and what it looks like for her, and her advice to aspiring activists.
RSA Fellow Zubair Junjunia talks about the challenges of young entrepreneurship, educational equity and the role community plays in building purpose-driven, intersectional social enterprises.
Rachel Drapper, CEO and founder of Fairshare, discusses domestic labour inequity, gender roles and the way forward for those in our community who are striving for equity inside and outside the home.
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