INK Fellow Ishita Chaudhry has 14-years of rich experience in being the founder of a youth run organisation that enables young people to create programs and influence policies in the areas of gender, sexuality, health, education and governance. Today she talks to us about the mission of The YP Foundation, its journey throughout the years and the growing impact it has created to-date.
In 2009, I was changing presentation slides and talking about how The YP Foundation got involved with challenging a ban on Sexuality Education in India when I noticed someone come into the room. Tall, silver haired, casually dressed man, there was just something about him – his friendly, intelligent eyes and a warmth that emanated from his glasses. I remember grounding my nervousness (through the rest of my TED-styled talk as an INK Fellow) at the first day of my first ever INK conference by focusing on the stranger sitting at the back, grateful for his presence. After my talk was over, he came over with another lady and shared his insights on the creativity with which young people were engaged in social justice work in India. We got lost in conversation throughout the day on the relationship between art, imagination and activism, young people’s potential to sensitize and build political critique in their societies through popular culture, and the similarities and challenges of working with youth in New Delhi and Wisconsin.
It could have been an ordinary day at any conference, but it remains to date one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve ever had. It highlighted the value of supporting young people to develop leadership skills through creative mediums that are true to them, at a time where I was struggling with the challenges of having started a youth organization when I was 15, asking myself if this was really worth it. Life skills like creativity are important political tools in ensuring young people can realize their Human Rights and express themselves. I returned to Delhi remembering that the amazing twosome I had spent the first day with had written in my Fellows diary, and that somehow, their names had never come up in conversation. I opened it to find a thank-you note with a pencil drawn sketch of Bart Simpson sporting a wicked grin, reminding me to never give up on the work I was doing. It was signed – Matt Groening and Lynda Barry.
INK has created friendships in the most unexpected ways, adding richness to the purpose of why and how we each do the work we do. I had the privilege of working with The YP Foundation as its Founder and Executive Director for 14 years before I handed over to a new leadership in 2016. TYPF/YP was started in the aftermath of an incident of Human Rights violation in 2002 in India. A group of 20 school students in Delhi came together with support from the India Habitat Center to explore how young people could be more empowered to consciously engage with social justice issues in their surroundings. It has since brought together over 450,000 children, adolescents and young people from over 18 states in India through 350 projects. Multi-generational and co-created, YP is crafted by the leadership of 650 youth who have built the organization from a collective that conducted peer education workshops on health and education issues. Today it has grown to an organization that supports and enables young people to create programmes and influence policies in the areas of gender, sexuality, health, education and governance.
Using varied models of education to work with peers within communities of health providers, policy makers, government officials, schools and parents at district, city, state and national levels, young people create real time impact by increasing access to information and public services. This has included establishing programmes that support promoting the independent arts, give young people access to sexual and reproductive health in urban and rural settings, develop their understanding of laws and policies and strengthen their engagement with policy-making at local, national, regional and international levels. Also, enabling access to formal education and identification for those who do not have any and providing life skills support (over a 13 year period) for adolescents to develop their leadership skills and talents. Programmes are handed over every 2-3 years, developed and run by a team of young people who find, mentor and support a new generation of leadership to strengthen ongoing projects.
This has created depth in YP’s abilities to sustain the work it does in communities whilst creating opportunities for growth. The organization will continue across the next 5-10 years to evolve its current model of developing personal leadership and impacting structural social change. It chooses to focus now on strengthening its work in communities where young people, particularly young women and girls, require the most support and scaling the depth of policy work they are doing with government. It is quite incredible to be able to step back and watch an organization you were a part of starting to work independently. I feel an implicit sense of confidence and trust in the shared vision that I now support as a Board Member, with incredible gratitude for the learning it opened up for me.
I spent six years as a founding member of RESURJ, working with a global alliance of young women advocating for Human Rights with governments at the United Nations. Returning to my roots as a musician (in Hindustani classical, opera, jazz vocals and the piano) and as an explorer in The Wellbeing Project, I’ve gone on to transfer my skills to continue working with governments in the field of education and youth leadership at state, national and global levels. Learning more about how once you get the policy commitments you need to ensure young people’s health and rights, they can be operationalized and implemented at scale within large systems of ministries and government departments. My objective continues to be to work in ways that build more equitable and just communities for young people. In a world that is often increasingly shrinking in its tolerance for diversity, we need more spaces where we can understand each other, and co-create.
(Ishita Chaudhry is an INK Fellow, Ashoka Fellow and the Founder and Managing Trustee of The YP Foundation. She is currently working as an independent consultant and is based in New Delhi, India)