Aman Singh, a young man with a mission to make an impact. The co-founder of ImpactED, has formal training in theatre for over 8 years and has played football at the district level.
Aman Singh, in conversation with Icy Tales.
Q) Let’s talk about your venture straight-up. ImpactED, what is it about?
Aman Singh – The idea behind ImpactED is fairly simple. In the Indian curriculum right now, there’s a sheer lack of social impact integration, the idea that we know there are a lot of NGOs out there, and students, in general, see a lot of social issues that they want to deal with. I think it’s something that’s there from a very young age, but nothing actionable is ever given to us. The idea that there’s something to be done, but “What can you do?” or, “How exactly is it that you can get involved?” is a question that none of us get answered, till large part of our lives.
The moment that we enter college or we enter higher education at any sort of level is when we begin asking this question to ourselves and we try to answer it on our own. And at that point, there exists a huge barrier, where some people might have that knowledge, or they might have the resources to get involved, but a lot of people won’t. And that’s simply because of the lack of knowledge directly into the integration.
So at ImpactED, the entire purpose that we’re trying to fulfill is bridging that gap, making sure that information that’s out there, resources that are out there that help students get involved in the social sector and with social impact as a whole, they’re available as easily as possible. We do that through a lot of different things that include learning-based modules that we have, or pro-bono campaigns that we run across India, to ensure that resources go to different sections of society and can be availed by them.
So that there are both sides of the story being fulfilled, the actionable, execution part as well as the resources being disseminated.
Q) So is ImpactED a substitute for the current education system or is it just a compliment above our education system?
Aman Singh – As much as we would love to be a replacement for it because as students that have gone through the education system ourselves, I’m sure that both of us will also say there’re a lot of requirements and there’re a lot of improvements that need to be made. But of course, it’s an institution, we can’t change it in a day.
Today it exists as a subsidiary that hopes to bridge that gap, but as we move forward, we do want to make sure that anything and everything that we really can bridge, in terms of things missing from the curriculum, we can do that and by the end of it, the curriculum itself takes it up, because it is the most easily accessible institution to all.
Parents will always want that their children are educated, children will also spend a huge chunk of their life just making sure that they have the appropriate education, so the idea is that by efforts like ours and of other organizations as well, we’re able to make a change in that curriculum itself, were able to make a difference in what millions and billions of people are consuming, and if not so, at least we do exist to serve the same purpose.
Q) What was the spark to ignite ImpactED?
Aman Singh – This is an organization that I and Ridhima co-founded. Both of us come from different experiences. Talking about my one first, the idea was that back in high school, I faced the same issue and the only diff was that my high school gave me a sort of platform to go ahead and make a difference.
We used to have these entrepreneur programs, where you could start up your own thing, and you could work on a certain social issue and try and make a difference. That is something that even though I eventually got a chance to work on in my 11th grade, I was keen on working on it right since class 8th, which also seeped into my mind that this isn’t something that you suddenly get a want to do at a later age, this is something that exists throughout.
I tried applying to that program for some good 2-3 years, a lot of times hurdles came up, sometimes my board exams came up, so I couldn’t do that. Eventually, when I got selected, I worked on the cause of malnutrition amongst the industrial society of Delhi for 1 year, and was able to do different things, like raise awareness in the urban section, being able to conduct drives and make a lot of tangible change in a specific section of the society which was the Sanjay camp in the Okhla industrial area.
All those things were great and by the end of that program, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do in the longer run. The idea that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people because if I had been given more than I could chew on, or if I had resources that I could make use of, I would want that everyone else does have them as well. That was the whole takeaway I had from that program. By the end of it, once I was entering college I wanted to work on a specific cause as well. I wanted to work for a marginalized section of the society which was the Red Light District of Delhi, and the awareness around the sex industry in India as well.
That was something that I wanted to get into. But of course, there was a barrier that I have to be above the age of 18 and a consensual adult to do that. So as soon as I entered that age group, I wanted to work on that, and that is a project, we eventually got a chance to work on as well. There is another project that I’m running on the side which is with Projects for Peace. We have received funding for 10,000 dollars for the same, and right now a project is going on in GB road.
These direct interactions that I tend to have with people when I work on the ground at any moment, whether it was the Red Light District or whether it was Okhla Industrial Area, are priceless. The idea that something that might be something very small for us is a huge life-changing thing for them because they don’t come to expect it was something that changed my perspective.
That is also one of the biggest driving factors for me to try and start this organization and in general work towards something that could make a difference. Eventually, I and Ridhima came together to work at an org called Youth Action Hub – India, which is a subsidiary of UNCTAD Youth.
With everything shifting online, one couldn’t go on the ground to work for long periods, one couldn’t do a lot of things that he/she probably wanted to do, so we had these learning-based modules and programs done online, we tried and tested what we could through all of these modes and eventually saw that it worked, the idea that students were excited to learn about intersectionality, even if they were in high school, learning about popular culture that’s around us – tv, adverts, shows, how do they affect us, how do they form stereotypes in our brain, which eventually becomes a larger thing as we enter adulthood. And students had a great response to that.
A culmination of all of this – things that I worked on myself, things that Ridhima and I worked on together, led to the inception of this organization and to us being where we are today.
Q) During school life, were you the rebellious kid, standing up against what I call the “still-colonized” education system, or were you the visibly docile kid, who later came up with something this big?
Aman Singh – I was a little bit of both. I grew up initially as a very introverted and shy kid. And till somewhere along with the middle school, I thought that academics were all that there was to school. I felt that I couldn’t do anything beyond that. And then a teacher of mine, who is still my favorite teacher, Tanvi ma’am, pushed me a little towards extra-curricular.
She saw that I had a knack for writing, a thing for the spoken word, and she pushed me towards theatre, writing, comparing. That’s how eventually I got involved in all of those things. It transformed me as a person. It turned me into that very outspoken kid who would speak for himself, stand up for others, or in general whenever he saw something that was wrong, he would try and make a difference about it and by the initiation of high school, I was exactly the rebellious kid as you said.
But I also knew that in institutions like a school you would need to be a person who has to play both sides because if you want something to be heard, you need to be an obedient person sometimes as well. I would be that negotiator, I would be the devil’s advocate but I would make sure that if there’s something that has to be heard if there’s something that needs a change I would speak out for the same.
I think it was a privilege for me that a lot of these cries that I made were heard by the school authorities and they tried to make a change about it. The idea that if I told them that this’s something that is wrong or this is something that someone’s going through and we really should make a difference about it, they gave me the ownership to do that.
They asked me that if there was something that I thought could be done, they would take it up and in general give me the ownership to go ahead with it and try and make a difference. So definitely a privilege that I had, but I would say that being the rebellious kid helped.
Q) As students, what should be done for changing minor things if not the entire education system, such as frequency of extracurricular activities, proposing new ideas, etc?
Aman Singh – I think a lot of us require something actionable to work on because we want to make a change, we just don’t know how to. A point that you’ve brought up that’s great is the frequency of extracurricular. It gets diminished by the end of high school.
The idea is that you’re entering these higher classes and all you need to focus on is academics to get into good universities or higher education institutions. All of that counts. I would go on to say that the only reason I’ve become what I have, is because I tried to strike a really fine balance between my academics and extracurriculars.
I was a very restless kid who could never sit for all 6-8 hours in the class. I needed something to keep me busy beyond it. That existed even in 10th or 12th grade. I would make it a point to handle my academic commitments, I would prove to my school that I could do this, but I still needed extracurricular to do on the side because it just felt that a part of me was missing if it didn’t happen.
Always try to get yourself involved in these extracurriculars. I think that also comes with an added piece of context that a lot of students, just like me, would feel that this is something that they haven’t tried before or they don’t know they’ll be good at, and they might just be apprehensive about getting into.
I think even trying or experimenting with these different things help because if I look back, and if I was having a conversation with my 5th-grade self today, he would never think that I would be someone who would get involved in something like theatre, or a team sport like football, as I thought those were the furthest things from my personality.
But I tried those things, I liked them, I excelled at them, and sometimes I didn’t excel at them, but I still liked them and felt the need to really pursue and work hard on them. So trying those different things that one might just end up liking, and become a larger part of you growing up is one thing, but in terms of making a change in what the education system is today, I think one of the biggest things is that all of us have a logic that we work with.
All of us have some central tendency, like – “Hey, we just want to make sure that all of our peers are treated equally”, or the idea that all of our work off of some very basic principles, and I’m sure all of us in school also did. The idea is that I don’t care about anything but I just hope that everyone has a good time at school, no one is discriminated against. It’s also a really simple feeling to have.
Just make sure that that voice is heard, because at a lot of times what will simply happen is – even if we think the school might not hear us, the idea is if that voice is not spoken out loud, they won’t even know that the plea exists. I always feel that regret of not being able to do something is still worse than doing something and failing at it. That is one thing that I would add for any student that’s out there.
If you want to make a change, make sure you’re outspoken, make sure your voice is heard. Anything that you feel is wrong around you, or in general any change that you want to see, make sure you can speak out loud about it regardless of what the outcome is. The idea is that you speaking out will probably bring in some more people who wanted to do the same but felt scared. And at one point in time, the voices will surely be heard.
Q) What is your advice for a young teen, who dreams of becoming an entrepreneur but is bound by the education system?
Aman Singh – This might come as a very cliche thing, but always try to be true to yourself. Be the truest version of yourself. The idea is that a lot of times, you don’t need to have a role model, you don’t need to have a certain person to look up to; Your role model can be yourself.
For this, I’ll quote a great speech that I heard as a child, by Matthew McConaughey, in his acceptance speech at the Oscars. It was the idea that when he would ask his father, who your role model is, he would say that it’s me, 5 years from today because that was the man who was able to make it till then, who was able to stand and make a difference. I took it to heart because the idea is that no other person that you take a look at is going to be the perfect version of who you want.
You would have different aspects of their personality that you like, but at the end of the day, you would always feel most comfortable in wanting to be yourself or being true to yourself. The reason this works wonders is because you will always have a different flavor to add to a conversation, you will always be a different piece to the puzzle that the world is, and that is something that can never be replaced.
Today, a lot of us might look up to someone like Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs. They are known for the people that they are because they were the pioneers, they were the first ones in their field, and we remember them for their name. The idea is that you want to be remembered for who you are, and if you want to be an entrepreneur, the idea is that at a lot of times the curriculum or the education system might bind you by the idea that there’s a certain path to be chosen, or there is only a certain path that you can trot to greatness or even living a fulfilling life.
Remember that you will have a mix of things that you want, you might be a science student who wants to get involved in dance, you might be a commerce student who eventually wants to pursue research, or maybe you might be a humanities student who wants to do something completely different, that is not about the field.
Just using the curriculum and these paths is something that’ll help you in your journey, that helps you reach where you want to be, but remain true to yourself and pursue every single thing you want, and never really stifle that inner passion or voice of yours. Even if things might not seem to make a huge difference in the longer run, like “Why should I get into theatre if I don’t want to become an actor?” was a question I asked myself, but I later realized that trying out different things adds to your personality and makes who you are.
The day you are standing in a conversation at the age of 25-30, and you are doing whatever you are, you might just be that entrepreneur that you wanted to be, you might be something else. You might change your goals, but you still will be the person who has such unique experiences, that you’ll never really regret.
Q) At such a young age, you are the co-founder of ImpactED. What do you enjoy the most about running something of your own?
Aman Singh – It’s an ecstatic feeling that I would want others to also experience. We go through so many systems and institutions where we’re always playing the second fiddle.
If I had to look at it through another sport that I’m really into which is chess, we’re always the pawns and knights and the bishops, and the idea is that we’re always something that’s a part of that system, and not something that owns something, or has a little bit of a part of themselves in that, and that is something that always keeps us from the creativity as well.
Say, if you’re a part of a society, our only ambit as a member of that society is to think of what it does. The idea that if you’re a part of your student council, you have a certain set of responsibilities or roles that you are supposed to fulfill. Co-owning an organization or a startup is something that gives me a lot of creative freedom, it makes me feel great because the simple idea is that there’s a little part of me that goes in everything we put out, and there’s a little part of my ideology that I try to make sure is a part of any campaign of ours.
It is great to see that materialize very simply because anything that I talk about, I will have certain principles or certain ethics that I will think are right and I’m trying my best to make sure that they’re out there, or they are being worked upon. I feel that there’s no greater joy than thinking of something, and executing it, and seeing people experience it. At times it also happens that you get to learn something from it. Seeing something that you create being executed and implemented is an ecstatic feeling that I do wish a lot of people to come and experience.
Q) What is your idea of success?
Aman Singh – I feel success for all of us is very subjective. To me, growing up, success was always just living a life of no regrets. I think I came across so many different pieces of literature and media, and in general, incidents in my life, that made me further build upon this, which was simply that I think the biggest regret of all times would be to have any, and the idea that you wanted to do something and you couldn’t.
I think a motto that I ended up living by is that I don’t care even if I have a short life, I would rather live a merry one. It doesn’t matter if I end up living till 70-80-90 as the people in the old days would, I wouldn’t mind living life until even 40-50 if I’m able to make a difference and if I’m able to live my vision through.
I think that’s the motto that I ended up going by, because it made me realize that at the end of the day, if I am wherever I am 10 years later, and I have no regrets, I think that’s a life that I want to live, and that’s a life that I would think I lived up to the mark. Simply because you will have so many goals and aspirations, and you will keep changing them as well.
A simple incident for example – at the age of 14 I wanted to go to the United States for my higher education. I applied, I got through a lot of universities but when the pandemic happened I realized that because of the lot of family commitments that I have, I just couldn’t. The idea was that I made that conscious choice and I had to change all the plans that I had, because now I’ll be pursuing my education in India, and I would have to change all the plans I had been making for the past 5 years.
The goals changed, the end goal remained the same, but the point was that I still had no regrets, and the idea was that I still thought that all of the things that I wanted to do, I was doing them, and I was fulfilling my responsibilities – to myself as a student, as a child, as a friend, anything that I could be.
And that is the only reason that I think right now, I can sit down with myself, I can introspect and I can really think that all the things that have come from me, or all the things that I have put out, are good, simply because I can sit down and still have no regrets. That is something I wish to take forward.
Q) Would you like to tell us something about your plans ahead?
Aman Singh – Not a lot of concrete stuff laid out, but in terms of the future we’re trying to take ImpactED to the next level, to make it reach newer and greater heights.
Right now we might be known just in Northern India, or to certain metropolitan cities. Making ImpactED pan-India is certainly on the cards. That’s a very micro goal, a very specific thing I want to work towards.
In the larger scheme of things, I’m just trying to make sure that social impact is something that’s more and more accessible to every student across the nation. Whether it is through ImpactED or any other means of projects I take up throughout my life. ImpactED will always be one part, I’ll probably have a full-time job that I will be pursuing at all times but I still want to make sure that any moment in time, even the smallest bit of actions that I can take, I will take them to ensure that social impact is always in action, and students have the means to do things that they couldn’t do before.
The idea that as we grow up, we see a lot of our juniors are doing things that we never thought were possible at that age. The idea that students now take up internships at tenth grade when I didn’t even know that those were something you can do as a student, till I started applying to my foreign universities.
Just making sure that that information is out there, and every single student can achieve something that they never thought was possible, simply because we keep moving forward and we keep making progress. By the end of it, in the future plans, that I have, whether it’s a project like Projects for Peace that’s still going on, or ImpactED as an organization, these are just things that I’m doing right now and will keep continuing for the years to come.
Aman Singh intends to bridge the gaps between the people who want to help and the people who NEED help.