Belonging to a city that is not visible on the map, yet famous because it’s near Varanasi, has always been an obstacle to getting my work recognized. My name is Srijanita Maurya. I founded The Animal Patronage when I was a tenth-grade student at Kids Kingdom senior secondary school, Uttar Pradesh. Now, at 17, I’m gearing up to take my twelfth-grade exams and carve out my own path as an entrepreneur, like Steve Jobs and Ratan Tata, my two biggest inspirations. I won the Global Kids Achievers’ Award 2022 and was named a Harvard Innovation Fellow that same year. In the summer of 2022, I gave my first TEDx talk at Chennai IIT and was also recognized by President George W. Bush’s foundation Points of Light Inspirational Honor Roll.
For eight years, I have been working with animals alongside my mother in my locality. The pandemic cut us off from the rest of the world and put us into our homes. It was during this time that I started my organization for animals and spread awareness through social media.
I used the internet as my biggest tool and started looking up #animalwelfare, which led me to the realization that there are wonderful people out there making an impact but are hardly acknowledged. There are young people like me who want to join this field but lack support, resources, and mentors.
“The Animal Patronage” started after I interviewed changemakers in the SDG and environmental fields and published our conversations as a podcast. This grew into a non-profit organization with 18+ collaborations with different organizations, including the Crimson Youth Entrepreneurship Society at Harvard University.
I never thought of being an entrepreneur, but donning the role of a “social entrepreneur,” I want to help these speechless beings who can’t stand up for their rights. My journey as a social entrepreneur has lasted more than half a year. I met thousands of people and learned about their journeys. I also engaged in many workshops and events and even went on to spread awareness about how to prevent animals from human cruelties and extinction.
While I admittedly have no idea where I will be in five or 10 years from now, I do know what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. It feels like a bold statement to be saying that at age 17, but I truly feel that I mean it. While I can’t draw out a roadmap or detail the concrete milestones that I want to reach, I know what future I want to work towards; one where every single youth, regardless of gender and socioeconomic status, can use social work to make a difference in society. It sounds like a far-away goal to many – maybe a dream even — but with the work my team and I do every day, I feel like that future gets closer every day to being a reality.
I envision a world in which it doesn’t matter what background you come from or what you look like, everyone is treated equally. I imagine people working together, sitting across from each other with a diverse set of skills, and diverse set of backgrounds. People from all different socioeconomic levels, people of different sexualities, and people of different ethnic backgrounds all come together to solve the problem that our society faces.
I’ve faced a fair amount of challenges in social entrepreneurship. The biggest challenge I have faced was other people’s opinions of doing these things at a young age. They often told me not to do this kind of thing but instead to focus more on academics. There are a lot of stereotypes about girls in social work, but also in India. There is the understanding that if you go into social work, you are not working on your academics.
Social entrepreneurship still isn’t a very popular field. It’s not as normalized in the older Indian community. I’ve faced ageism when I’ve gone into conferences or meeting rooms and I’m the youngest person there by 10-20 years. I have faced it when people joked, “Oh shouldn’t you be in school right now?” I faced it when people turned down partnership proposals because they didn’t want to work with youth groups. Very early on, as a tenth grader, I had to develop a thick skin and choose to – in a very Taylor Swift fashion – shake it off. I’d keep going to events and create opportunities to be heard by asking insightful questions during talks and not be afraid to approach strangers to do an elevator pitch for The Animal Patronage. I brushed off every rejection. But every successful connection I made led to opportunities.
All of those struggles stung at first, but I think they made me, as cheesy as it sounds, a stronger person because I’ve been able to weather these rejections, especially since they are inevitable in the nonprofit space or in any type of founder journey.
I hope that the work that we’re doing for The Animal Patronage ensures that the next generations face less of a hurdle due to environmental issues regardless of the places they live. We have no right to kill those who are speechless. They’re the ones who came before us. Our past generation made many mistakes in damaging the environment, but we still have time to stop those mistakes and start preserving our planet for upcoming generations. It’s all part of the journey of self-awareness – in my mind, understanding the self is the most important part of all.
With that said, I know that pursuing male-dominated fields can be a hard task, and you might not receive a lot of support from the school or from your immediate community. Know that communities like The Animal Patronage exist online and are here to help and support you in case you need resources or people to bond with. Communities are there, all you need to do is look them up and find them. Lastly, regardless of gender, remember the inherent privilege of having an internet connection. We have 700 million Indians and around 50% don’t have access to an internet connection, making it the highest number of disconnected people globally.
In my opinion, every species has an equal birthright on this planet. Just because they can’t fight for their rights doesn’t mean we cannot help. I believe that we should try to be a constructor and not a destructor.