“At first, the idea of starting a think tank was a little daunting, because no one had done it before. But it’s also a good thing, because you’re going to create something that no one has done before,” says 16-year-old Maahir Jain. Along with his friends, Veer Bathwal (17) and Govindnarain Khandelwal (17), Jain co-founded The Future of Everything (TFoE), which specializes in youth research and examines topics of global concern. Some of the issues its first cohort has reported on include online education, financial technology, cyberbullying, and mental health optimism bias.
In Delhi, the Young India Foundation (YIF) is a non-partisan organization committed to refocusing public and administrative attention on India’s youth, by organizing elections for young independent candidates at the grassroots level. As its 19-year-old co-CEO, Rishika Arora, puts it, “The YIF think tank is working to fill the gaps through the research we generate, as young people are not adequately and discreetly recognized as as political agents.
While there is a tendency in the country to overlook or totally ignore youth demographics in both public discourse and policy-making, young Indians have begun to create their own spaces to hear and be heard. Whether it’s pure research, like TFoE, or advocacy like YIF, youth engagement is key to this trend.
“When I started TFoE, as a student in class 9, I did combined research on psychology and computer programming with a few friends. We collaborated and found a unique subject. stayed; because of how we brainstormed so many different ideas. It struck me that two minds are better than one,” says Bathwal.
The three young people were guided by the educational consultant Neeraj Mandhana, during the creation of TFoE. “We wanted a research platform that would help students not only explore their passions, but also meet and interact with other people, while growing as individuals alongside their academic interests,” says Bathwal.
The wide range of topics explored by the first group of researchers under the TFoE umbrella (their nine reports are available on the official website) shows the promise that research will become part of mainstream education. “In school, you spend a lot of time studying textbooks and websites. But a think tank allows you to critically analyze your own thoughts and learn, while getting ideas from others,” says co-founder Khandelwal.
Ultimately, the founders of TFoE hope the reports will lead to some sort of social impact. “We have noticed that many students who have participated in our program have gone on to create organizations, platforms and communities that implement the research they have been working on. So while we haven’t really done much with TFoE reports, we’re proud to see our researchers try searches in any other category, which is really meaningful,” says Jain.
For YIF, the most fundamental challenge has been to establish the most precise definition of ‘youth’ in India. “Policymakers like to fantasize about the concept. India defines youth as the age of 15 to 29, while the UN defines it as 15 to 25. Age matters when we talk about politics, so I think that’s pushed us not only to work on political action, but also to bring a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be young and how that contributes to different areas of politics. I think we are leading the way when it comes to research because it is conducted by young people,” says 26-year-old founder Sudhanshu Kaushik.
YIF’s Election Tracker, Age Calculator (which shows which political parties support the country’s youth) and field surveys present the opinions of young respondents, to study how policies affect them. “If you look at other developed democracies, you will notice that generational gaps are a vital analytical tool in politics. In India, this is really not the case. Our goal is to complement incoming politicians with youth-specific concerns through data-driven research,” says Co-CEO Arora. “Things will only change when young people are considered a true analytical category, and when age is considered a social identity in policy-making and the political entity.”