The World Rests Lightly On This Odisha Girl’s Shoulders

In this age when migration is a big issue, one often wonders what India could look like years later. Or, say, who will be ruling India in 2080. Will it be Hindus or Muslims, someone asked Quora, the open question forum. “I really hope that in 2080, India is ruled by INDIANS, and not Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, SC/STs,” replied Ananya Singh, who lists international relations and politics as her areas of interest on her Quora profile.

That’s quite a visionary answer from a 19-year-old. But then Ananya is not just another young adult. She was just 14 when she became the first Youth Prime Minister of Odisha after winning the Talent Olympiad, an annual competition for high school students, in 2014. The event is organised by Heritage Vision Social Foundation, the social wing of Heritage Vision Education Trust. “The year I participated was its maiden edition,” she says. “Students posing as Prime Minister deliberated on various issues, such as economical development, poverty eradication, unemployment, sports, foreign policy and good governance.”

Regional Ambassador To Afghanistan

Today, she is the 22nd regional ambassador to Afghanistan for Tunza Eco-Generation, powered by UNEP and Samsung Engineering, South Korea. She will continue to hold that position till September 2019, after which her area will change. From September 2018 to February 2019, she was the 21st regional ambassador to India for the same.

This is an elite position awarded to youth aged 13 to 24, who are qualified to represent Tunza Eco-generation, an environmental networking platform for children and youth around the world. The programme provides opportunities to actively plan, execute or participate in environmental awareness programmes in each region and country.

Ananya has taken charge of Afghanistan, which has not been represented by any such ambassador in the last five years. “It is a country brimming with stories of post-conflict environmental resurrection,” she says. “Decades of conflict and violence, coupled with drought and earthquakes have had a devastating impact not only on the people of Afghanistan but also on its natural environment, once pristine and rich in biological diversity. But with the initiative of the Afghan government and the UNEP, Kabul is in quick transition to accomplish UN-endorsed Sustainable Goals numbered 11 (Sustainable Communities and Cities), 13 (Climate Action), 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnership for Goals).”

As an ambassador, Ananya is striving to feature stories of how “environment always finds a way to rekindle hope, no matter how bleak the situation. I strongly believe that this will motivate everyone to take good care of our environment”.

Intolerance ‘Condemnable’

Ananya is also the Global Peace Ambassador for India, under Global Peace Chain. So, is India peaceful enough or is there any truth in all that talk of intolerance? “I strongly believe that there’s been an increased degree of intolerance and skepticism towards particular groups in the country lately, which is highly condemnable. India is a country known for its emphasis on secularism, harmony, fraternity and peaceful coexistence. We cannot ruin our social fabric by not sticking to our legacy of brotherhood. Hence, my only message to everyone reading this is – “live and let live”.

Debate Opened Up Doors

Asked how she has left so many footprints on the world stage at such a young age, she says: “I was an avid debater throughout my school life (and continuing).” To make sound arguments and logical comebacks while debating, “without being noisy and aggressive, one will have to be thorough in current affairs, which is how I was drawn to hours of browsing the Internet for news or random topics of interest”.

Her interest also has something to do with her decision to take up Humanities after Class 10. Despite a high CGPA score of 10/10 (95%), unlike her peers, she chose to study Humanities because of a genuine interest in history, political science, economics and geography, all of which “pushed me” to gradually cultivate an interest in politics and international affairs.

And now, as a student of economics (she is in the final year at BJB College in Bhubaneswar), she understands better that “no development is possible without proper political will and enhanced global cooperation”. She hopes to be a professor in economics some day, to teach as well as learn in the process.

The global exposure also comes from her mother, who is Joint Director for Centre for World Solidarity (CWS), ASW, Germany and her father, who works with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

“My mother, particularly, has played the most pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of my career. She’s been extremely supportive of all my decisions – be it studying Humanities withstanding peer/societal pressure to study science, to letting me, as a 16-year old, travel alone to the US for the Yale Young Global Scholars – International Affairs and Security session. My father too has been very appreciative of my work and my assertive stand on critical issues.”

Of Aadhaar & Data Privacy

She wears more hats. She was the youngest person and the only official representative of India at [email protected], Kobe, Japan, in March 2019. In Japan, she made a presentation on “Aadhaar – The Foundation Stone of Data Privacy and Internet Governance Debate in India”.

She held a high-level deliberation on “the circumstances under which data collection can be mandated, how data should be protected and how privacy breach-related grievances should be redressed”.

She began by being a “humble member” of the Delhi Chapter of Internet Society. “I was subsequently selected for training for the Youth Internet Governance Forum in Paris on the merit of my arguments and advocacy for strong institutional support for internet governance,” she says.

The Information Security Operations Center, Information Security Operations Center and the Internet Governance Forum, all policy-making bodies specifically focused on the Internet, have recognised her as a key contributor and selected her as a Fellow for the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) in Vladivostok, Russia, in July 2019. “I’ll be actively involved in discussion, exchange and collaboration at the Asia-Pacific level to advance the agenda of Internet governance in the region. I will also be a co-organiser, panelist and moderator for a workshop at the Internet Governance Forum in Germany in November 2019.”

Game Theory

That’s not all. She has also been a mentor for game theory, financial mathematics and economics for IIT Bombay’s Maths & Physics Club’s Summer of Science Programme since 2018. Over there, she designs the curriculum and pedagogy for engineering students with little to no background in game theory, financial mathematics, and/or economics, and mentor them, over a period of three months, to learn, explore, and develop an understanding of the subjects concerned.

Asked to describe game theory for the common man, she says: “It is used in decision-making. You use it to choose the optimum outcome for you while you’re completely aware of the other person’s choices (who also wants to maximise his outcomes).”

So, can it be used to predict who will win the elections this year? “Actually, electoral predictions are also made using game theory. But that’ll take some time because I’ll need data for analysis and making the payoff matrix,” says Ananya.

Never Too Many Hats!

Asked how she feels wearing so many hats, she says: “It feels incredible! Not just because of the achievements, but because of how I’ve made my parents proud and of the way I’m able to impact, influence and inspire others. When I took Humanities at DAV Chandrasekharpur, I was the lone student and the branch had to operate for the first time ever for me. People had their own prejudices and skepticism. But I scored 95%, got national ranks and proved all skeptics wrong. I’ve always pursued my passion. That’s how people should be – Do what you like. Don’t lose your dreams to please others.”

And her studies have never suffered and neither does she feel like she has missed out anything. “Right now, I’m the batch topper in college. I think one can never miss out anything when s/he is doing what s/he likes – because what you like will never kill your time and enthusiasm to pursue other stuff.”


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