Creating a media space for youth changemaking

Bhagyashree was elected an Ashoka Young Changemaker from India in May 2022. This story was written through a consultative process during their selection to our global community.

In the second month of the lockdown of 2020, Bhagyashree graduated from secondary school. What was supposed to be an exciting time in her academic and personal life was now tinged with isolation, uncertainty, and a sense of stagnancy. “I would stand by the closed window, wondering about the many high-schoolers like me who were slumped in isolation, feeling distanced from their communities and experiencing a lack of voice to act on the issues that they cared about”, she recalled. It was in this uninspiring phase that she found herself on the edge of a new and exciting creation. She wondered, “What if I could create a unique 40-page magazine containing young activists on the cover, passionate artists as interviewees, and young people’s voices to uplift each other?”. She conceptualized a platform where voices are unfiltered and amplified without the bias of gender, race, or nationality. “I wanted to give a chance to us- those who always desired to create an impact”, she said. The idea of creating a platform fully dedicated to youth voices was buoyed by previous experience as a student writer in leading publications like Hindustan Times.

This was how she laid the foundation for what would be known as Empower Magazine, wherein “its essence lay in its name- to empower and enable young minds to channel their curiosities and energies for change”. After initially juggling all aspects of the magazine herself, she sought out other young people to build a community. After cold emailing, commenting, and DMing to potential young people and target audiences which included readers, writers, and high schoolers, she managed to assemble a team of 24 which gradually turned to 50+ with 10 different departments. In addition to departments like Editorial, Columnists and Content, Reels, HR, Design and Marketing, the team boasts of a unique Interaction department which is in charge of organizing bonding activities for the team itself.

As a by-youth, for-youth initiative, Empower is unwavering in its commitment to bringing the youth together, irrespective of nationalities, race, and cultures. “When we received an honest request from a young girl in Thailand to voice the cruelty against 2020 Thai protests for the overthrow of the monarchy because the news had been silenced by every media outlet for weeks, we made their issues known by publishing it and empowering them. Because her voice matters. Our voice matters”, shared Bhagyashree. The magazine strives to create tangible impact by introducing resources and services like Create Change checklists, free Writing workshops, free Mental Health resources, #EmpoweringConvos, sustainable contests, and Ambassador programmes. They also offer high school students opportunities to directly participate, engage and get featured in their magazine. As of today, the magazine has a base of 4500+ readers from 84+ countries and a team of 50+ young volunteers.

“With Empower’s upcoming School Program, I want to partner with high schools around the world and give students a chance to have conversations which open doors for new perspectives”, she said, reflecting on future plans. She also wants to host seminars, free mentorship sessions, and host high school exchange programs wherein students can have cross-cultural experiences.

Bhagyashree is a firm believer in the power of conversations, especially the ones that serve as precursors to change-making. “I want my peers to start questioning things around them. The media they consume, the advertisements they see, or the pages they follow- do they in some way support body shaming or add to Climate Change? The narratives which they absorb from people around them- are they inclusive of marginalized communities? If the answer to these questions is troubling, then it shall push them to do something about it. It will urge them to take action”, she said. She wants everyone to believe in their potential, in the fact that they’re capable of transforming and changing things at any moment in time.

This story was written by Prachi Vats.