Where Eagles Dareby Vinta Nanda February 1 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 14 secs
People are experiences and experiences make interesting stories, says Yashika Begwani to me, writes Vinta Nanda
She’s curious about learning, psychology, about the role people play in tech and AI, the role that the young play in shaping the future and about growth and development. Can’t forget the fact that she’s mighty young herself.
Here’s what she does:
She interviews passionate individuals across diverse fields to draw insights from their experiences and often makes literature or cinema references through Voice of Achievers (VoA) - a podcast, which is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify & Radiopublic.
The focus of the podcasts is issues that surface when young professionals or students are mapping their career paths and how a few experienced individuals have dealt with similar challenges! You can Google ‘Voice of Achievers’ and give it a listen if you want. You won’t regret it.
She produces and hosts The New India YOUthPOD in collaboration with MyGov India. These are bite-sized podcasts for the youth bringing forward practical perspectives and ideas to help navigate challenging times at work. Through a combination of podcasts, informative articles and videos on one hand and various skill building means, like workshops, events and courses, on the other, VoA aims to empower the youth to learn & grow and build meaningful careers.
She writes and edits content as a freelancer too. Her key expertise lies in content for white papers, websites, sales and marketing materials, press releases, articles and blogs. She advises clients as a consultant - all things to do with Podcasts, Business Communication and The human aspect in HR.
Besides all of the above, she has also ended up as a contributing author for an Anthology on The Seven Sins of Mankind and you can Google 'Condemned: Charades Trilogy 1' and you'll find her story on Greed there.
She loves cinema, nature walks and she’s a good chef as well.
When I asked her why it is that she loves people, experiences and stories so much, she said, “Don’t we all look for inspiration or lessons to learn from people around us? Why make the same mistakes that some have made already? All of us have had to deal with situations when we silently wished we’d been better prepared or been guided well. There’s always more to learn, especially from those who have dared odds, faced heart-crushing disappointments and tested their own passion and resilience. All the achievers I meet have searched for and found inspiration to continue and that is why they stand out. I enjoy the process of finding such people, digging deep into their world and I believe in sharing what I find. I hope you’ll find the content useful,” she tells me, “And if you do, don’t forget to share it with your fellows, for there is joy in sharing”.
Welcome to Yashika Behwani and her Voice of Achievers (VoA) - a hub of inspiring voices bringing lessons of entrepreneurs, professionals, creative folk and all other doers. She calls herself the CEO of Voice of Achievers. And, she won’t let you go until she’s informed you what CEO stands for – Chief Everything Officer. Wow! This is the sign of our times. She’s in it out of her personal choice and does everything that it takes to make it work and the rewards are immense because she’s hard working. She has the drive, the courage and the daring to go!
So over to this very interesting conversation with Yashika Begwani.
What is podcasting about? Since when has it become a thing and why?
Simply put podcasts are audio stories served cold. It’s almost like you’ve stocked up your fridge with all the food you’d be needing through the week/month. Each time you’re hungry, you open the door and have the option of picking the food that best suits your mood. All you need to do is heat it up and consume! Only that this fridge is akin to platforms like Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher etc. (all easily available apps on your phone) and the food is outsourced to all podcast creators and producers pouring content of various genres into your fridge. So, you open the apps, select the genre or show that works for you and listen while your physical self may be engaged in commuting, finishing home chores, working out at the gym or deeply listening.
The idea for podcasts goes back to the ‘daadi naani ki kahaaniya’ or grandma’s bedtime stories - perhaps a time we all cherish forever; at least I do. I would say that listening to a podcast is like eavesdropping into someone’s conversation. What makes it interesting is the scope it leaves for the imagination thus making it more engaging. You’re almost an equal participant visualising the story or conversation and giving it form.
Podcasts have been around for a while, one of the longest running and hugely popular ones being The Joe Rogan Experience which started in 2009. India is at the dawn of podcasting. Here too there have been podcasters like Cyrus Broacha in English and writer and lyricist Neelesh Mishra in Hindi doing this for over 3-4 years but the trend of listening to podcasts seems to have caught on immensely during the lockdown.
I did see a rise in the number of listens for my show and clearly the number of shows that were being produced rose too during the lockdown based on the statistics of listeners catching on the trend. I would assume this happened for two major reasons. First, culturally we’ve loved listening to stories. Even the epics, and various religious texts are believed to have been narrated before they were documented. We like listening. Period. Secondly, I feel that increased screen time (catapulted by the lockdown of course), ended up being exhausting and perhaps the eyes needed a break. What could be better than lending your ears then!
How effective are podcasts in communicating social issues - especially those related to gender?
Coincidentally - or perhaps subconsciously - the first podcast I ever recorded was with Author Sudha Menon and we largely covered women and their multi-dimensional roles and responsibilities. I’m amazed as to how each month, I see new listeners downloading that particular episode. We covered gender and office politics, workplace attitudes and women in leadership positions at large, especially since they come from researched perspectives and her interactions with a variety of women. While I sound like a novice (and perhaps meek on that episode), it has been one that resonates with the audience.
The Women of Substance series that I’ve currently been producing actually germinated almost as a tribute to the first episode I recorded and in doing so finer aspects of gender, diversity and inclusion have come up. Gender is largely misunderstood and we’ve barely scratched the surface in producing content around it in most popular formats. An increased level of sensitivity and sensibility is required along with some research and groundwork when talking about issues that build a society. It’s therefore important to either bring experienced perspectives or not talk about it at all. For example, I am no expert on gender nor have I studied it and so I shouldn’t be talking about it unless I were to quote a research or state an experience. Yet, it’s imperative to ask the right questions to the right people to educate oneself and the listener/society.
That’s exactly the case with social issues too. From drug abuse, to economic development, to refugee crises, to climate conditions et al. The issues are deep and must be treated with utmost care and responsibility when being talked about in podcasts.
I spoke to a cartoonist specialising in environment related issues. Would we talk about the environmental conditions around the world? Definitely! But, would I give the gyaan. NO! So in essence - are podcasts effective in communicating issues around gender and society? Yes! However, they need to be backed by solid data, either experiential or rightly sourced.
What are the topics that are usually received well by podcast audiences?
Crime Thrillers, History Podcasts, Comedy and Motivational/Inspiring Stories are some popular genres that I hear most listeners enjoy.
Audiodramas are also picking up as a genre. Amidst the ones I’ve produced so far, topics around mental and emotional well-being, women and gender roles, quirky ones like those around tea, coffee, ice-creams and calligraphy, or relatable ones like dealing with people or relationships at work resonated with listeners.
Tell us about the Voice of Achievers? About how it came about, when and what are the milestones you have covered up until now?
As part of developmental psychology, we studied transitions and one of the most challenging ones, I feel, is that decade between 20s to early 30’s. One when you’re right out of high school/college stepping into the work-world or just stepped into the professional world. In each case you’re dealing with innumerable changes - emotional, physical, social, physiological and you seem to be witnessing insecurities, self-doubt, lack of motivation and often lack of direction. There’s immense confusion about career, relationships, choices, decisions - there’s conflict, stress, search for independence too, personal, financial and social. Having gone through this phase myself, I felt we need more experienced perspectives than just unsolicited advice.
The conversations with guests on the Voice of Achievers Podcast hover around this terrain, covering aspects of their initial career developments and related challenges. Apart from producing the podcast series, we’ve also conducted close knit learning programs around writing in the professional world (e-mails, cover-letters, resumes), financial basics (early investment, saving-investment ratios), culture and identity (what working with and embracing different personalities feels like).
There are learning events we’ve participated in as well. We associated with MyGov India to produce the New India YOUthPOD for them. There’s also the association with NASSCOM – insights, communication and outreach programs for them. Currently, with the COVID related norms easing out, we’re trying to bring graduate and post graduate students to participate in a learning cohort (pilot program in association with an international partner). On the company front, there are conversations with a few organizations and exploring opportunities to conceptualize and produce content for them.
Where are you from and what drives you? - your own personal story about where you were born, to whom you were born, where you grew up, your siblings and why communication is your passion.
I was born and raised in Calcutta, amidst a family of story lovers, storytellers and educators. My (late) grandmother, by far the best storyteller and my grandfather comes from a finance background - he has been one of those approached by friends and family for professional advice. My father is a businessman yet thoroughly involved in culture and cinema beyond just entertainment (especially Bengali Cinema), my mother is a teacher and my younger sister has just stepped into the work world.
Coincidentally, the family that I adopted post marriage also happened to be deeply entrenched in culture, music, literature and food. My mother in law is a spiritual enthusiast, my father in law - a literature and learning enthusiast, and my brother in law is a food business owner. My partner probably brings the balance to these creative energies adding financial prudence and an action-oriented approach to things. It’s fair to say I was raised in an environment that helps me to make connections between society, culture, literature, cinema and professions and business.
I moved to Bangalore for my Masters in Organizational Psychology and HR Management and stayed on to work for IBM in an HR capacity for a while before moving to an editorial position for an educational magazine. I had been assisting and writing for publications since early college days, and that feeling never left me. Even today, as I sit down to write something, the feeling of the process is unparalleled. It’s only getting myself down to sit down to write, which is a challenge (haha).
The answer to why communication probably lies in that feeling. The feeling experienced when writing something, exploring, talking or sharing something is the pull I’d say. Besides, one cannot deny that communication is an essential skill and one can never be good enough so you’re always creating or writing or speaking to do better every single time.
Expand upon yourself in terms of what it is that you want to achieve over the next, say, 5 years?
Five years is a long time to plan things. Who knows if we’ll survive even tomorrow! But really, the vision with respect to work and VoA (as a production unit) is simple. To collaborate with organizations & brands and help them find their voice.
For the youth (students and early stage working professionals), the plan is to create and curate edutaining content via VoA (the learning and exploring space) such that learning is more about pull rather than push strategy. The plan is to add value to those who’ll be leaders of tomorrow, through exploration, workshops, learning cohorts, important conversations and discourse. Personally I’d want to write more often. I’d also like to form deeper connections with like-minded individuals and be the medium through which connections between people are formed. So maybe 5 years 5 things: Write & Read, Communicate & Create (+Voice Control), Learn & Foster Learning, Build Connections between people and Grow and Help Organizations Grow.
Do tell us about The New India YOUthPOD in collaboration with MyGov India, which you produce and host? How did it come about and what are your plans for it?
The New India YOUthPOD germinated during the lockdown. MyGov India is the citizen engagement platform of the Government of India and the intent was clear - bring stories for and by the youth. Since VoA worked around youth related content anyway, this seemed like a seamless collaboration.
These are quick pieces of easily consumable content and bring either issues/challenges that the youth may face (personally or professionally) and stories of social impact and even enlightening the youth about things they ought to know. We speak to young professionals, athletes or creators working across diverse domains. Topics like games and brainwork, physical and mental fitness, digital diet, creative problem solving, technology and change have been covered. The aim is to enlighten and educate while also telling stories of positive change and impact.
I'm curious about your authorship for an Anthology on The Seven Sins of Mankind - 'Condemned: Charades Trilogy 1' and your story on Greed. Tell us all about it.
Most of my writings are factual, academic or experiential. This was the first time I was formally writing fiction. A young publication was looking for a 7th writer (they had 6 inhouse) and they threw open a competition. I just entered with an idea and it was taken. Things probably didn’t work out between the publication and the curator and eventually the curator self-published it.
The writing journey was a learning process in many ways. Starting from understanding the sins, to contextualizing it yet talking about a few things that matter was both challenging and interesting. It’s a story set in Nepal, covering dynamics of a father-daughter relationship, with themes like climate change, love, spiritual development (or the lack thereof) and greed being passed on through generations. There are flaws that I see when I read it today but it helped me immensely to understand a different format of writing and to blend fact with fiction. While writing and editing it, I was possibly all the characters at once - which I’m not sure is a good thing.
Lastly, how do you pack in all the many things that you do? Tell us your schedule and the ways you discover to multitask.
Multitasking is something I’m still trying to figure out. There’s always the advantage of working on various kinds of things - so I may be writing an article on technology and AI and blend it with cinema or do a podcast around social and gender issues and blend it in with psychological perspectives, or say contribute in facilitating a learning and development session and blend it with literature. These facets make the journey interesting and foster growth. Yet, there’s always that challenge of being productive while maintaining deadlines (since it’s largely self-driven).
I read this somewhere and started chunking the days with respect to tasks - for example - say Mondays would just be writing, ideating, reading and then Tuesdays would be recording, follow-up calls and all things talking, then Wednesdays maybe research, e-mails, organizing things (basically each day dedicated to similar kinds of tasks). That was working really well but of course, we’re human and we’re flawed. At least I am! So, I’ve gotten lost. But perhaps as I write this, I feel like I’m gonna get back to organizing myself.
But, I learnt very recently that when you pack the day with too much, you lose sight of new energies that may be flowing in the form of opportunity. So, I do leave some part of the day to just daydream, or take a stroll or listen to music or stare at the sky or be lost in thought! It really adds to the joy of work and discovering new things!