Priyanka Tiwari is one of those few people we meet, who open-up at their own pace. Otherwise talkative, it took her quite a bit of time to get to a layer that’d tell me ‘about her’, minus her startup, educational qualifications, etc.
“I am sort of a mixed personality — I am an extrovert to people I know, and an introvert with people I don’t”, she giggles and clears.
Priyanka has had a pretty normal childhood — a good school, a well settled family, good academic scores and supportive parents. No rags to riches here.
“I was decent at studies and was very active in extracurricular activities. Maths aur science samajh nai ata tha. Shayad movies ka impact tha, toh journalist banne ka mann hogaya (I wasn’t interested in Maths and Science. I was fascinated by movies to take up journalism) ”
So she moved to study mass-communication. And then, reality hit it.
“It was nothing like I had thought it would be. I interned in a couple of media houses and that did quite a good job at bursting my bubble. However, I ended up falling in love with the camera by the time I got done with my graduation”
To pursue her newly discovered love, Priyanka applied to FTII but didn’t get through. She began searching for a job and converted two offers — History channel and a Delhi-based startup, AdviceAdda.
This was the first 20 minutes of our telephonic interview and I was pretty sure there had to be more layers to her. Priyanka tells me that she chose to work at AdviceAdda because she thought it would be a good experience for her, but that is a little difficult for me to believe. Like, who in all their senses would choose a startup over History Channel?! 10 minutes later, she tells me why.
“Okay, I’ll tell you this”, she says , a little hesitant.
“When I was a teenager, I was bullied at school. People would call me names and I had no one I would go and share it with! I would try to tell it to my parents, but half-way through every conversation I tried to initiate, I’d realise that it wasn’t anything serious for them. But for a 15 year old, it was a mental torture! That was partly the reason why I changed my school after 10th, apart from the fact that it didn’t have subjects I wanted to study. It came like a respite to me”
And this, she says, was the reason she couldn’t turn down her offer to work at Advice Adda — a digital platform that lets people share their concerns and find a solution from experts of that particular domain.
“When I was going through harassment at school, I had no one who would hear me out or help me understand how to battle it. You know, I also feared being judged, we all do. This was my chance to be someone I always wanted to be as a child — someone to speak to and turn up to for the right advice”
At this point, I mentally zone back to the clichéd conversation I’ve had so many times with people of the previous two generations every time I told them I was studying psychology — ’humare zamane mein kisi ko psychologist ki zarurat nahi padti thi…sab ghar ke bade hi sulta lia karte the (In our time, no one needed a psychologist, the family used to take care of all troubles)’
May be, we’ve failed at ‘listening’ and ‘helping’ as a generation. And may be, initiatives like Advice Adda are a way to bring that culture back — blended with the technology that we are blessed with.
Coming back to the topic, Priyanka tells me how she soon began to enjoy her work at Advice Adda and got attached with the what was so close to her heart even before she joined.
“It was very exciting — everyday there was a completely new, unexpected challenge thrown at us as a company, a user query that’d jostle me from within and a push to face everything head-on”
Soon, Vivek Satya Mitram, founder of Advice Adda got Priyanka on board as a co-founder. I would take the liberty to mention here how it was Vivek who persuaded us to tell people about Advice Adda’s story on Chaaipani through Priyanka and not him, a gesture that tells a story in manifold.
“Like I said, I am a mixed personality. I am strong, but at the same time, a few things affect me emotionally. Some queries we get often disturb me — some that remind me of something I’ve been through in my personal life. Vivek comes out as a saviour then. I have learnt to brave so many things from him.”
Priyanka shares some of the queries they receive. Has there been a question that left you startled? I ask.
“Many! Recently, there was a query from a teenage girl who wanted to know how can she make herself sterile so that she won’t be forced into a marriage. When our psychologists intervened to solve her query, we got to know that she comes from a family where the father would physically abuse her and her mother. It disturbed her so much that she was psyched at the mere idea of getting married”
Priyanka goes on to tell me how queries from 14 year olds about emergency contraceptive pills often leaves the team puzzled.
“Sometimes, there is just this much we can help – through our digital medium. And all those times where we cannot do beyond a point, it leaves me and us a team with a feeling of helplessness”
With the platform, Vivek & Priyanka along with their team have helped over 15 lakh people solve their problems through expert advises – ranging from career-related queries to health and relationship problems.
Talking of the pattern of problems shared, Priyanka shares that most queries from men revolve around sexual health and career issues, while those from women revolve around health and relationships.
Which reminds of a 2014 survey threw light on reasons for suicide in India of which, a screenshot am sharing below:
While not everyone with an unsolved problem takes up the route to end their lives, the image above does deserve our undivided attention. If only there was someone to hear, someone to advice (the right advice), lesser lives would be lost – a mission AdviceAdda is onto.