An interview with the Avanti Nagral, 19-year-old founder of Y-CPR, a student-led initiative that trains the youth in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation or CPR.
Avanti Nagral can be simply summed up in three words – witty, kind and inspiring. She is a nineteen-year-old girl, with a raging passion for the development of the public health systems so much so that it led her to create an initiative known as Y-CPR or YOUTH-CPR. Supremely talented and focused, she has not only been able to successfully execute a brilliant initiative for which she has bagged an award at EMON 2014, India’s largest medicine conference, but is a gifted musician, actor and most of all a model student who is on her way to Harvard. Here are excerpts from a conversation where she discusses being a student entrepreneur and the importance of teaching Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
1. What led to the creation of Y-CPR?
I’ve always been interested in public health. I had gone one day for my health check-up like one goes to the GP and I went to health springs and while I was waiting in the office I saw a bunch of nurses being trained in CPR on the CPR dolls and I realized that this is really simple. We have learnt about it in textbooks and online but have never been taught that skill. I approached the doctor and asked whether they teach it to everyone and he said no it is only restricted to medical personnel. We learn so many skills, like swimming but we don’t learn a skill to actually save a life. And it really is the simplest of things, just seeing it with my own eyes I realised how simple it really is. I approached the health spring administration and asked them if we could find a source and drag in a bunch of students, contact their families and create a ripple chain effect. So they suggested that we run a pilot first, which I did at my school, Cathedral and John Connon school. We exposed about 500 people to CPR and that’s when I thought we should take this forward. The one major push I would say was the simplicity of the skill.
2. Did the original idea live up to its potential? Did you receive the desired response?
No. It has a lot more potential to grow. Frankly, I didn’t quite know what to expect because you’re introducing something completely new into people’s mindsets. I didn’t know what would come out of this, but if even one person was affected by it that’s amazing.
3. CPR training is quite unpopular among the Indian youth. Why do you think that is?
So, there are a number of reasons like I said I have done a lot of work in the medical and public works, anaemic thalassemia music therapy. Before CPR, I was doing a lot of work in the field of organ donation. When I was about 13 or 14, I attended a conference where the topic was organ trafficking and human trafficking. It got me interested in the course. I questioned why there weren’t that many organ donations and transplantations or even awareness in India as compared to other countries. So the highest rate of donation happens is in Spain, which is about 34-36 per million population. Any guesses where India stands? At only 0.016 per million, it is a huge gap. So, Spain has an-opt-out-of option, where you choose to not be an organ donor. The Indian Organ Transplantation Act was passed only in 1994. Until then, people weren’t allowed to operate on cadavers or people who were brain dead. It wasn’t ethically correct. Also in India, cultural stigmas compel people to preserve the body. More than anything it is a question of awareness and as the youth it is our responsibility.
4. What is your opinion about the Indian medical industry?
I travel to the US very often and I had this crazy idea to call up UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing). A lady came on the line and I quickly presented an elevated pitch and she was so helpful that she connected me to families of donors recipients who were running campaigns. Just talking to them they gave me a beautiful perspective. When I came back to India and called up the Indian equivalent of UNOS, they only asked me what do you know about this? You are barely 15 years old. Why should you care? They told me not to bother them again. I wondered why aren’t we encouraged. People pursuing medicine in India are pursuing a noble profession but they have this exclusivity. There is just not enough effort being made to make it accessible to everybody.
5. Could you share with us any stories that have resulted from your campaign?
There was a girl in my core team named Krisha and she said that this project had a personal appeal, as once a while back she was in school and she had got a call saying her father had taken ill. It was extremely fortunate that her mother being an airhostess knew CPR and had training in first aid. That’s what saved his life.
You have one real life story and that’s enough to convince people. For example, when we teach CPR to students we teach them the science behind it and I think it’s very important for them to stick with it longer. That’s the initial training and everybody gets to try it out. We then send them to training centers, so that they are brushed up and kept abreast with the skill. The third part is a community project. It’s not enough to for you to know CPR. It’s important for you to share it with your community. So, a student came up to me and told me that she was an avid dancer and would like to teach CPR to her students. Another boy said he will take a CPR session at Bombay gym. People came up with creative ideas. People wanted to do a video like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
6. Avanti, you are also a singer. How did you manage to juggle so much at once?
Everyone says we don’t have time, but we have as much time as the beggar on the road, President Obama, Prime Minister Narendra Modi or a professional athlete. We all have the same number of hours in a day. When I was in school, being a student was my primary purpose, but there is always more you can do. With YCPR was just an idea, but what people loved it was due to its passion. That’s what connected with people and wanted to take it forward. Music’s always been very important to me. When I was in school I used to perform professionally. Being a student was my duty, being a singer was my passion and advocating for health and development was my purpose. You can’t have it all. I didn’t have a brilliant social life. I had to cut down on sleep, which we all do for things we care about. Those are simple things you don’t mind.
7. What is it like being a student entrepreneur? Do you think age had a major role to play?
Age had a role to play in the target audience in the sense that I was about 15 or 16, so me being a representative of the youth meant making the youth my target audience. I’m assuming that if I had started at about 25 or 30, I would not have been as relatable to a 15 year old. There will be this one section of society saying, “If she can do it, so can I. We are the same age. It’s funny that you say student entrepreneur because I would never have thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Subconsciously, I believe I am a like my father who is one. I think entrepreneur is a scary word for students, rather they consider it to be a cool and scary term. I think today people just ask questions and leave it at that. Why does it not happen? Okay it doesn’t happen so there is nothing I can do about that. One quality an entrepreneur needs to have is resilience. Being an entrepreneur guarantees nothing and even when you’re a student, your future is unstable.
8. What according to you is an irreplaceable element in this initiative?
One thing would probably be the Y in Y-CPR. Y stands for a lot. It’s a pun. My friends would make fun of me and call it a y-ception because it stands for youth CPR and Y stands for why should the youth care about CPR. But I think that’s the main driving force. If I had taken this just to corporates they can turn it into something commercial and marketable. I could have taken that route but for me even if five people are affected by this that’s what matters. When the youth care about this initiative, that’s irreplaceable for me because the youth has that power to make the change. I honestly believe that.
9. Once you’re off to Harvard what is the future for Y-CPR?
The biggest issue is sustainability. The hardest part is to find people who would take it forward. I’ve been lucky that I have a handful of kids who are passionate about this. My younger brother, who is 15, came up with an idea that combines CPR and technology. I think you can call it the Uber of CPR and first aid. It would be like you know CPR and you register on the app saying that you do and other people who have this app can easily send out their locations to you and the closest person can come and provide help. When you’re not physically there it is not going to be as strong, I can already see that it was much stronger when I was in school. But as people are learning about it they are adapting to it in different ways, so it isn’t in the original format that I had envisioned for it but it’s a format that people are taking it forward in their own way. This always something that can be rekindled.
10. Is there any piece of advice you’d like to pass to future student entrepreneurs?
I think the best piece would be if you have something you care about, don’t let anything stop you. Just go for it. When I want something, I go for it but I also plan, but I have to have a vision. Once you find it, identify it as a goal and chase it. They think it’s scary to approach elders, they think of themselves as students and not as people with ideas. If it’s a passion you will go after it. Like I said earlier it’s scary, but until you don’t do it you won’t learn anything. There was a book I used to read as a child, “The Little Engine That Could.” It was about this little train who wanted to go up a mountain and its mom would say to it, “If you want to do something you do it.” Every single day, he used to say, “I think I can.” until he finally say, “I know I can.”
Kannan Jhunjhunwala is a handpicked product of The Bayside Project where we empower the young and the young at heart with the power of storytelling. To become a part of our extended family of unique contributors, call up Prem Madnani at +91 9892913788 or email him on email@example.com.