Swati Saxena

Industry: Social Sector and Social Activism
Location: Multiple destinations, India
Age: 28 years
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As a child what did you want to grow up to be? Did you stick to it?

I wanted to be an artist, much before I knew what an art is. Today, anything new I’m able to create – a picture, an article, a doodle or even an excel sheet gives a sense of approval that this is what I’d like to do in the long run. Create, that is!

What and where have you studied?

I have had a below average education where my English teachers couldn’t speak well in English. Studied in multiple schools across Uttar Pradesh, graduated in commerce from Lucknow and went to Bangalore for finance management. These days, I’m highly obsessed with MOOCs and keep signing up for new courses on Coursera and NovoEd.

You’ve worked in a financially charged industry as a tax consultant? What made you choose it as a profession?

It was something I had studied and so, one of the obvious choices. Not much thought went in there. Once I was in the industry, the glamour of corporate life with all perks associated kept me going for a while but then it became monotonous and meaningless.

“Volunteer travel has its implications. It can do more harm than good, if not done correctly.”

How did you transition into travel and the social sphere?

Both are completely different stories and yet related.

As I said, I was bored of taxation and of living in Gurgaon. So, I thought of quitting the job, try different things and see what works. I started interning with a rural tourism company in Delhi. Meanwhile, I was also travelling a lot – solo as well as with friends, since I had managed to save some money from working continuously for five years. To make more sense of the world around me, I was drawn towards volunteer travel. That had its implications. It can do more harm than good, if not done correctly.

One thing led to another and I applied for this program called ‘India Fellow’ where the team sends you on a year long journey to work on a certain project at grassroots with a social organisation in urban/rural India.

I don’t get enough time for those personal travel goals now, but I can’t complain because I am getting to understand my country in such a way that even travelling couldn’t teach.

Travel is a tough industry to crack. How have you grown your travel blog? What advice do you have for travelers trying to make an impact in the travel blogging industry?

Honestly, I haven’t cracked it yet. The one year I was away from a full time job, I was concentrating more on taking trips than writing about them. Now, I’m again working and not getting a chance to blog regularly about travel experiences, even though I write about other instances of an NGO life.

One advice would be to stay truthful, work harder than your previous job, show up every day and to not expect overnight success.

“Population is the biggest miscreant the country faces today. The Caste System is another culprit.”

What is your current work all about?

Currently, I’m working with an NGO called ‘Chaitanya’ in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The organization aims for gender equity in our society and is working towards empowering women through self-help groups. I don’t have a definite role or a designation here. Today, you’d find me translating documents from English to Hindi and tomorrow, I can be interviewing women in villages. It’s a different kind of fun. I haven’t worked in such an uncertain and unorganized setting earlier where too many variables are involved. Moreover, you can’t calculate empowerment like tax, right? The project ends in another five months, but I think I’ll stay in the sector.

Through your experiences, what are the most common issues you’ve come across that India as a country faces on a regular basis?

In my opinion, population is the biggest miscreant but of course, that’s not the only challenge. Poverty, education, environment, health – everything connects. It’s hard to differentiate between causes and effects. You can’t always say if someone produces more kids because they’re poor and uneducated or they’re hit by poverty and illiteracy because they have a big family.

The Caste System is another culprit. I never cared about it during all of my city life but on this side, that’s the basis that governs almost everything.

Swati Saxena from Chaitanya, TOWP

What advice do you have for men and women trying to make an impact on our social environment?

I’d say, do your research. Don’t be here for instant gratification or for the illusive charm associated with it.

Until a while before entering the sector, every time I heard ‘social work’, I would somehow visualize kids being taught in a dingy classroom. That’s just one page in a book of thousand chapters. So, don’t have that microscopic view. Understand the environment before acting upon it.

What is the most profound advice you have heard and remembered?

Not caring about what anyone thinks about my decisions has helped. I don’t remember where I heard it first and didn’t even realize I wasn’t giving a damn until some friends told me how unaffected I was of other people’s perception about me.

What was the worst day you’ve ever had at work?

It’s difficult to recall now. Things don’t seem so awful in hindsight, I guess. The last few months in the previous desk job were pretty bad though. I wanted to get out of there but couldn’t, for lame excuses I told myself. Those were the times when I used to feel suffocated, even trapped on some days, like I’m not where I should be and then I’d cry. That hasn’t happened in a long time now!

How have your family influenced your personal and professional life?

Family has always been extremely supportive. All these choices wouldn’t have been easy without them. There was no drama when I told my parents about quitting a well paying job without any concrete plan.

Of course, they were concerned whenever I went on those solo trips but never stopped me from doing it.

My younger sister got married recently because our age didn’t matter much, the willingness/unwillingness did. The family tries to understand what I’m doing right now but only have a vague idea and that’s okay. They believe in me and would be happy with whatever I choose to do, unless it does any damage.

Swati Saxena, The On Women Project

Do you live your life by principles? What principles are important to you?

Honesty, humility and compassion!

What advice do you have for young women and girls in general?

Don’t let anyone come in the way of what you want to do. You may not always be right but it will be your wrong than someone else’s wrong.

Your favorite memory from childhood.

I often used to sit and wonder, looking into nothingness, everyday everywhere. Even while having food, I’d forget to take the next bite and would just stare at the ceiling. Wish I could recall some of those thoughts and figure out if that little dreamer has been able to fulfill any of her fancies!

What question(s) do you wish I had asked?

Haha, I had expected clichéd questions like ‘Favourite travel destination’ or ‘3 things I don’t leave home without’ but thanks for not doing that!

You could probably ask about the financial bit under blogging. But, I understand a lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable answering that.

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