Beeta Ansari

Beeta is Ashoka U’s Exchange Director, the world’s largest global convening for social entrepreneurship education.

Changemaker of the Week: Amit Dodani

Amit Dodani, 16, shares a story of overcoming that inspired him to start an organization that shares stories, unites communities and creates a new generation of empathetic leaders. Amit has also been selected as an Ashoka U Exchange Scholar.

Amit is being featured as part of Ashoka U’s series, “Changemaker of the Week” which highlights extraordinary student changemakers in high school, college and graduate programs around the world. Check the Ashoka U Blog each week for a story of a new Changemaker of the Week!

1) What is your project or organization?
My Name My Story is a youth led social leadership organization that inspires empathy and unity to counter peer harassment, bullying and suicide through storytelling. MNMS takes a multi-pronged approach to “Inspire Empathy,” keeping in mind the teachings of Bill Drayton of Ashoka, who states that empathy is built through teamwork, leadership and service, through three major programs:

  • Our website, where individuals can post their story of inspiration or overcoming
  • Our school club programs where the youth can step up into leadership roles with the guidance of our school club advisors
  • Our MNMS Inspire Events, like Social Entrepreneurship Camp for Young Changemakers, where we bring individuals together to learn about empathy and how they can embrace it in their daily life.

2) How did you get involved with this project / organization (or how did you decide to found it)?
It was my personal story that inspired me to start this initiative. When I was around 4 or 5 I had developed a speech impediment. This really diminished my self-confidence and inhibited my true potential. I was able to overcome it through the help of my trial and debate coaches, who had immense faith in me. The story of my weakness became my greatest strength.

I have been going to a middle and high school with a tremendous emphasis on Diversity, Acceptance and some National Anti-Bullying programs in place. But I realized that most of my fellow students tuned out these programs, because they were neither being bullied nor were not bullies themselves – it just didn’t concern them!

At 14, I recognized this gap in empathy, and wanted to do something about it. So with my family and mentors by my side, I started the My Name My Story – an organization that would solve the same problem but engage the entire student body, school and community.

3) How has being a high school student changed the way you act as a changemaker?
Most of the traditional anti-bullying initiatives are centered around adult figures trying to interpret how kids will learn about being nice to one another. As a high-school student and a teenager myself, I understand that empathy must be cultivated in a way that kids can relate to. They have to attach to it, see it as something that is “cool” in today’s society. Being around the individuals that I am directly trying to impact puts a whole new perspective on our work and I truly believe that it gives me an advantage.

4) What’s the best part of working on your venture/organization?
The best part of working on MNMS for the last two years has been seeing other people my age latch on to the cause and make it one of their passions. Many of our MNMS Founding Leaders, or students who have started the MNMS School Clubs on their campus, have taken full charge of their club and done amazing things: whether it be going into the community and help rebuild schools damaged by hurricanes, or hosting unity days on their campus in order to build a deeper connection between their student body.
However, the emotional impact extends beyond just our school clubs: we received an email from a girl in Ohio, someone we had never met before, who said that after reading the stories she felt “a new sense of hope in her life, and didn’t feel worthless anymore.” I always say that if you can change even one single life in a positive way, you have truly made a difference, and doing that through MNMS has been an incredible experience.

5) What’s one piece of advice you’d give to any high school student thinking of becoming a changemaker?
Find your passion, create a vision, make a plan and run with it. That’s really all it is. All of the details and logistics will all play itself out if you have that utmost belief in your cause. There will be ups and downs, and there will be times where you may think that what you are trying to accomplish is impossible, but if you are solid enough in your beliefs then you will succeed. In the process you will find amazing mentors and advisers who will be happy to help you succeed and grow tremendously as a person. I live by the saying “the most powerful weapon on earth is a human soul on fire, a person with a burning desire.”

I am absolutely honored and excited to be included in 2014 Ashoka U Exchange and I am looking forward to meeting, connecting and learning from thought leaders that I have read about. I know my participation will tremendously impact the growth of MNMS as an organization, the MNMS Leaders and specifically the MNMS Social Entrepreneurship Camp for Young Changemakers scheduled for in the Summer of 2014.

More information about Amit will be featured on social media this week, so make sure to like Ashoka U on Twitter and Facebook! Check out Ashoka U’s blog each week to see new stories of phenomenal student changemakers making a difference in the world.