Apoorva Mittal is a graduate in business and finance from Australia. She has completed an Entrepreneurship and Innovation course from Standford University, Graduate school of Business and studied Creative Writing at Oxford University. Now, as a Medill Scholar, she is pursuing MS in Journalism at Northwestern University, Chicago.
She first worked as a consultant on social sector projects in the field of education and skill development and later as an Engagement Manager for the student community spread across 800 schools and a million students, at a leading educational technology company in New Delhi.
She also worked at Thrive India, for their media vertical, where she interviewed leaders in well-being, corporate and academia.
Refugee Changemakers, from displaced to indispensable, is her first book, which documents the journey of thirteen immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Uganda, Sirrea Leone and Rwanda to the Netherlands. The foreword for the book has been written by Dr Henrik Syse, of Norwegian Nobel Committee. Two of the stories from the book were featured in a report by UN Academic Impact and Media Tenor, which was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2018.
Apoorva has spoken at a refugee forum in Berlin and supported in inter-faith dialogue at the Vatican City. In her free time, she loves to write Haiku form of poetry.
Network Capital’s interview with Apoorva Mittal
1.What do you do?
Currently, I am preparing towards the launch of my book titled ‘Refugee Changemakers,’ which traces the stories of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Eretria, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Rwanda to the Netherlands. Through these 13 stories, I want to help reshape the perception of the refugees as contributors to the society and not just resource consumers. I feel these stories are unique as they focus on the journey of the refugees after they arrive in a new country, and how they picked themselves up and decided to work not just for themselves but the society at large.
I believe storytelling is a powerful tool and can instil empathy in us. It helps us look beyond the labels we so often attach to human beings. To take this passion further, I am going to study MS journalism in Fall at the Northwestern University, Chicago.
2. Why do you do what you do?
After graduating with a degree in business and finance, I started out working as a consultant for social sector enterprises and later as Strategy and Student Engagement Manager at an education technology company. However, after a series of personal incidents, wherein my family had a brush with 2016 attacks in Brussels and Paris, my attention increasingly started going towards misreporting on refugees in the media. Around this time, I read peace proposals by Dr Daisaku Ikeda to the UN wherein he proposes concrete solutions to global issues.
Inspired by Dr Daisaku Ikeda’s peace proposals in which he recommended encouraging refugees to work in fields that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals in their host communities, I decided to uncover and write stories about refugees contributing to their host communities. Doing so, I hoped to help create a more balanced narrative on refugees.
Many of the stories I wrote about honour Dr Ikeda’s vision. They make it clear that by contributing to the growth of their host society and themselves, these refugees are leading a mutually beneficial and dignified life.
My decision to pursue journalism stems from my desire to report on vulnerable communities who are misunderstood and disparaged due to stereotyping and to include their often ignored voices in the narrative. Now more than ever, when the feeling of otherness is rampant, I believe storytelling can help in bridging the gap in our hearts and minds.
3. What is the one thing you believe to be true but others rarely agree with you on?
How one’s ‘purpose’ to undertake a course of action trumps all other variables. To give you a recent example, when I received acceptance from almost all journalism schools I applied to, including Columbia University in New York and Northwestern University in Chicago, for many friends, family and well-wishers the prompt advice was to go for Columbia.
The times we live in have wired us to present the best ‘image’ of ourselves, oftentimes by chasing labels and tags that gain us temporary popularity but don’t necessarily align with our purpose. I do not mean that going to the best grad school is wrong, but one must deeply consider the reason behind their choice. I decided on Northwestern University, for its diverse offerings to pursue Social Justice projects, and also a professor, expert in refugee reporting, expressed his willingness to mentor me during the program. These two factors wholly aligned with my purpose to pursue journalism; even though Columbia is an Ivy League institution and undoubtedly more popular with Indian masses.
4. What is the best investment you have made in yourself?
Continually seeking out opportunities to learn and improve. In 2016, I completed the Stanford Ignite program, an Entrepreneurship and Innovation course by Stanford’s graduate school of business. During this period I was working with an EdTech company, and it helped me ideate and execute a large-scale student engagement project in the company, which successfully increased student engagement on the platform. Later, in 2017, when I finished writing the stories of refugees, I went to the Creative Writing School at Oxford University, to strengthen my storytelling skills.
Now, to build my skills in conflict reporting, I must learn to work with sensitive and vulnerable populations which motivated me to pursue Masters in Journalism on a scholarship at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
5. Has your career been planned or a function of serendipity?
I would say my journey until now has been a function of courageous action backed by serendipitous moments. Writing or pursuing journalism was not on my radar, in fact, I was severely criticised for my writing skills by many. However, when the opportunity to visit Amsterdam and write the stories of refugees presented itself, I gave up my full-time job and went for it since I felt so passionately about the subject. Although I had no network there and the land was unfamiliar, I persisted in meeting new people and voraciously shared my idea and intent behind the project. In three months I finished interviewing 13 refugees and came back to India to finish my book. Since then there has been no looking back, and I am wholly committed to my endeavour to write stories of those marginalised.
6. What is the role of mentors in your life?
I feel there is no stronger anchor or moral compass than having a trusted mentor in life. For me, it is someone I haven’t personally met but continuously seek through his writings. Dr Ikeda, is a peace activist, Buddhist philosopher, prolific writer and a poet, and reading him on a regular basis gives me courage, hope and inspiration. His life story is a comprehensive lesson on world history, philosophy, and human diplomacy, and I feel very fortunate to call him my mentor. Most importantly, I appreciate his focus on self-reliance and not seeking answers from others, since every journey and individual is unique.
Additonaly, having trusted advisors, whom one can learn from, is crucial. Thus, it is essential wherever we go – office, college, conference, home even – we seek out experts for advice and guidance. The Network Capital is an excellent platform, promoting these values.
7. What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
I’d tell my 18-year-old self to be patient and pay less attention to what others say or do. Success or failure is not determined in a year or two, I’d tell her, but in the next 20 or 30 years of one’s life. Being impatient for success and losing hope in case of failure is the most disheartening thing we do as a youth.
8. What next?
Very excited to begin my journey as a student and embark on my new adventure in Chicago. I plan to leverage the city’s diverse refugee community and produce their stories in different formats including book, documentary and animation. 2018 for me is focussed more towards learning and creating a solid foundation for the next decade.