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Teenager who’s taking on bullying in school, with app & advice

Aug 15, 2023

GURGAON: Anoushka Jolly is just a couple of years into her teens, but juniors, seniors and peers alike have been turning to her for advice.

The 14-year-old student’s venture – Anti-Bullying Squad – turned five this year, quietly helping youngsters cope with a problem that schools, teachers and parents have struggled with for years. Last month, she was among 11 children to receive the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar.

The Pathways student launched the venture after an episode of vicious bullying she faced when she was in Class 3. She was nine when the sight of a younger kid being bullied by a group dredged up her childhood trauma. “The incident triggered me, but this time it led to impactful action. It firmed up my resolve to do something about it and that’s how the idea of the Anti-Bullying Squad was conceived,” she tells TOI. “The classroom is a microcosm of society where early signs of toxic behaviour such as bullying and intimidation can be gauged and corrected,” Anoushka, now in the ninth standard, adds.

During sessions on entrepreneurship in her school, she wanted a mechanism against bullying and was encouraged to become a problem-solver. “After all, that’s what startups do. With the guidance of my mentors at school and parents (who are entrepreneurs), I launched a website to start an open dialogue on the issue,” Anoushka shares.

In 2018, she started a blog that sourced articles on bullying – its structure and nature, its psychosomatic impact on young minds, and its causes and remedies. In her subsequent interactions with those who reached out to her, both online and offline, she says she realised that the bullied are too intimidated to speak up and need encouragement. “To solve a problem, it needs to be reported in the first place because it has been stigmatised and not addressed with the sensitivity it needs. There is serious under-reporting of bullying episodes. So, I found that the first stage of problem-solving was to encourage students to come out and report instances of bullying,” she says.

To encourage anonymous reporting, she added a feature protective feature on the app. Within a few weeks, it was abuzz with complaints pouring in from various parts of the country, she says. Anoushka and a core team of counsellors and therapists who work pro bono with her, connected with the schools concerned and tried to get help to the students.

Last year, she raised Rs 50 lakh investment for the app at the popular TV show, ‘Shark Tank’. It was also a turning point. Since then, the reach of ABS has, according to Anoushka, seen an exponential jump.

This year started with yet another feat. A national award, she says, has put a responsibility on her to take the venture beyond the social angle. It’s time to think of a revenue model and expand verticals, she says.

Anoushka, who will write her board exams next year, plans to scale up her venture and launch ABS Kavach 2.0 and a mental health metaverse app, which she wants to call Inner Arch. Going ahead, she also wants to expand her team. “While ABS will continue its social cause, I want to expand the venture. A new version of Kavach and a mental health app is in the pipeline. I'm looking for app developers to set the ball rolling. I will also work out on pitches to seek a second round of investment for a further scale-up,” adds the 14-year-old.

Reflecting on her five-year-long journey where she has conducted workshops and sessions with schools, Anoushka says she grew up sooner than her parents would have expected. “It wasn’t easy, but that’s the life I chose very early in my life. Initially, it took a toll on my mental health. But I rose to the challenge and identified the pain points. I started journaling to track my day-to-day events and commitments as well as following a healthier and disciplined lifestyle,” she says.

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