As a child, Ananya Birla (25) wanted to be an astronaut. However, as a teenager, she wanted to start up and make a change in society. In 2012-13, at the age of 17, she started Svatantra Microfinance to help rural Indian women embrace entrepreneurship.
“Microfinance was quite unorganised at the time. The idea that a micro-loan can make a macro-difference is really what struck a chord with me, and I truly believe that small amounts of money at the right time for hard-working family businesses can do an immense amount of good for helping small businesses grow,” she has said.
But, the daughter of Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and philanthropist Neerja Birla, this billionaire heiress – despite the privilege that her family background offers – had faced her challenges too. “When I started up, I was young and no one was willing to join my team; banks were not willing to lend. No clients are willing to come in. I used to cry in the bathroom when I come home after work,” she says, speaking to MAKERS India. But she adds that she didn’t give up because of these obstacles. Today, her financial services startup has reached more than one million customers across the country. A few years ago, she also launched Curocarte, a luxury e-commerce platform for handcrafted products.
Once Svatantra was up and running well, Ananya went on to study Economics and Management in the prestigious Oxford University in the UK, only to drop out in some time to follow her one unwavering passion - music.
Having learnt Indian classical music and playing Santoor and Guitar in her adolescence, Ananya decided at college that she wants to pursue music above everything else. Although a career in arts and entertainment is one with no guarantee, taking a risk at the age of 20 paid off for Ananya. Today, she is among the most popular young pop musicians in the country, and the first Indian artist to go Platinum with an English song. Her fifth single – titled Better, released last year – had more than four million views on Youtube within just two days of release!
When she took up music as a full-time career in 2016, the only ‘experience’ in music she had was performing locally in London. “Many people initially told me that there's no scope for English music in India. I've heard so many ‘No’ that when I hear Yes, it truly hits deep and I’m very grateful for it,” she says.
The musician in Ananya was as strong-willed as the entrepreneur in her. With perseverance, she signed up with Universal Music Group and followed up with performances at Global Citizen and Sunburn, and collaborations with music heavyweights like Sean Kingston and Wiz Khalifa.
However, Ananya’s life is not all about glamorous world-tours alone. Her own battles with anxiety as a teenager led Ananya to set up MPower along with her mother Neerja Birla. The organisation aims to raise awareness on mental health, and provides guidance to those who are suffering and their families.
Today, her strength and confidence comes from her hard work. Asked about what she considers as a milestone in her journey, Ananya gives a response with poise and maturity of someone who understands that her path is unique. “The journey is what counts for me. I really believe that there's no finish line. I don't know whether I will ever have a moment when I feel like I've made it. I think if I have a feeling like I've made it, then it's an issue. Right now, there is a huge fire in my belly, and if that fire ever dies down then I would be scared for myself,” she signs off.
(Copyedited by Varnika Gupta)