Historically, debate was created for first class citizens to discuss issues of economics, law and government. According to James A. Herrick, it wasn’t until around 450 B.C. that the Sophists recommended that the art of debate be made available to everyone, regardless of social status. Centuries later, debate is still referenced as an important communications tool, especially with the advent of social media.
In the digital age, ideas and opinions are shared within seconds. But the challenge lies in conversing an educated and respectful view. This is where Anisha Bhandari wants to make a difference.
At 26 years old, Bhandari is the cofounder and chief executive officer of Udebate, which is an online and digital debate platform for K-12 students. Both students and teachers are able to login to Udebate, and begin new debates or contribute to sponsored debates outside of the classroom. Students can participate in debates nationally and elect team leaders to moderate.
While Bhandari had the idea for Udebate for over a year, in January 2013, she met with engineers to build the digital platform, help create apps for Google and Apple devices and assist with backend work. “It was very important for me to create an app since kids are increasingly obsessed with their smartphones. I wanted users to have the ability to access Udebate wherever and whenever.”
For Bhandari, being successful is being independent. “While there is nothing wrong with corporate America, it was just not a good fit for me.” She lists fellow Atlanta-native, Sarah Blakely, as inspiration for creating Udebate. “I saw Sarah, who created Spanx when she was my age, and I knew that Udebate was something I could do.” She advises future entrepreneurs to know the risk involved in owning their own business. “Make sure that you fully understand the uncertainties in being an entrepreneur and also do not be afraid of [using] the resources available to you.”
Her passion for debating began while at Kennesaw State University. “In my personal international visits to 16 countries, I saw the profound impact debate and dialogue has in conflict resolution and international policy.” Further channeling her interests in international affairs, she worked as a CNN journalist.
Bhandari is passionate about extending debate platforms for urban and low-income areas, where recently debate is being viewed as a way to challenge negative energy and an escape for troublesome issues. “Accredited debate teams and conferences that generally cater to schools with greater funding… leave behind students in urban areas and low-income schools,” she describes. Because of this, “high-school level students in low-income areas are unable to participate in national debate conferences unless funds are raised through charitable means.”
A study conducted by the Chicago Debate League, which surveyed high school debate participation, found that “participation in debate leads to higher graduation rates and greater college readiness, even for those students who are most at-risk. The study also found that “seventy-two percent of debate participants, who were labeled as high risk students, graduated compared to 43 percent of non-participants.”
Bhandari hopes to create more awareness around Udebate. “I want to continue creating flourishing relationships with schools, especially with 6-12 grades.” She strives for Udebate to become a global platform with both sponsored corporate and educational debates. “I envision a global teacher-led and moderated debate in which students are able to gain scholastic credit, such as extra credit, but also to enhance cognitive reasoning and writing skills.”