From Micro Actions to a Micro Army: Kavya’s Changemaker Journey
This story was written by Kavya and edited for length and clarity.
My journey started when I was traveling back to my hometown of Kanpur from Lucknow. Looking at the passing scenery outside the window of my car, I was able to see industries and chimneys nearly every ten miles, covering the blue sky with dark, dreary clouds of smog as they continued working. This wasn’t just any smoke, but poisonous fumes harmful to our atmosphere.
When I returned home, I ranted about what I saw to every person I met as I was filled with rage. However, I quickly realized that talking wasn’t going to be enough to make my point, something needed to change.
Later, on a visit to my family's factory in the industrial area of Kanpur, I learned that most factories in my hometown don't comply with environmental regulations. Hailing from an industrialist family, this was of deep, personal concern to me. Besides learning environmental science at school, at the time, I was highly engaged with local environmental non-profits, volunteering for activities like plantation and river cleaning drives. It was unsettling for me to see my prior voluntary efforts as an individual being undone by a non-compliant factory in just a matter of days.
This was it - I had finally found my calling and I knew I could not let the status quo be just as is. I could not leave the entire civilization disconnected from the planet, leaving it to languish.
I started off by speaking with a few business owners and learned that the problem lies not just in poor oversight and high implementation costs, but a wide-spread lack of understanding as to how severe the environmental and climate crisis is, and the implications of this crisis on the most marginalized among us. After a few unsuccessful attempts at convincing the business owners with a moral argument, I reflected that merely raising my voice against issues would still result in my voice being unheard. My parents had always told me that actions speak louder than words, so I knew I would have to get to work to solve this problem, at least in my community. It was time for me to start using a systemic lens to tackle the issue.
As a 15-year-old, starting off was the toughest part of my journey. It took a lot of time initially to realize my power as a changemaker; because until then, I was an ‘ignorant kid’ with little to no interest in the issues my community was facing, someone who was self-centered, and I would only consider myself productive at times when I was growing academically. Or at least, this is how adults made me feel. I always had in my mind that no one would listen to young people, and my conversations with business owners in my city reaffirmed my belief. Although there were a lot of incidents that reaffirmed my belief, there was one incident that didn’t let this belief last long.
On a Sunday morning, when I arrived at my first river cleaning drive with my father, I was resistant to the idea of participating and cleaning all the litter. However, this resistance disappeared when I saw my father cleaning alongside me. Soon, I was engaged in the drive, and after 2 hours of toiling in the scorching heat, I observed a change at the cleaning site. Kids were playing at the same riverbank, which looked like a dumping site a few hours ago. This made me realize that the efforts of young people can contribute to change, if they have the will to bring change. This made me realize the power of a young person.
Soon, I started hustling again to find the contacts of those who own the industries in Kanpur, which are major contributors to pollution in the town. Then, I worked with the leaders of the local association of manufacturing business owners to offer experiential climate education to their members. I tried to convince them to make emission control a central element of the association's purpose - redefining the membership criteria to include compliance with sound environmental policies. This means they would deny membership benefits to those who refuse to empathize and act on environmental regulations. After months of consistent, demanding work, I was able to see some factory owners taking measures to reduce emissions and help each other out by sharing best practices.
I had now discovered my power to create positive change and I was pondering a new question: "How can I get more young people to find their own power to change the world around them?" With that vision, I started the Bhavishya Foundation.
The initial success in my hometown motivated me to build a core team that could help me spread my message to a larger audience. I also wanted to enable other young people to become changemakers in their own cities. I was able to recruit young people from New Delhi, Mumbai, and Dubai to start their own changemaker journeys in their cities, and bring about a positive change, even if this change was small. This was a huge motivation for me and all the co-leaders of the Bhavishya Army.
To date, my micro-army of changemakers has planted over 3,000 saplings and educated more than 2,000 school students through experiential journeys focused on building the empathy and entrepreneurial ability needed to address the complex challenges of our times. This vision of enabling more young people to lead change has been central to my journey. In the future, I aim to integrate experiential and environmental education in the Indian Education System, so that school students are raised to be empathetic towards the environment, and our future has more citizens who are acting on environmental issues. I believe this is the only way to win the battle against climate change.
Over the last couple of years, I have been focused on my own work around environmental justice, while also enabling other young members of the Bhavishya Foundation to lead their own initiatives that solve the issues that they care deeply about. I believe that as resourceful young people, it is our responsibility to solve the issues that exist in our communities, so that we have a future that is closer to a perfect world than it is today.
From being an introvert, I have now developed the conviction, courage, and self-efficacy to speak persuasively to an audience filled with the thousands. I think I have also begun to build a movement by engaging young people and adults far beyond my immediate circle of influence.
This message is for every young person, or even the older ones reading my journey until here. A few months of working systematically and, more importantly, working "relentlessly" can help you start your own movement, where hundreds of people will put in everything they have to solve an issue that you really care about. This is your chance to change the world. Remember, changing the world doesn’t necessarily require money, power, or political support; the only thing it requires is your own will to change the world!