Inspiring Changemaker: Garvita Gulhati

a woman smiling at the camera How did you begin your Changemaker Journey? What did spark it?

It all began as I was cycling one day in my community and I just saw plastic wrappers and water bottles thrown around and my instinct was to pick them up, put them in my basket and throw them away. Now, usually what people do is pick up flowers and put it in their basket but I cycled home with garbage in my basket and my mom asked me “Why are you bringing garbage home?” what I did was a surprise to her. But I think that's what really made me realize that it's so important to be working and saving the planet because there are so many people who don't care but there are so many people who do … We must do what we can to make a difference.   

What are the issues that hurt your heart growing up? Were you able to do anything about it?

The primary cause was the fact that people were so indifferent to the environment and I have realized in my journey why this happens. It is because it is something that does not grossly affects us today. But why are we so indifferent towards the environment? It is because we cannot humanize it and it is something that does not personally affect us. That is why it is so important for us to do so as much as we can for the environment. To get people to empathize with it. That really hurts me because it is so hard for people to come out and do anything to the place that they live in right? We all live on this planet and it is our duty to get back to her, so why do we slack back when it comes to the environment? So yeah, that is something that really hurts me.

            And the next thing is about how young people are considered to be incapable/inexperienced. Nobody wanted to take advice from me just because I was 15 years old. Right? They were like, “oh what can a 15 -year-old tell us that we already don’t know.” It was astonishing to see people thinking like that, but it also gave me a reason to fight harder.

Who has supported you in your Changemaking work?

A lot of people. I try to get support from anything and everything and I try to grasp as much as possible. My parents have been such a support.. And I think, my first teachers. This kind of leads into the next question…

What would be some advice to teachers who want to help children and youth to become Changemakers?

I am going to tell you about one of these teachers in my school. Her name is Mrs. Poornima and she taught environmental education. This is a topic not taught in our curriculum and by no other school teachers. I am sure probably now there are more, but I am talking like almost 10 years ago. She fought the system to teach the subject and she would teach it alone to 6 batches of students, like 6th grade, 7th grade,8th grade, each grade has these sections and she is teaching all of them. She would take one night a week which she would talk about things to make you empathetic to the environment. I think that she has been a huge driving force to getting this started and getting it moving and getting out there so a huge credit to her.

            And that is exactly what I would like to tell teachers who want their children to become changemakers, is that every child that you see is special, every child has a special solution to some problems. It is your duty to identify it and really push them to do something about it like my teacher Mrs. Poornima motivated me in my very first steps on this journey to keep moving. I went back to her totally unmotivated and she told me “just try to be moved. And like the first time you are going to do it the second time and you are going to keep doing it until someone accepts you, because you know you are right.” She pushed me a lot, and lots of credit to her for doing that. She is a very inspiring lady and I absolutely love her. I feel so lucky to have her. I started this journey as a changemaker at the young age of 13 and since then I have championed many ideas to solve societal problems. My first fight against the bursting of fire-crackers in my community took almost 5 years of silent protest to accomplish, and soon saw the government also change policies around this.

What are some more recent initiatives you have been involved in?

In India, in the year 2015, several cities faced severe drought crisis leading to adverse effects especially on the lower class of the society. Children in 100 million homes in the country lack the access to water. I was barely 15, when I started reading on these issues. Deeply impacted I wanted to take action but didn’t know where to start. In this process, I came across this alarming piece of information: on an average, 14 million litres of water are wasted every- day, just through the water we leave behind in glasses in restaurants. A little research threw up more startling facts. I realized how trivially we waste water in so many different ways just because we are privileged and have it at our disposal. Interacting with people who barely get enough water to drink everyday and moreover, are struggling, walking miles, fighting systems to obtain this resource that we so easily consume without even moving a finger, I was triggered to make a difference. I started visiting restaurants and educating them on how to conserve water with the aim of deleting the 14 million litres number out of the books. I did this through her initiative “Why Waste?”. Unfortunately, the process of getting managers to take advice from a 15 year -old, and change norms proved to be difficult.

Soon, I came up with an idea that was simple and made a lot of sense; a small beginning of sorts to a larger purpose. I proposed a simple solution to solve the global water crisis #GlassHalfFull. It explored how every person can make a difference taking the idea not only to restaurants but to every bit of their lives, looking at water more positively - seeing the glass half full.

Today, Why Waste? operates as an international organization changing mindsets, optimizing usage and preventing the wastage of water. They’ve expanded their work to water positivity across domains, from educating involving and changing structural behavior around water with citizens ranging from school students to office goers to grandparents with teams across the country. The organization is now expanding to leverage technology to help change mindsets. The work and initiative have reached over 100’s of thousands of people across the country, including rural India. Why Waste? has allied with over 1000 restaurants, influenced the mindsets of about 2 million people and has saved over 4 million litres of water through its chapters globally.

What is the extent of the impact you have been able to have?

Why Waste?’s most recent collaboration with the National Restaurants Association of India, an industry that represents 100,000 restaurants of the country has turned this initiative PAN India. Moreover, they have engaged over 200 young people globally to spread this concept to countries including some in the US, UK and middle-east. I realized that this is just one of the uncountable problems our planet is facing. Every single day as I grew as a changemaker, I began empathizing more with problems around me and even though had the passion and zeal to solve all of them, I knew I didn’t have the capacity to do it alone. This made me wonder that if every young person was a changemaker, what was stopping this world from turning into a more positive place!

Inspired by Ashoka’s “Everyone a Changemaker” concept, I launched Lead Young at Schools, an initiative aimed at empowering young school students to take up problems that they are passionate about. They can make the difference that they want to see in the world by telling stories of other young people from around the world who have overcome adversities and broken stereotypes to do their bit to change the world. It highlights the fact that it doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, how old you are and what you do. If you have a solution to a problem, you have to implement it NOW. This initiative has reached over 600 schools across the country and impacted over 2.5 million students. I have made this possible through collaborations with national media houses and school and student associations.

Over the past year, I have co-lead the Ashoka Young Changemaker movement along with the Founder and CEO of Ashoka, Bill Drayton and the Ashoka Global team. Ever since its inception in the US, I have played a pivotal role in its engagement and growth to Brazil, Indonesia and India. I was given the title of Global Changemaker last year and I am an Ashoka Young Changemaker and fellow. I am the youngest in the 40 under 40 environmentalists of India list this year. I believe that my initiatives and efforts are inspiring several people to not only save water but also stand up and make a difference to significant issues in their communities.

What would you tell children and youth about being a Changemaker? Suggestions?

Just follow what you think is right, do what you want. Do what you love at that moment. Don't force yourself to do things. That's the best way to be a changemaker is if you see a problem and you have a solution, just do it. Just go and implement it. You can be a changemaker in the most simple of ways. You don't have to start an organization; you can just spark a change in a couple of family members and a couple of friends. That is also changemaking. That can lead to a really huge difference. All you need to do is, stand up for what is right.

Do you have any final comments to share?

It is a really exciting journey, there is so much to learn, there is so much to gain about the world. Understanding it. Living it. Being a part of it. And really discovering what it feels like to have a positive impact on society, what it feels like to do very meaningful work at a very young age and I think that it gives you a very strong backbone, metaphorically.