As conversations around environmental issues are rising, the youth are now becoming increasingly aware in India. But even before Greta Thunberg and Licypriya Kangujam were making news on this front, a teenager from Bengaluru was making things happen.
Now 20, Garvita Gulhati realised long ago that the poor and underprivileged population will ultimately bear the brunt of everything – environmental exploitation and climate change.
“While important, it is too easy for us to demand that factories be shut down and to stop manufacturing cars. We should also remember that those working on daily wage basis will lose their jobs. So, how can we find a balance between maintaining the ecosystem and taking care of your people?” asks Garvita, Founder of Why Waste?, a Bengaluru-based international organisation, which promotes water conservation.
Currently pursuing Electronics and Communication Engineering at PES University in Bengaluru, Garvita says she does not entertain long-term plans as one tends to slack off once the goal is achieved.
Working with her simple funda of making time for something you truly believe in and want to do, she has gained international attention since winning the title of Ashoka Youth Venturer in 2016.
As Garvita exchanged her ideas of enabling young leaders with Ashoka, the global organisation saw in her, the ability to inspire other people. Garvita was then recognised as the first ever Ashoka Young Changemaker in 2018, and was brought on board to identify and inspire more youngsters.
Over time, Garvita connected with team on calls and emails to frame the selection process, before she finally went to Washington DC in August 2019. Garvita sat through the whole interview process of all the candidates of Ashoka Young Changemaker while in the US.
I'm so happy to finally share my Ashoka Lead Young video! A journey that began almost 3.5 years ago, with a place that is now home :')
Thank you @Ashoka for everything! @AshokaIndia @yashveer887 https://t.co/zWVzbCevZu
— Garvita Gulhati (@GarvitaGulhati) November 14, 2019
For Garvita, things were not all smooth when she embarked on the journey as a changemaker. People doubted and dismissed her suggestion of pouring half a glass of water at restaurants, especially as it came from a 15-year-old.
It was 2015, and amidst reports of severe drought across many Indian states, Garvita felt unsettled after seeing all the left-over water going to waste at every restaurant. She then founded Why Waste? and after approaching some 30 restaurants, few began to lend ears.
Garvita became more determined to work for the cause when she learnt that nearly 14 million litres of water was wasted every day just because of the water being left behind in glasses in restaurants.
“Ashoka recognising my voice a year later was a big validation and definitely catapulted the journey,” she recounts.
Now, her idea of glass half-full has reached over one lakh restaurants in the country through partnership with the National Restaurant Association of India.
The organisation is also looking to make the idea of glass half-full a global phenomenon. Despite its direct message, Garvita shares, it has also come to relay optimism in terms of water conservation.
“It is actually trademarked under Why Waste? but we are really happy to see it grow. We recently heard that the UP government has taken up the glass half full movement after Radio City in Mumbai did a campaign around it. That is the beauty of any social idea, it is growing,” Garvita says, emphasising there’s no really owning up in matters of social good.
Small Turning Points
Today, Garvita’s opinions are highly regarded internationally as she sits on the board of Changemaking Centre at University of San Diego, and is part of State of Youth, based in New York. She helped launch ‘Lead Young’ in India along with Ashoka Innovators for the Public, world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs.
However, in the beginning, her parents were worried that Garvita would lag behind in studies as she was still a student at National Public School when she started the initiative.
But soon, she felt good when her near and dear ones were listening to the cause she was promoting, because convincing people had been the biggest battle as a changemaker.
“One of the turning points, in the beginning, was when my friends and family started sending me pictures of glasses empty or half-full when they went out,” she recollects.
At the same time, Garvita believes that everybody has an obligation as ‘rightful tenants on this planet’, and that no excuses should come in the way of their duty.
“I enjoy time with my friends and manage my studies, and it is not difficult if you plan things. Maybe you can’t go to every single party or watch every single TV show, but you can give yourself a break by creating an impact in life,” says Garvita, who is also a professional dancer.
(Editing by Megha Reddy)