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Akhilesh AnilKumar - Primary Short-listed Nominee - Social Volunteer Awards 2021

An Avid environmental activist from India working in the field for the past 3 years who have engaged with and developed multiple social campaigns with varying degrees of impact. Co-Founded Bring Back Green Foundation, an NGO that works in different environmental conversation activities across Kerala and India. Youth Ambassador for Break Free From Plastic and a UN India Young Climate Leader who is also working towards a Sustainable and Gender Neutral Fashion Startup.


VOLUNTEERING FOR ME

Volunteering is how I got started into building my own organisation and how I build my personality and perspectives towards society. The journey of volunteering helped me learn and grow immensely. The opportunities it has provided and the spaces to network and expand was a key reason to fall in love with volunteering.


VOLUNTEERING JOURNEY

I have been a volunteer in multiple organisation for the past 3+ years. For each organisation and each role, it came with a different reason to pursue volunteering. For floods, it was a humanitarian concern required on an urgent basis, for my campaigns and works for plastics, it was the environmental concern. In all variations, the passion to volunteer came from the deep rooted cause to create a change in the immediate society and impact people.


VOLUNTEERING STORY

Started volunteering with Helping Hands Organisation in 2018. I became their Campaign Manager and Social Media Manager. I managed their #Methechange State-Level campaign for my period of volunteering in the organisation. The campaign and its experience gave me the necessary skills for all the ventures I did going forward. Through the campaign, I had to manage events, hold meetings, take classes, etc. I started with my venture into climate advocacy and environmental protection activities around 3 years back. My first strong sense on need to protect nature came from a forest cleanup held in 2018 after the disastrous Kerala Floods. Of plastic straws I alone picked from the forest over a period of few hours gave me reason to bring about some change regarding this issue. I started a statewide campaign to curb plastic straws. I started a petition which reached 15,000 physical signatures and was submitted to the Chief Minister of Kerala to implement a plastic straw ban and encourage eco friendly businesses. This was welcomed well and shortly implemented, however it didn’t last long. During this period, I provided awareness classes to around 12,000 students, trade unions representatives and shopkeepers/ shop owners. The campaign also encouraged the biggest IT park in India, Techno Park to go plastic straw free for a day and provided alternative products. Seeing this campaign being a success, I encouraged business I worked part time at my university stint in Australia to use alternative products and tried to carry around the work. I dropped out from my University in Australia to work on ground in India regarding Environmental Conservation and started my own Non-Profit Organisation, Bring Back Green Foundation in late 2019. With the organisation, I have conceived and held multiple physical and digital conferences on various environment and sustainability associated issues. Through these conferences, have reached thousands and worked with speakers such as Kumi Naidoo (Former General Secretary, Amnesty International), Xiye Bastida, Isabel Weijsen, Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, Ashish Kothari, Rajendra Singh, etc. Have led and worked on research studies such as ‘Post-Covid Sustainability in various industries of Kerala’, ‘Coastal Erosion: Causes and Impacts on indigenous Communities’, etc. These have been submitted to the respective ministers and most have been considered or developed into government projects. Co-developed the Climate Curriculum and Climate Education program which is currently being considered by the Kerala Government. I have also headed the development of Climate Education Mobile Application for Bring Back Green and been part of various policy making projects submitted to the government. My organisation through its various channels have engaged with thousands of young people physically and virtually and have around 200+ registered volunteers working under it. During my time, I have personally engaged in many other activities pro-bono for other organisations. I currently also act as Youth Ambassador for Break Free From Plastic organisation. I am currently selected as one of the 17 UN INDIA YOUNG CLIMATE LEADER.


PROJECT Climate Education Project by Bring Back Green


ORGANISATION Bring Back Green Foundation


MISSION & VISION

Mission:

Climate education should be delivered to every student, through existing educational instruments or through digital interventions such as the mobile application by bring back green. The climate education tools should cover not just about environment but also about the intersectional subjects such as gender, disaster management, alternative education, mental health, regional culture, etc.

Vision:

The climate education project under bring back green envisions a future of international collaboration in the space of climate education through development of systems for extensive communication and data/resource sharing between institutions and agencies promoting sustainability.


PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The climate education projects started in early December of 2019 with interventions in classrooms across Kerala. Seeing the success of our interactions and interventions, we decided to push to create a climate education curriculum that we saw lacking within the classrooms of our school. The first draft of the climate education curriculum was prepared and submitted to the Hon'ble Education Minister of Kerala (at the time) during late December of the same year. The ministry pushed it to SCERT for further development and implementation. This was however stopped due to the rollout of NEP later next year that stopped private NGOs from intervening in the curriculum development process. I envisioned a large scale event to raise awareness among youth about climate change and hence conducted the National Conference on Climate Change 2020 at CUSAT in January 2020. The event brought speakers such as Isabel Wijsen (Well-known Indonesian youth climate activist and co-founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags international movement), Rajendra Singh (Waterman of India), Dr Oomen V Oomen, Padma Shri Dr G Shankar and many more eminent personalities from across India and the world. The event raised awareness on various issues associated with climate change and paved the way for our next interventions in climate education. In the following months, there were plans to set up physical college units across 5 college campuses in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, however, due to the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, all physical ventures came to a halt. Virtual webinars and sessions by the most eminent in various fields were conducted leading up to the international conference on climate education. The international conference on climate education was the first conference of its kind in the world to focus entirely on the importance of climate education and various aspects of it. I had envisioned this project since the onset of the pandemic and formed a team of international members (climate activists) who were interested in the same cause. We build the tools leading up to the event on October 3 and 4 2020. Participants came from over 57+ countries and there were over 1200 registrations for the event. Volunteers came from over 15 different countries and actively engaged in the event. I was privileged to design the structure, topics and workshops of the 2-day event. We had 17 international speakers including some of the most reputed in the field of social work and climate activism such as Kumi Naidoo (Former General Secretary, Amnesty International and Executive Director, Greenpeace International), Xiye Bastida, Ayisha Siddique, Elizabeth Wathuthi, Eric Steinberger, Heeta Lakhani, etc. The event was a massive success and generated global attention on climate education. The follow-up events were for generating regional interest in climate education and was the National and State level conferences of Climate Education which had speakers such as Vandana Shiva, Ashish Birulee, etc. We then conducted capacity building programs for teaching college students (200+ nos of participants provided training) in which we taught them the importance of climate education, interdisciplinary approach, curriculum development, etc. The event had the presence of eminent personalities such as Ashish Kothari, Dr TN Seema, etc. Following up with all the experiences in the field and the knowledge gained, I co-authored with the team, the latest draft of the Climate Education Curriculum and submitted it to the new Higher Education Minister on World Environment Day. I had been personally working with a small team on a vision I had for a virtual platform for climate education that is easy and accessible to all students with no age barrier. The app was in development for over 6 months and the first version was launched by the Hon'ble Higher Education Minister in late June 2021. The app is currently in maintenance and further development and will be released soon. I am also experimenting and working on a concept for global collaboration in the field of climate education. A global council that overlooks sustainability players and resource sharing across institutions. This is currently under development. Throughout various aspects of these projects, over 250 volunteers have participated and been engaged. Volunteers from over 15+ countries.


LENGTH OF SERVICE

The project started in Early December 2019 and is continuing (About to be 2 Years). It will be an ongoing project with no dedicated stop period currently insight. Average hours spent in volunteering would be upward of 500 hours or more.


ROLE IN PROJECT

The various positions that I have held throughout various phases of the project are as described below:

  • Head of Conference, International (& National & State) Level Conference on Climate Education 2020

  • Head of Conference, National Conference on Climate Change 2020

  • Co-Author for Climate Education Curriculum Development

  • Head of Application Development for the Climate Education Mobile Application

  • Organiser, Capacity Building Programs for Climate Education

  • Climate Educator for various physical/virtual events/classes/sessions

I was able to use my skills and experience in organising various campaigns and events for the project. A mindset for research helped in working with the preparation of the most important part of the project, the curriculum. The curriculum had the basic objective of adding all the missing parts from our current education syllabus and the observations I have made at my school/college level helped in the framing of the same. My experience in working with app development and a few small scale startups helped in the ideation and co-creation of the mobile application for climate education. The network that I have built through the years of work in activism and campaigning helped in the access to international support and reach. The project played a key role in the development of many skills for me especially managing and working closely with high-level personalities, understanding the nuances of organising and sustaining campaigns, managing events and setbacks, raising funding and identification of collaborative partners, engaging with people from various backgrounds and cultures, etc.


IMPACT OF PROJECT

The key objectives of the project were to bring about large scale awareness of climate change and related aspects of it (intersectionalities) to the youth across India and the world. We have been very successful in reaching thousands of youngsters across the world through our various initiatives under the project. We have also been able to raise the importance of climate education as an important aspect to key stakeholders such as the Hon'ble Education Minister and Hon'ble Higher Education Minister. Through the project, few international stakeholders and organisations also took notice of the importance of climate education and its need in the current educational system. Our climate education curriculum once implemented will set a change in every classroom across Kerala to start engaging in discussions associated with topics of the importance of today's age such as disaster management, gender disparity in climate-related incidents, local solutions, maintaining cultures, etc. Through our capacity-building programs, we focused on reaching the roots, the teachers who will teach the students of the future and hence reach more youngsters than through workshops or engagements directly targeted at students. We trained over 200 teaching students on climate education and its importance and how it can be used in an interdisciplinary approach, this will generate a huge impact in the future with the students they engage with. We believe that one of the major gaps that exist in climate-related education in the classroom is that the teacher is not well aware of the severity of climate change-related issues. Our climate education application once re-launched will enable thousands of students to easily and in an accessible way learn about climate and its related topics in a fun and interesting way. The courses and tools are interactive with options for regional languages and age categorisation. The tools are designed to be specific in impact. The future projects of the global council for climate education will bring in international collaboration from educational institutions and help create a faster, easier and accessible tool for implementation of climate education tools.