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Meet Garvita Gulhati, our own Greta Thunberg

When you walk out of a restaurant after a sumptuous meal, have you ever thought how much food you have wasted? Yes, we do sometimes get the rest of the food packed home, but have you spared a thought about the potable water we waste? The number is mind-boggling: It’s roughly around 14 million litres every day!

The credit to pluck out such a piece of statistics goes to Garvita Gulhati (who was just 15 years old then!). Though she was too young to make an impact in society, Garvita decided to do something about it and save water, rather save the planet.

That’s how she launched the pan-India initiative, Why Waste? The results are telling, but the journey has been arduous.

Garvita 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. Unfortunately, the process of getting managers to take advice from a 15-year-old girl, and change norms proved to be difficult. Soon, Garvita came up with an idea that was simple and made a lot of sense; a small beginning of sorts to a larger purpose. She proposed a simple solution to solve the global water crisis #GlassHalfFull. It explores how every person can make a difference taking the idea not only to restaurants but in every bit of their lives, looking at water more positively - seeing the #GlassHalfFull. Today, Why Waste? operates as an international organisation changing mindsets, optimising usage and preventing the wastage of water. They’ve expanded their work to water positivity across domains, from educating involving and changing structural behaviour around water with citizens ranging from school students to office goers to grandparents with teams across the country. The organisation is now expanding to leverage technology to help change mindsets.

Her work and initiative have reached over hundreds of thousands of people across the country, including rural India. Why Waste? has allied with over 1,000 restaurants, influenced the mindsets of about 2 million people and has saved over 4 million litres of water through its chapters globally.

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.

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Born in Indore, Garvita has lived all her life in big cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru where she grew up spending a lot of her time, engaging in environment actives and in orphanages with young girls. Garvita started her journey as a change-maker at the age of 13 and since then has championed many ideas to solve societal problems. Her first fight against the bursting of fire-crackers in her community took almost five years of silent protest to accomplish, and soon saw the government also change policies around this.

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Apart from water and drought, Garvita soon realised that this is just one of the uncountable problems our planet is facing. Every single day as she grew as a changemaker, she began empathising more with problems around her and even though had the passion and zeal to solve all of them, she knew she didn’t have the capacity to do it alone. This made her 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, Garvita launched Lead Young at Schools, an initiative aimed at empowering young school students to take up problems that they are passionate about, and make the difference that they want to see in the world by telling them 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 implant it NOW. This initiative has reached over 600 schools across the country and impacted over 2.5 million students. She has made this possible through collaborations with national media houses and school and student associations.

Over the past year, Garvita co-led 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, she has played a pivotal role in its engagement and growth to Brazil, Indonesia and India.

Most recently, BBC World Service reporter called Garvita the “Greta Thunberg” of India, a force to reckon with.

Garvita was given the title of Global Changemaker last year and is an Ashoka Young Changemaker and change.org fellow. She is one of the top young changemakers and was also the youngest in the 40 under 40 environmentalists of India list this year. Her 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. She has also inspired and supports several young people to become changemakers in their own right.

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Garvita wishes to build more understanding between the urban and rural water consumption levels and bridge the gap between the difference in mindsets. Through Why Waste? she is creating a revolution - changing the way people perceive and use this natural resource through an upcoming book and app version and through possible collaborations with Global Organisations like Paani Foundation, water.org, WorldView Education, Ashoka and Facebook. Apart from this, the Why Waste? Team is working tirelessly to make the #GlassHalfFull a global phenomenon.

In June this year, Garvita was invited to speak at IKEA Foundation’s 10th-anniversary summit on the power of youth to change the world. As the youngest speaker, Garvita addressed a delegation of over 300 dignitaries including the UN high commissioner, CEO of IKEA Foundation, UNICEF Global Executive director and some of the top founders and CEO’s of social enterprises&foundations across the globe. Addressing the urgency of the need for global leaders to act on climate change, her speech moved the crowd to tears inspiring them to put youth at the front of change-making.

Soon after, on Independence day 2019, Harvard Model United Nations, India, one of the only 3 HMUNs that happen worldwide invited Garvita as their Chief Guest and Keynote Speaker of the 2019 congregation. She was the first youth speaker in their 10- year run as a Model UN conference, the previous versions having seen country ambassadors and world leaders coming in for this.

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Most recently, Garvita became part of Facebook’s youth board in their endeavour with KidsRights foundation to build the State of Youth - an online borderless state, that unites young people from across the globe to stand up against global issues and vote for their rights. Garvita is one of the founding board members of this initiative and part of the dynamic board with 8 other young people from across the globe. Garvita solely represents the youth of Asia on this board. In less than a month since its launch, State of Youth already has over 30,000 members, young people from around the world.

Beyond this, Garvita was invited to speak at the UN Youth Climate Summit this year, prior to one of the biggest UNGAs ever held. Following this, she wrote an open letter to Greta Thunber, addressing the need to build the much-needed shift from activism to action and seize the opportunity to build more impact having over 8 million youth engaged. This letter was recognised and appreciated by Friday’s for Future, Extinction Rebellion, Plant for the Planet and Greta’s team. With their support along with GSCC global, Garvita is building a larger movement for change with more on ground impact leading up to the next global climate strike.

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A quick chat with Garvita Gulhati

At a young age, you have travelled all over the world. Which summit has been the best experience so far?

I think every summit has something special to offer and I learn something new each time. It’s really hard to rate them because they are all so different and so wonderful.

Since you have already written a letter to Greta Thunberg, do you have plans to meet her anytime? Maybe it’s time to take your fight to the international level.

I hope I have the support of the people to take things to the next level. There’s a lot to do and I’m working hard on it.

How do you find a balance between activism and academics? How supportive have parents been? Do they accompany you when you go for such initiatives/summits?

My parents always allowed me to work but always told me not to let my academics drop. Now they are extremely supportive and even encourage me to do more. They accompany me, sometimes. Finding a balance can get hard sometimes but mostly it’s fun because you are always engaged in something. The most important thing to remember is that if you want to do something, you will make the time for it.

When you walked into restaurants as a 15-year-old asking them to save water and all, what was their response? Which city was more receptive?

Managers usually didn’t want to take advice from a 15-year-old so it was hard to gain momentum. As far as cities are concerned, Pune has been the most receptive.

Garvita is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in electronics and communications engineering in Bangalore, India. She wishes to pursue a masters in environmental engineering and business in future. Garvita also holds a degree in Indian classical dance form Kathak.

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