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Interview: A Green Ticket ride to the UN Climate Summit

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Vishnu P. R. , CEO of the C5 (Change Can Change Climate Change) Foundation talks to Vivek JM, Cofounder of the Circular Collective where he talks about his journey as a climate activist and a social entrepreneur

The Circular Collective : Thank you Vishnu for agreeing to do an interview with us! How did you feel like while representing India at the first-ever Youth Climate Summit at the UN last year? Can you share some insights for the youth?

Vishnu: First of all, It is my pleasure to be part of the interview series by "The Circular Collective"; Sending all wishes from my team and me in this pandemic era. So the summit was an amazing experience; The “Youth Climate Summit world” comprised of 100 green ticket winners, leading climate activists and leaders. I was really proud to represent the citizens of India especially the youth. This recognition was indeed the effort of thousands and thousands of volunteers of C5 initiative. I was only the messenger or moreover a representative of the huge number of C5 team members who are currently making the transformation possible. I would dedicate this recognition to my fellow change makers-volunteers and various stakeholders associated with C5!

More than ninety-five percent of the winners were very young aspiring environmental leaders. I could see the fire and passion in their eyes. Especially the people from Marshal Islands, Fiji where the concern of climate change has reached its pinnacle. They were afraid of extinction of large scale which was really an eye-opener for me. I was amazed that these young leaders are really worried about the environment and acting to their fullest potential possible. I believe our Indian youth has to become more vigilant in this aspect. It could also have a cultural context as well as our priorities matter as we are a developing country. A balanced approach is currently growing in India, which is a positive sign. The current youth has to survive the changes as well as plan for the next generation. The youth who came for the summit was really diverse in the thought process and actions. The summit gave me insights for understanding the pressing challenges other countries are facing and how we in India can be better prepared for such future climate threats. The networking was amazing.

The excitement of participating as a country- “India” was really empowering. It also helped me to build my leadership skills to greater extend while dealing with various stakeholders of our society. This platform also gave me a chance to meet and interact with our Indian diplomats in the UN as well as get to know their day to day work. The label as “Indian” made me feel really proud. After all country matters!

The Circular Collective : Amazing stuff Vishnu, What motivated you to be part of this initiative and any advice to our young leaders?

Vishnu: My dream was always to become a social entrepreneur; to do something good for society and economy. Since my childhood days, I always believed that for eradicating any social or economic or climate problems we need to have individual behavioral change. Young People should be given the power to decide and make sustainable changes. I always wanted to make an impact to communities through small initiatives. This is something I would also urge for our youth to follow too. Individual lifestyle change, perspective change will do wonders; it has always worked for me! The C5 initiative also has its roots in this belief.

Also, as an advice for the youth, be warned that social work is still not regarded as a profession in India. But, this is gradually changing and it will evolve to better levels as we see in many European countries. Give professionalism while you try to get into working in social work domain. I think the recognition of C5 through green ticket will motivate more young people to come to this domain of social work and entrepreneurship. Build a career out of it. See it as a responsibility to your family, society and finally the world as a whole. Also think which side you would like to work-policy side or campaign work, ground work or office desktop work. Finally, evaluate your personal beliefs too.

The Circular Collective : That describes a lot on your transition to this specific role. But this path has several challenges too right? This brings me to my next question, what are some of the current challenges with regards to climate change and sustainable growth?

Vishnu: There are several challenges, yet how to quantify and communicate about climate change to the common people is a major one. We need to communicate in layman’s language especially to vulnerable and less educated communities like indigenous groups. We also need to start looking away from policy side to real time issues of communities; we need to convince people on the short term and long term effects of climate change. People should be made aware of the need for behavioral change.

Another challenge that I believe is the green washing by some companies which acts as hindrance to our movements. I would also like to add that delay in policy making and action often derails the sustainable growth. Organizations like UN need to act beyond framing policies and look more into real-time implementation of actions and awareness campaigns. I also believe that the globally diverse and economically growing countries like India must plan for pioneering in the actions for mitigating climate change.

The Circular Collective : I have seen that C5 has several domains of work and focus areas. Can you describe few key projects by C5?

Vishnu: Usually, we launch new projects in the start of a financial year. We have different type of projects –CSR funded projects, Sponsorship projects (like short term projects, for a community or a specific cause), and Partnership projects (like in collaboration with Government agencies). We have worked on areas like waste management, organic farming, greening of urban spaces. C5 foundation has now 5 major projects. The first one is mainly looking into dumpsite area management and greening of such wasted lands (named as UDHYANAM), converting urban vacant plots for organic urban farming (called SAMRUDHI), responsible tourism (a pilot study- called ADITHI), Green Event Management (Zero footprint events with audit and helping to become truly sustainable), C5 Campaigns (associating with all kinds of stakeholders). At present, all these awareness events have moved on to the digital space which we have observed to be having higher impacts.

The Circular Collective : This brings me to my next question, How do you work with various stakeholders for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs)?

Vishnu: We work with various multitudes of stakeholder and align the projects in connection with the SDGs. When we do the projects, for instance like campaign activities in local communities for specific projects, we try to combine all the local people and authorities. For instance, the pilot case of sustainable tourism is conducted in cooperation with the tourism department of Government of Kerala. For the same project, we also have standing associations with academic/ research institutes for example Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indian Institute for Human Settlements. To have grass-root level actions, we try to have government authorities especially the local as well as regional authorities for making the projects credible, and then easily implement it. I also believe that the government authorities must give more incentives for all such initiatives.

The Circular Collective : We would like to know your views on climate activism.What do you think about the Climate Activism in India? Climate activists are on the streets, calling for systemic change. Is anyone taking this seriously? Vishnu : We can’t compare the climate activism in India and elsewhere. This is mainly attributable to the socio-cultural scenario here. Here, the school going children are not much independent enough to boycott schools, go for #FridaysForFuture movement. I am sure that the activism needs to evolve from the normal approach. We have to take such movements with more seriousness. Even climate change is not a political priority till now. If we see climate change mitigation actions in Europe, political parties have a higher will and higher priority. But developing countries like India have far more challenges to act right now along with acting on sustainable actions and climate change. There should be more stringent actions and penalties in local and global levels for acting against climate change.

It’s high time that we must start valuing the diversity of our country, mobilize various local actions to have an impact at national level. The diversity of our culture, opinions and actions are our strength and weaknesses. We must find ways to tap out the real opportunities in these diversities.

The Circular Collective : Thank you for the insights, lets's hope it will undergo far more changes in the coming years.Do you think we need to have a new model of innovation and leadership (like the social entrepreneurship) to catalyse the changes needed? Vishnu: Activism can be of several types. I believe social entrepreneurship mode of activism has much more value for developing countries like India. We have several challenges in the country and if we connect social models for solving such issues, we can solve them while trying to generate revenue. Green business models must evolve. For example, our model for green event management is an innovative one which we have defined for social and environmental cause while generating revenue. For all the lifestyle changes needed, we need to create social business models showing the society that we have social agenda as our priority as well as doing the business. We must become self-sustainable through all these social movements that we create.

The Circular Collective : Thank you again for taking out time to talk to The Circular Collective. Is there anything else important you would like to share with our readers?

Vishnu: I believe that this article must reach out to our youth. They are the future parents and torchbearers. They must know that its time to act. Any climate change actions must affect the personal actions. Do responsible actions even if it is the small in nature. For instance, identify and map your plastic footprint when you go for shopping; Use reusable bags, Carry water bottles while you travel. This will drastically reduce waste generation while delivering a message to younger generations or small children on such responsible shopping actions. They will adopt and continue in their future life while they grow up.

There are several organizations working on groundbreaking projects for propagating sustainable ideas and actions. C5 is an ideology which we try to spread to masses. What we are trying to bring is our old traditions and culture which respected sustainable mode of life. All the discussions surrounding sustainable growth and climate change actions must not be limited to conferences and sessions. We must have more tangible ideas and actions being discussed round the year. All these discussions, academic works, policy decisions worldwide must be collectively documented with the ease of access. Such a platform will also enable a wider discussion among young environmental leaders of the world.

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