At an age when most youngsters want to have fun and a happy-go-lucky life, 25-year-old Arun Krishnamurthy thinks otherwise. He founded the Environmentalist Foundation of India, an organisation that works towards conserving the ecology. With members pitching in as volunteers they believe it’s time to give back to Nature. The team consists of a young group of students from 19 schools in five cities. EFI currently consists of a team of 872 volunteers… and the number is growing. With projects ranging from cleaning lakes to setting up animal care centres, they believe that change is possible and that it is happening.
Tell us about Environmentalist Foundation of India
It is a stray animal conservation and urban bio-habitat restoration group working out of Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Delhi and Kolkata. We registered as a trust in 2012 but have been functioning since 2007. We started as volunteers of Roots & Shoots. As it is an internationally registered organisation, we evolved into the Environmentalist Foundation of India. Our main projects are Lake Restoration, Herbs Restoration and Stray Animal Care.
How did you decide that working for the environment was your calling?
Inspired by a sea turtle conservationist, I identified my passion towards environment in general. Both my school and college are environmentally conscious institutions. Environment work has been exciting for me because I get to do something that has results and also be the change.
How do you juggle a full time job with conservation work?
They co-exist. I ensure that my career supports my passion and I do not have to depend on my passion to feed me. I am in the communications business and that helps me involve a larger audience. Recently one real estate client was involved in a river restoration project. We got the river cleaned, they got their CSR activity; a perfect win-win situation.
What kind of projects do you undertake?
Our projects are designed to cater to animals and their habitat. We focus primarily on cleaning urban lakes and have done so in Chennai (four), Hyderabad (two) and Delhi (one). There is major lake restoration work coming up: one each in Chennai and Hyderabad. This will be 16-month project, which aims at not just removing physical garbage from the lake, but also have protective fencing raised followed by bund strengthening and desilting. We are also adopting three lakes: one each in Coimbatore, Kolkata and Kanyakumari in November. We are also initiating a beach restoration activity following our adoption and cleaning of the Neelankarai Beach stretch. This time EFI along with Drizzle Cafe and The Chennai Corporation is planning to clean the beach stretch from Injambakkam to Besant Nagar on a community based conservation model.
To focus on our stray animal care, EFI has an animal ambulance, which is a mobile hospital that caters to the injured and sick stray. We’ve established herbal gardens in schools theatre nurtured by students. We add vegetable and fruit bearing plants and install a few bird nests with feed and water.
What about funding?
EFI is self-funded. Timely investment from my business helps fund the activities. EFI does not charge volunteers nor takes donations of money or kind. We only ask for man hours from people who are interested.
Do you also travel on EFI work?
Yes, it requires extensive travelling. Definitely fun as I get to spend time in volunteering for environment work across India with young volunteers.
You have won a lot of recognition for your work.
Google (my ex-employer) was kind enough to acknowledge our work with the Google Social Impact award, which helped us buy our first ambulance. The recognition from other sources are an acceptance that change is possible. We see this as a possibility to involve more people in our efforts in building a greener tomorrow.
You are young. What’s it like to work with other youngsters?
The reward we get is each other’s company. The cause is the hero. As a young group, ideation and knowledge sharing is free flowing and energy levels are always high. . It is not difficult to convince those who are going to work as with a handful of committed people we can change the world for even those who aren’t willing to volunteer.
One issue you have been working on that has affected you the most.
That has to be waste management. We clean the lakes but when it comes to safely disposing or recycling the collected waste, we are clueless. It is also beyond our capacity to work on the tonnes of garbage that have been removed. To address this issue we are now working to understand the best practices in waste management from sources within India and abroad. We have set a target of March 2013 for a technique that can be implemented from then.
How do you plan to diversify?
EFI’s ultimate goal is to have one animal rescue and rehab centre in Chennai and Hyderabad by 2015. We have set a target of cleaning and restoring 15 lakes across five cities by 2015 in addition to the ones already cleaned.
In Chennai, our focus is on the lakes on the Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam Radial Road and the ones on the Tambaram-Mudichur stretch. We aim to adopt every single water body in these two zones and have them cleaned and have a mass sensitisation programme to protect and reserve them for birds and aquatic life forms. Also to expand our herbal gardens in schools and involve more students in conservation.
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