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Project Jatropha: My Vision
I am Adarsha Shivakumar, a passionate environmental enthusiast, cofounder and Executive Director of Project Jatropha and this is my fight against the climate change and poverty.
My Role as a Cofounder:
One very common question that people ask us is how we came up with this unique idea. Apoorva just smiles at me and informs that "it was Adarsha's original idea". It is not that simple though. It just did not occur to me one fine day. It was a process akin to solving a puzzle. The first few pieces are always the hardest. After that ,the rest fall into places easily. My interest on Alternative energy piqued very early on in my life. My dad has been a big proponent of alternative energy. My sister and I have done several experiments with him in our farm using biogas to fuel the lighting of our farm house, running irrigation pump etc. As early as 2006, my father and I did research on the various biofuel plants and chose Jatropha curcas for cultivation in our farm. The idea was to grow the plant, produce biofuel and use it in our farm equipments. In 2006, we started our Jatropha cultivation in a small patch of our farm land using the wild variety that was found in the nearby areas around the farm. Around the same time tobacco was being processed by the nearby farmers. As I knew the advantages of growing Jatropha, in 2007, an idea hit upon me to see if we can motivate the farmers to grow Jatropha curcas on an economically viable scale. I can say that my interest in global energy crisis, global warming coupled with my passion towards the welfare of the subsistence farmers gave birth to Project Jatropha. Once my sister and I chose Jatropha curcas as our answer to fight against poverty and environmental degradation, I came up with the plan of international collaboration with Labland Biotechs, a plant biotechnology company and Parivarthana. When Apoorva took a leadership role in convincing the farmers, I was instrumental in establishing the collaboration with Labland Biotechs and Parivarthana.
My role as the project leader and executive Director:
Once we successfully established the collaboration, I took the leadership role to run the project smoothly. My journey as the leader has been the toughest yet most rewarding challenge that I have faced in my life. I have to admit that at times, I had no clue what we were going to do next. Inexperience worked out as a boon for us when it came to project expansion! The first step was supplying the seedlings to the farmers. We used the cash prize of $650 that I earned for winning the 2006 California State Spelling Bee Championship to fund the phase I. I negotiated with Labland Biotechs to lower the purchasing costs of the seedlings which made the first phase of our project economically feasible. We distributed the seedlings to five farmer leaders and convinced many others to participate in the second phase. When Apoorva and I worked out a budget plan with Parivarthana for second phase, I knew we needed close to $15,000 but, at that point we had very little money left. I was naive enough to believe that fund raising will not pose a huge problem because of the noble cause! However, the onset of global economic recession put us at a huge disadvantage. If I look back now, If I knew the hardships of fund raising in the beginning, I am not sure if I would be bold enough to have started the second phase with zero balance! I should say that we have been lucky in this aspect so far. International environmental organizations have recognized our work. We have won major international and national awards through which we have gained publicity and funds.Though from day one, Apoorva has taken up the role of financial Director and fund raising coordinator, as the executive Director, I felt that it was my responsibility to join hands with her. I have contributed all my earnings through various awards and part time jobs to the project from day-1. In all, it has added upto $9000 as of Sept 2010.
As the Executive Director, I have convinced several adult environmental enthusiasts both in India and USA to join our advisory board. Today, our advisory board consists of scientists including botanists, plant pathologists, biofuel consultants, directors of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, teachers etc. Under my leadership, Project Jatropha has earned a new partner in USA, Sirona Cares foundation, a nonprofit sister organization of a prestigious biofuel company in northern CA which is involved in a similar project in Haiti. As a result of the partnership, Sirona Cares Foundation has sponsored our project to attain a nonprofit status. Initially, in order to get publicity, I contacted several PR agencies asking for help. Soon, I realized that it is out of our reach to hire a big PR firm because they were way too expensive. However, by a stroke of good luck, I got in touch with the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Mr. Drew Gerber and Vice President of Sales, Mr. Shannon Nicolson. I explained our project's mission and our financial constraint. After several email exchanges, they very generously offered the ''presskit247 '' free of charge. I can confidently say that this changed the course of Project Jatropha. Many organizations profit and nonprofit alike became aware of our project mission through our presskit.
As the leader of Project Jatropha team, I have come to realize that hard work is the core of our project. I work at the oddest hours on a regular basis because of the 8000 miles and twelve time zones between our project site and where we live. Almost every day, I work late hours, many times at mid night in order to smoothly run our project. In the beginning, I have to admit that prioritizing my work was a challenge. Initially I was pursuing a few other extracurricular activities and hobbies along with the project management. Very soon, I realized that it was impossible to do so because of time constraint. More ever, Project Jatropha needed my full attention. I am in the high school varsity debate team. After the project took off, I realized that I did not have enough time to prepare for debate tournaments with the same vigor any more. Last summer, when the time came to choose between debate camp and Project work, I don't deny that the decision making was hard. I knew that if I missed the summer debate camp, I will never be able to compete with the top varsity debaters. However, it was time to make a choice. My choice was clear. I had to go to India. We had made a commitment and I had to live up to that. From then on, I made rather a difficult decision to make Project Jatropha my top priority. I still do debate but in a much lower key. This has given me more time to devote towards the project work. During this process, I learned that when I am a leader of a project of this magnitude, I will have to sacrifice some of my personal interest, learn to prioritize in order to succeed. Looking back now, I am very happy that I made the right decision. Apoorva and I have spent most of our summer and winter breaks working hard at our project site. Each time we go, we spend a lot of time with the farmer families. We play and work together under the scorching sun and heavy rains. We fall sick and end up in hospital. Having said that, I would go back to our project site any time in a heartbeat. It is home away from home for me. I know that I can make a difference in the farmers life. I consider myself very fortunate for this opportunity to lead such a project .
In addition, we have launched two additional endeavors this year, firstly, a sister project, Project Teak, to encourage the farmers by giving them an added incentive to come on board with this social experiment. Secondly, A Global Call to Youth, in which we are involving local high schools to participate in a massive tree planting mission. We know that we can't solve this huge climate problem just by our effort. What I am counting on is to establish a demonstration effect which will inspire youth all across the globe to join us in the fight against climate change and global poverty in their own way.
My Role as an Educator
As educators, Apoorva and I have reached out to Indian rural population and the school children .We have visited several schools and spoke about what they can do about climate change and how they can help . By our concrete actions we have demonstrated that action is within the means of all of us. However, it is not that we gave series of lectures and presentations about the dangers of global warming. We knew that if we approached the small farmers, telling them that if they participate in our project they will help save the environment, they would not be that interested. These people cannot afford to worry about results of their actions on the environment, however lofty the goals might be. They are rightly more concerned about where they will get their next meal, or how they can save some money to buy a cow or medicine when they get ill. However, if we were to approach them with a project that would benefit them economically, with an added environmental benefit, then we would have a much greater chance of having them work with us. Our method worked! By educating the farmers about the benefits of the project, we got them on board. My advice to educators is that, we need to be very articulate and chose carefully the method of instruction that best suits the learning curve. Here in the USA, Apoorva, Callie and I have reached out as a team to scores of high and middle school students, administrators, teachers, environmental enthusiasts like us in both for-profit and nonprofit organization, elected members of city council etc to bring awareness of the global significance of the project. We have written articles in news paper, and magazine. We have given interviews to media such as news papers and TV networks.
Carbon dioxide emissions are local but their effects are global. Under my leadership, Project Jatropha is empowering the poorest of the poor farmers to join the fight against climate change. With a simple technology and an economic incentive, the farmers have become part of the solution to climate change. A developed nation such as ours will stand to benefit greatly by being an enabler of such endeavors even if it means the people it may help are nine thousand miles and twelve time zones away. It will demonstrate that the Unites States of America is able to walk the walk and talk the talk. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “We need to become the change we wish to see in the world.” Project Jatropha has started on a small scale, but I hope it is the beginning of a mass movement where small farmers from all across the globe collaborate with environmentally conscious youth, to save the planet.
Adarsha Shivakumar serves as the Head of Youth Advisory Board at Alliance for Climate Eduation.
He also served as Cochair with Apoorva Rangan in Ashoka Youth Venture's Program Development Board during 2010-11
He attends Stanford University.