Winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize, Kehkashan Basu is an iconic global influencer, environmentalist, champion of women and children’s rights, TEDx speaker, Climate Reality Mentor, author, musician, peace and sustainability campaigner. Kehkashan is the Founder-President of global social innovation enterprise Green Hope Foundation, that works at a grassroots level in 25 countries, empowering young people, especially those from vulnerable communities, in the sustainable development process. She continues to work tirelessly to amplify the voices of young people, women and girls, in decision-making processes. She has spoken at over 200 United Nations and other global fora across 25 countries. She is the youngest Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Council Lead of the Toronto-St. Paul’s Constituency Youth Council, Canada. Her numerous accolades include: Winner of the World Literacy Award for for Significant Contribution to Literacy by a Young Person, Winner of Canada’s Global Energy Show Emerging Leader Award, a member of the World Humanitarian Forum Youth Council, Winner of the Pax Christi Toronto Teacher of Peace Award and a Co-Leader of the UN Women Generation Equality Forum Action Coalition on Feminist Action for Climate Justice. She has also been listed in “Forbes 30 Under 30” and the first-ever Winner of the Voices Youth Gorbachev-Schultz Legacy Award for her work on nuclear disarmament. Kehkashan is a United Nations Human Rights Champion, a National Geographic Young Explorer, a UN Habitat Young City Champion, the Regional Organizing Partner for North America for the NGO Major Group and one of Canada’s “Top25 Women of Influence”.
Kehkashan Basu chats with ANOKHI LIFE’s Editor-In-Chief Hina P. Ansari
Hina P. Ansari: Welcome to The ANOKHI Uncensored Show. I’m your host Hina and I’m thrilled to have Kehkashan Basu of the Green Hope Foundation as my special guest. Thank you for agreeing to be a part of The ANOKHI Advocate list.
Kehkashan Basu Thank you very much and thank you for having me.
HPA: Of course! And as you know, this is to commemorate our 19th anniversary of ANOKHI, so I’m really thrilled that you’re here to share this with us. Let’s get started with our questions. Tell me, what does advocacy mean to you?
KB: For me, advocacy is all about action and kind of getting in touch with your inner core that in your conscience, that kind of inspires you and allows you to, go out there and make a difference. So for me, advocacy is all about that and turning that that inner voice into action, meaningful action.
HPA: Why is advocacy important to you?
KB: Well, I think that it’s moral, responsible, empathetic global citizens. Advocacy is just not something that should come naturally, and for me, it’s something I have seen growing up in my parents and my grandparents, where it’s just really important for us to give back to the planet and give back to the community with everything that we do. Advocacy in general, is just important for everyone because it shows that we are empathetic, responsible global citizens.
HPA: And what is your personal advocate philosophy?
KB: Well, I think that if you are passionate, empathetic, honest, hardworking and optimistic, I think those five qualities have worked very well in my favor and for my advocacy all throughout. So I guess I’d say that’s my advocate philosophy.
HPA: And how does what you believe in translate over into Green Hope Foundation?
KB: Well, at Green Hope Foundation. We are all about using empathy as that tool to inspire other children, other young people, other women, other people around the world to really take actions in their own zones of influence. And you know, we’re all about just that hard work, honest hard work on the ground, and you’re really passionate people, and we have a very optimistic view towards addressing our world’s greatest challenges. So, yeah, for us, it is everything that we do. It’s those five qualities that I mentioned. We work to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges and some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. So for us, having that sense of hope is really, really important to keep going. And that is what we do every day, whether that is providing clean water to communities or electricity to communities or regenerating mangrove ecosystems. We work hard and we have hope for a better future.
HPA: Now, how did the addressing the world’s challenges, as you’ve noted you’re working towards as your organization states, “creating a just equitable, peaceful ending nuclear weapons-free world” becomes so important to you.
KB: Well, I started out my journey when I saw the image of a dead bird whose belly was full of plastic. I was seven then. And as I mentioned earlier that I grew up seeing my parents and grandparents give back to the community and the planet. [But] it was the image of the dead bird that was really a wake-up call for me that this wasn’t normal for everyone else. And then when I heard Robert Swan‘s lecture and he said the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it, that inspired me to plant my first tree on my eighth birthday, and that’s World Environment Day.
So I thought I was preordained to become an eco-warrior. And I continued working on the ground, and then Green Hope foundation came about because I realized after attending the largest sustainable development conference of the time, at 12, where I was also the youngest, I realized there is a severe lack of inclusivity of children in the sustainable development process. And then slowly and steadily, while I had been working on the ground for the five years before I started Green Hope Foundation, I got to know about all of the world’s greatest challenges and how unequal our world really was and how horribly we were treating each other as well as our planet. And that included weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons and learning more about gender inequalities that are still present around the world.
And then when I saw that severe amount of lack of inclusivity of children in the sustainable development process, I realized that I had the option of using my expertise on the ground to inspire other children like me at the time to bring about change in their own zones of influence. And then slowly and steadily we expanded to really cover all topics of sustainability in sustainable development, ranigng from health to nuclear weapons to peace and justice to environment conservationism. And then when I saw that severe amount of lack of inclusivity of children in sustainable development, ranging from health to nuclear weapons to peace and justice to environmental conservation.
HPA: That’s amazing. Wow, now can you share with me and our audience why it’s so important for people to incorporate a sense of advocacy into their lives? It could be personal or professional, spiritual, whatever you feel.
KB: Yeah, I think as I mentioned before, just as global responsible global citizens, I think it’s that moral imperative that we all have to incorporate advocacy into our daily lives. And it’s kind of just asking yourself, you know, like, what have I done to help my community help my planet? And then your conscience will give you that answer. I think that just being on this planet, that’s our responsibility to give back to the planet and give back to the community. And you know, that can stem, as you said, from any place. I mean, for me, it stems from every aspect of my life, whether it’s spiritual or personal or professional. But yeah, it really depends on every person where they find that in their face or whether they’ve seen that in their line of work and want to do something to make the situation better. It really differs for people, but at the end of the day, that empathy really should be that common thing that really brings us all together and allows us to give back to our planet and community.
When I saw that severe amount of lack of inclusivity of children in the sustainable development process, I realized that I had the option of using my expertise on the ground to inspire other children like me at the time, to bring about change in their own zones of influence.
HPA: Now let’s talk about how important advocacy has been in the last year. What have you seen that has stood out in how our world is changing to meet people where they’re at rather than conditioning to fitting into preconceived ideologies?
KB: You know, of course, we’ve had the pandemic in the past year and a half, and I think that is really exposed our inequalities and exacerbated inequalities as well, specifically in our world’s most vulnerable countries and communities. I think that the pandemic has brought forward a new spirit of multilateralism where it’s all about creating a new normal. And they always say, you know, building forward is equivalence of building back better because we need to create that new normal. And I think that a lot of countries have are working to progress towards that new normal, which I think is a really positive sign. And that bodes well for action and advocacy, for solving our other great challenges as well, because it shows us that, yes, we’ve got COVID and COVID has shown us what the mistakes of the past were, and now it’s time for us to really learn from that and then rebuild a better way into the future.
And I think that, you know, obviously there is a lot more that needs to be done, but there has been a lot of positive collaboration among nations among people and just, addressing challenges on the ground. And at Green Hope Foundation that is what we’ve tried to do in terms of ensuring that we are providing relief to communities that are impacted by COVID, by climate change, by biodiversity loss, by inequalities. All of that [is] just creating a really unstable environment. But for us, it was our duty to just step up in this time of need and provide relief to those communities. And then as I was saying earlier, whether that was providing clean water or providing electricity or continuing to provide literacy, that is something that we realized that with the digital divide and with everything else going on with COVID and all of that women and girls were affected severely by this and continue to provide education through our solar powered mobile libraries. So, yeah, I think a lot of people did step up, and I think that I hope really that translates into action for other solving or other world challenges, too.
HPA: along with advocacy comes Slacktivism. Slacktivism being the notion that by creating or tweeting a hashtag is also effective, giving the person the idea that they’re contributing to the cause by sharing a hashtag. In your view, what are the pros and cons of Slacktivism?
KB: I think that in the pro side, I think social media is a wonderful way of reaching out to people, and now that most of our world is connected in that way, I think it does have that positive notion that, OK, you can spread the message, but I definitely think that’s not enough. You need ground level action. As someone who works on the ground I definitely see the need for that. And I think there are a lot of young people who think that being on social media, just tweeting it out with that hashtag is enough. And I think that’s really not enough because just speaking as a young person, we have a responsibility as well to turn that act was online to actions on the ground, and that really goes for everyone as well. So yes, it’s a great way to spread the message, but you need actions on the ground. You can’t substitute on the ground activism with Slacktivism. And I also mentioned earlier we had the digital divide, and I think COVID has just amplified that. There are a lot of people around the world who still don’t have access to technology. So, you know, you wouldn’t be able to reach out to them with just a hashtag. And that’s where more action needs to come in. And I think you really need to come at it from all angles or actions on the ground and spreading the message through social media to us having dialogs. But yeah, your actions on the ground, that’s the most important thing, the implementation of the action.
HPA: Now what challenges have you had to overcome when it comes to voicing your support for a cause that you believe in?
KB: You know, I faced a lot of challenges as especially as a young girl entering the field of space. I’ve been a victim of cyber bullying, a face stalking, death threats, threats of physical abuse. And you know, for me, it was something that I realized very early on that if you’re doing good work, there are always going to be naysayers. And I just have to choose between my fear of these horrible people and my passion for my work and my passion and love for my work always wins. So, yeah, for me, it was — and we still face that — I think it’s the work for me. That’s why [at] Green Hope Foundation, we’re so dedicated to creating safe spaces for everyone, no matter who they are, and just allowing them to follow their dream with just having the freedom to follow their dream.
HPA: Have you had resistance from the South Asian community, when it comes to advocating your class?
KB: Well, to answer your question, I think I’ll go at it more from the perspective of our work on the ground in South Asia. And I think that we’ve worked extensively in South Asia, and I think that in some of the communities that are more conservative, yes, I think when we are working towards empowerment of women and girls or addressing some of the most pressing challenges on the ground, there we’ve had challenges and we always say that, you know, when we are working with more conservative communities and this is not just limited to South Asia, but really all around the world, it requires patience and understanding that it’s a gradual process. You can’t create change just like that. You need that time and the education of everyone. So for us yes, we faced those challenges, but we work at it every single day. And you know, it’s just about keeping at it, not giving up and seeing the gradual change over the years, which I think is a real positive.
HPA: Great. And finally, with all that you’ve seen and experienced, what advice would you give to everyone watching, listening and reading this who want to be more proactive in a cause that they believe in to actually get up and action it?
KB: Well, I think that my advice is every single person has a changemaker within them. So, you know, just tap into that potential and I step out of your comfort zone and act. And most importantly, I’d say, follow your own path of success. I think we were talking earlier about Slacktivism and the online presence. Follow your own dreams, follow your own path of success and redefine what success means to you. And I think that is the most effective way for you to become a change maker in your own right and take actions in your own zone of influence.
You know, I faced a lot of challenges as especially as a young girl entering the field. I’ve been a victim of cyber bullying, faced stalking, death threats, threats of physical abuse. And you know, for me, it was something that I realized very early on that if you’re doing good work, there are always going to be naysayers. And I just have to choose between my fear of these horrible people and my passion for my work and my passion and love for my work always wins. So, yeah, for me, it was — and we still face that — I think it’s the work for me.
Every single person has a changemaker within them.
HPA: I love that redefine what success means to you that is so important. Thank you for sharing your perspective with our global audience, and congratulations again for being part of The ANOKHI Advocate List.
KB: Thank you so much.