According to a recent survey, more than 800 million Indians are believed to be living in abject poverty. Feeding on hand to mouth, carrying out odd jobs to survive, most of these people do not have shelter or access to basic amenities. Non-governmental organisations like Small Wish International have become the last line of hope for these vulnerable and poverty-stricken citizens.
Sheikh Arif Ahmed is a passionate philanthropist and strategist whose works have continued to traverse the borders and shores of India with hope and succour. He is committed to using his non-profit to discover more innovative and efficient methods to alleviate poverty, preserve the environment through sustainable living, and empower women. With its headquarters in Guwahati, 29-year-old Ahmed hopes to not only affect people in his local area but all over India.
These works, surprisingly, are geared towards the most basic things. From poverty alleviation and women empowerment programs for the most impoverished indigenes of the Indian society to finding an end to malnutrition among children and providing access to basic amenities they never had, such as food, water, sanitisation against infections, and basic medical care.
Additionally, he is also concerned for the environment and has begun an initiative with the sole aim of tackling excessive carbon emissions. Ahmed began his journey of reduction of India’s carbon footprint when he came across an article that opened his eyes to the dangers of excessive carbon emissions. “I figured out that all the factors responsible for high carbon emissions, water pollution, excessive waste generation and so on, are a result of lack of conscious consumerism; a consumer’s inability to make conscious decisions and understand the environmental impact of such decisions.”
He continues, “I did an extensive investigative study for around two years to be sure before I even come to any conclusion. from scientific journals to documentaries, news debates and policies, I covered everything and then I was able to fill in the gaps and realised that profit-making companies have to enslave consumer behaviours, and for a long time companies have fed us different kinds of false information and started many trends to bring about expected behaviour change in consumers which have always worked their way as people grew dependent on their products and earned them profits in billions.
“In the last decade, especially, consumers got used to a certain lifestyle trend, people want to live more lavishly now and consume and waste food now more than ever. The impact of all these can be seen in the rapid exploitation of natural resources, deforestation, etc.”
Ever since, his passion to help in the promotion of a safe and eco-friendly world has only increased. He plans to do this by several different methods, which he explains. “I found out that it is really complex to address the underlying problems and tackle the actual challenge of sustainable environmental conservation. In a third world country like India where more than half of the population still live in poverty, women are deprived of rights and the youth are under pressure of unemployment,” he says.
For Ahmed, it is way more than a fight. It is a journey he started many years ago, even as a child. He recalls with cheerfulness how, along with his father and a local environmental group, advocated for the preservation of the Wetlands in his childhood neighbourhood and the endangered great adjutant stock for more than five years. He watched hopelessly how a chain of events led to the disappearance of what used to be a habitat for this bird species.
“The government let some of their employees settle their quarters in the southern part of the wetland, and this then started a chain of events. Soon after the settlement, people in the northern part and the western part started constructing houses and gave a boundary. Now the wetland has become isolated. It is slowly losing its prominence. There once was a market complex on the eastern side of the wetland, the street vendors from the market complex started disposing off their garbage in the wetland, soon the water quality of the wetland degraded. Gradually, the species population of the greater adjutant stork near my home declined, and it is sad to see that the birds are gone now like they were never there,” he says.
This is why his new approach as an adult is different. People need to understand what they’re doing and how it affects life in general. “There are many underlying problems that are left unattended. I realiSed we will need more than just awareness drives, talks, lectures, tree plantation drives and climate strikes to address the environment conservation and climate change issues in India…I wanted to find a peaceful and strategic solution where people get the upper hand to bring about a better future of the planet throughout the year.”
Speaking on some steps he has taken to achieve his goals, he says his mission is to “lower India’s carbon footprint”.
Ahmed started the CCEP Initiative (conscious consumerism for environmental protection) as an alternative solution that will enable 1 billion Indian consumers to make conscious decisions towards reducing their carbon footprint and live a low-carbon lifestyle by becoming eco-friendly consumers. The CCEP Initiative is an encapsulation of five other initiatives which fulfil the journey of a regular consumer to turn into an eco-friendly consumer in seven phases.
“About 11,000 people have joined the CCEP Initiative and other initiatives under the parent initiative, such as the Binman Initiative, Mottainai Initiative, Green Living Initiative, and 90 Miles Challenge. They have together reduced CO2 emissions by 8.6 tons since they began,” he adds.
Being a third-world country, India faces a lot of challenges that have successfully hindered their sustainable lifestyle and increased its dependence on natural resources. Some of these challenges include; poverty and illiteracy and have been Ahmed’s greatest roadblock in achieving his goal. However, Ahmed has successfully initiated a five-year plan that will not only tackle these problems but also improve the sustainability lifestyle of the Indian people.
Speaking on the details of his five-year plan, Ahmed says, “In India, by 2025 we are targeting to make at least 1 million regular consumers into eco-friendly consumers and make the CCEP Initiative the most preferred alternative solution towards reducing carbon emissions and tackling environmental conservation challenges.
“We are also planning to skip traditional awareness campaigns wherever possible by making informative videos, spreading awareness about low carbon lifestyle to reach out to more people faster. We shall also translate the informative videos into seven different regional languages or then English and Hindi to reach out to a minimum of 100 million people nationwide and guide them to adapt to the low carbon lifestyle model,” he says with a rather compassionate smile.
As for his Binman Initiative, he plans to “recycle at least 25 tons of trash and reduce almost 20 tons of CO2 emissions in the next five years”. The Mottainai initiative, on the other hand, is on a mission to recycle at least 1000 kgs of inedible waste into consumer skincare products. “Under our Green Living initiative, we hope to reduce at least 10 tons of CO2 emissions from food carbon footprint by enabling more consumers to set up their kitchen garden and grow most of the vegetables they consume. And we are planning to campaign the 90 miles challenge to reach a global trend within the next five years.”
Part of his five-year agenda includes aiding the corporate sector to also reduce their carbon emissions, through several means like planting trees. This will help in the promotion of the green cover in areas that have been most affected by a high level of industrial carbon emission. Farmers are also not left out, the planting of trees, especially ones of different species can also support their source of livelihood.
Additionally, Ahmed breaks down the plans for the several initiatives he runs. He says he also plans to collaborate with academic institutions to mandate conscious consumption and low carbon lifestyle awareness workshops once every month. “We will be starting more programmes at the grassroots level to reconcile and ameliorate the relationship between children and nature so that they grow up as an environmentally conscious citizen of the country. We will also help children recognise the indispensable role of nature in supporting our health and well-being.”
“Other than finding solutions to environmental conservation challenges and fighting climate change we are actively involved in designing new methodologies and initiatives to alleviate poverty & empower women. Our women empowerment & poverty alleviation initiatives have demonstrated financial feasibility and potential for global impact. Under the Eat for a Cause Initiative, we are planning to up scale our operations and carry out around 300 Eat for a Cause Drives in multiple cities and generate targeted revenue of around Rs 20 lakh to help women in marginalised families,” he adds.
The spate of poverty in India affects everyone, from the oldest to the youngest child. As livelihoods are affected, the little ones are denied access to basic things necessary for their all-round growth. Through the Little Gifts Initiative, Ahmed and his team are targeting at least 1 million toys in the next five years, restore them as good as new, and distribute them to at least 100,000 underprivileged children living in poverty.
The Healthy Minds Initiative is another programme in the mix. It’s another five-year plan to improve the lives of at least 10,000 children in the next five years. Close to this is the Good Samaritan Initiative, where they plan to document most of the problems faced by families and children living in poverty and bring them to global attention through campaigns.
Promoting sustainable environments should be the responsibility of everyone in the society. With non-profits like the Small Wish International leading the charge, the dream of environmental conservation reaching every part of India is on course to become not just a reality, but a way of life.