By Sandeep Anirudhan:
After several years of adventures as a serial entrepreneur and management professional, I was forced to realize that ‘nothing is permanent’ when my dad breathed his last, in front of my eyes. This experience spurred a period of introspection. Back when I was in college – I had already known what was valuable to me – organic farming and renewable energy, butI kept postponing those for after I had made enough money.
While re-examining my priorities I realised that ‘money’ or what we make of it, is at the core of the unsustainable path our civilization is on. Businesses overproduce to sell more, to earn more profits, and in the process, they over-exploit every resource, advertise to create artificial wants, violate ethics and values, and destroy the environment. The earth belongs to everyone. However, organizations, people and governments are exploiting them. Is there a different choice for humanity or us as an individual?
I decided to not live for money anymore and chase my dreams instead and have been bankrupt ever since! It has been four years since I earned, but never have I felt more accomplished, nor happier. I started doing things that give me joy, that are truly valuable to me. I decided to trust the Universe – to trust that it has my back!
While looking to do something in sustainable farming I came across a year-long program on sustainability, offered by Bhoomi College. The ‘Sustainable Food and Farming’ module called out to me. I enrolled for that course and began a new journey. The structure of the course was workshop-led, with great people from different backgrounds, doing disruptive things. Their only job, or so it seemed, was to help us question everything we had learned as fact, until that point.
The course was less about food and farming, and more about how we see things, what the reality is, how these are surprisingly different, and recognizing the disconnect that seems to have affected us, in all areas of our life – from the food and farming systems, to our lives as social beings, the economic system, and it’s effect on manufacturing, markets, and public health. Everything that seemed to drive man’s dominance on earth was so much at odds with the natural laws of life. During this program, I learned to look under the skin, and recognize the ‘disconnects’ that drive our unsustainable lifestyle, and then connect the dots, to see how it could be sustainable again.
The biggest realization from my journey at Bhoomi was that there was no isolated solution for any of the problems we face, because ‘everything is connected’. A food problem is not just about food, it is about business, livelihoods, industry, education, awareness, habits, convenience, money, profit, greed, ethics, ignorance – about so many different things. It became clearer that if we are to seek a solution to any of the challenges we face today as a civilization, as a species, as a planet, we cannot continue to adopt the ‘reductionist’ approach that has led us here, we need to turn ‘holistic’ again. This search for the ‘unity’ of things, I hadn’t realized, was a sign of things to come.
Bhoomi College’s great network of people was already diving deep into all things ecological and helped me get deeper into the field, learn more and be exposed to activities that were happening both in and out of public awareness.
After the course, I had an acute sense of discomfort because, society as a whole had outsourced its responsibility for ensuring sustainability of the world, to governments, institutions, and businesses. But what about our role as individuals (not just in influencing policy), but in making our choices every day? We complain about corporations, and government apathy when we ourselves consume goods or services, that are produced unsustainably.
It got me thinking: ‘What if, every single one of us, becomes aware of the overall impact, that every single choice we make, has on the planet, due to the money we put on that particular type of business? Then, wouldn’t we be powerful to stop that from happening, by simply changing every choice?’
How are we to take on such a huge challenge of reviving human awareness? This sparked an idea: how about setting up a community for sustainability, where people can seek awareness freely? Where questions could be asked and answers found freely? Thus Aikyam, meaning – oneness, unity, harmony (in Sanskrit) was born. We toyed with organizing an awareness event, without spending any money. We spoke to people, and support came from unexpected places. We found a venue and speakers, and we were on! This culture that we developed early on, of not raising money, and not spending money, and purely depending on gift culture and voluntary support, set the tone for interdependence and community, from the outset.
On the 12th of March of 2016, we held our first event christened ‘Earth Friendly Choices’. We invited speakers on different areas of sustainability. It was popular since it addressed diverse subjects such as food, handloom and gardening. This set the mould for Earth Friendly Choices events of the future; and we have always had diverse topics at every event, to drive home the message firmly, that sustainability is ‘about everything’.
What followed were many such talks and discussions, a few outbound immersion sessions and workshops. We organized ourselves as a Facebook community and a discussion group. In a year, it has grown to over 1,500 seekers, and growing. It inspired many more dreams. To achieve those dreams, we called for volunteers, and 300 enthusiastic volunteers registered. We held our first volunteer meeting a month ago, and organized ourselves into teams to take on various efforts.
We celebrated our first anniversary this year in March with an ode to women in sustainability. Seventeen amazing women, who worked towards preserving the earth, building more sensitive neighborhoods and communities, and brought about change – graced and brightened the occasion, sharing with us, their remarkable life journeys, inspirations, insights and dreams. The audience was enthralled and inspired. These women reinforced our faith in the journey we had undertaken, egging us on, telling us that a sustainable world is possible; we are not to rest till that dream is realized.
The quest continues…
The author is Founder, Aikyam Community for Sustainable Living.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Aikyam Community for Sustainable Living, the founder travels back in time, to recollect the journey that led to a different approach to building ‘Sustainability Awareness’. The Community is active on the following link.