Kehkashan Basu - Green Hope Foundation
Winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize, 18 year old Kehkashan Basu, has been impacting the global fraternity since she was 8 years old with her work on peace, children’s rights, education for sustainable development, gender equality and climate justice. Born on 5th June, which is also World Environment Day, she feels that it was pre-ordained that she should grow up to be an eco- warrior. In 2013, at the age of 12, she was elected for a 2 year term as UNEP’s (United Nations Environment Programme) Global Coordinator for Children & Youth and a member of its Major Groups Facilitating Committee and she is the youngest person and the first minor, ever, to be elected into this position in the history of UNEP. A passionate advocate of children’s rights, Kehkashan is a United Nations Human Rights Champion and lends her support to the UN’s StandUp campaign. The UK Youth Climate Coalition named her as one the 8 global Climate Heroines of 2014 and in June 2017, rock band U2 featured her as one of powerful women changing the world at their Toronto concert.
Kehkashan is the founder of a youth organization, Green Hope Foundation, which seeks to educate and empower children and youth globally and engage them in the SDG2030 process through ground level community centric projects on climate justice, stopping land degradation, promoting sustainable consumption, biodiversity conservation and gender equality, promoting renewable energy and social justice. Green Hope now has over 1000 members across Canada, USA, the Middle East, Suriname, India and Nepal and has engaged thousands of young people and adults through their workshops and conferences in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. In her role as the voice of children and youth, she has spoken at over 75 United Nations and other international summits, travelling to over 20 Countries.
Her internationally acclaimed work on sustainability has resulted in her appointment as the Youth Ambassador of World Future Council, Honorary Advisor for the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development – NY, Global Advisory Council member of Young Men 4 Gender Equality -USA , a Climate Reality Leader , member of KidsRights Youngsters and Youth Advisory Council of Earth Echo International.
She is a poet and prolific writer and her poem won the Taaleem Poetry Award at the 2012 Emirates International Festival of Literature. Her maiden book on sustainability, “Tree of Hope”, was launched at the 2015 United Nations Childrens’ Summit in New York and is a part of several school libraries.
For her advocacy at a global level, Kehkashan has received international awards from UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) in 2012, the 2012 Korea Green Foundation award, the 2013 International Young Eco-Hero award from Action for Nature, USA, the 2014 Kids are Heroes USA award , 2014 GESS award as Ambassador for the Environment , the 2014 Solar Pioneer Award , the 2014 Non-Resident Indian of the Year award , the 2015 & 2018 International Diana Award. She has been conferred the prestigious 2017 Energy Globe Award, the Turner Social Change Prize and was chosen as one of the five Caribbean & the Americas Region Winners for the Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work 2018.
Kehkashan was chosen as NAAEE’s 30 under 30 for 2018 ( The North American Association of Environmental Education in partnership with the Global Environmental Education Partnership and the U.S. Forest Service) and is the youngest recipient of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence for 2018. She has been conferred the 2019 Innovator of the Year award at the HundrED Innovation Summit in Helsinki.
In Kehkashan’s words:
“I am growing up in a world where hyper-loops and space tourism make headlines on the same day when girls get violated and abused in their hundreds in another part of the world. The gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps increasing by the day and it is time that we , the youth , rose to the challenge and addressed this inequality. With this belief as my driving force, I have been actively engaging and empowering young people, especially girls for the last 10 years in our pursuit of a sustainable , gender equal world.”
Tell us about your vision and mission
My mission is to ensure that every child has the right to education , every person on this planet should have a life of dignity and future generations are able to inherit a clean, green and sustainable planet from us in the same manner that we inherited from our forefathers . Our planet is at the edge of a precipice. Ice caps are melting , sea levels are rising , forests are turning to deserts and yet our energy hungry economies continue to add millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. War and strife are displacing millions from their homes turning them into refugees. Despite economic progress , children , especially girls continue to suffer from violence and indignity. My vision is change this and ensure that a balance is achieved between society , environment and economic progress . I want every child to be empowered and be able to define his or her destiny.
How did it all begin for you
When I was very young I was saw the photo of a bird which had died after eating plastic. I was deeply moved by this and spoke to my parents about it. It was then that they told me that my birthday was coincidentally celebrated as World Environment Day globally and maybe there was some connection. This made me realize that it was important to take actions on environmental conservation.
Tell us about Green Hope and how it came about
When I was 12, I was invited to the 2012 Earth Summit , also known as Rio+20 , Brazil. There were over 50,000 delegates at this summit – heads of state , policy makers , civil society leaders – but only a handful of children , with me as a 12 year old being one of the youngest. It was our future that was being discussed and debated at this summit by adults many of whom would not be around to live through it. I thought this was extremely unfair and on my return from Rio+20 , established Green Hope to provide a platform for children and youth to learn about sustainability and then take local and global actions to address the issues. What began as a 12 year olds dream with a few friends , is now a global social innovation movement with 1000+ youth members with chapters and partnerships in 12 countries from Suriname , Canada , USA , the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Our mission is to use Education for Sustainable Development as a transformative tool to empower children, especially those who are marginalised – refugees, orphans , the homeless. None of these children go to school and to teach them about a difficult topic like environmental sustainability , I use songs , drama , music , art, dance and sport . These innovative and creative communication tools enables me to transcend language barriers and also makes it very easy for the children to understand. Through these special workshops , which we call ” Environment Academies” we have educated over 15000 children in 20+ countries . These include several hundred Syrian and Rohingya refugee children, orphans and HIV+ children in Nepal , homeless and destitute children across cities and villages in India and Amazon indigenous tribal children.
What advice do you have for other young campaigners
I firmly believe that every child has the potential to be a change-maker. We only need an opportunity which in most cases is provided by education. My advice to other young campaigners would be to follow their passion and not get deterred by nay-sayers.
Your favourite quote
I take inspiration from a Pearl S Buck quote ” The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.”