A&S grad Kehkashan Basu looks back on a humanitarian journey that started when she was just a child

June 24, 2022 by Susannah Cao - A&S News

Troubled by the grave state of the environment, Kehkashan Basu began her humanitarian journey at the age of seven — yes, seven! — with the hope of creating a better, greener, and more equitable future. She founded Green Hope Foundation, a United Nations Economic and Social Council-accredited not-for-profit with operations in 26 countries and outreach of 300,000 people, at 12 years old. In 2021, she received Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal for her work.

Through Green Hope Foundation, she uses education for sustainable development to empower youth and adults toward a sustainable future. Using art, music, dance, drama, sport, eco-fashion, writing and STEM education in interactive workshops and conferences, Green Hope Foundation supports the most marginalized populations.

A member of New College, she graduates with an honours bachelor of arts with an environmental studies major with double minors in women and gender studies, and physical and environmental geography.

Headshot of Kehkashan Basu.
Kehkashan Basu.

What was your inspiration behind the Green Hope Foundation?

I began my green journey after I saw an image of a dead bird with its belly full of plastic at the age of seven, which was deeply disturbing for me. Around the same time, I attended a lecture by environmentalist Robert Swan, whose words “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it,” really resonated with me. I planted my first tree on my eighth birthday, which is also World Environment Day, June 5.

I worked on the ground for many years and at the age of 11, I was invited to speak at my first UN conference. At the age of 12, I was invited to speak at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, where, as one of the youngest delegates, I realized the sustainable development process was not inclusive of young people, women, and those from vulnerable communities. Thus, on my return home, I founded Green Hope Foundation to provide a platform for learning that turns into ground-level action.

Now that you’ve graduated, what do you hope to accomplish through your work?

I hope to continue turning my education into ground-level actions. We are amid multiple crises and now, more than ever before, we need to step up and do our bit to build a better future. That is exactly what I hope to accomplish with Green Hope Foundation, acting as a catalyst for change to empower communities that need us the most and encourage them to become leaders in their zones of influence.

And congratulations on being recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women as a 2020 RBC Future Launch Future Leaders Award recipient. What advice would you give to incoming students with similar aspirations?

My advice to incoming students is to not be afraid to step out of their comfort zone. For women and girls, it will not be a bed of roses. At every step, people will try to stop us, but it’s up to us to keep that fight going. I have faced so many challenges as a young woman leader, but I have not stopped. I would also say that this fight for gender equality is not just for women and girls — people of all genders have a very important role to play as our allies. The road to this emancipation must be built on the pillars of sustainability. Be fearless and always dare to dream!

As you set off into the world, what is a favourite memory from your time at U of T that you will take with you?

My favourite memory at U of T was when our Green Hope Foundation club hosted its first sustainable development goals conference at U of T in 2018. It was wonderful to see students, staff, and faculty from multiple disciplines at U of T come together to discuss how interconnected the sustainable development goals are and how every single person, community and field of study can contribute to the localization of the goals and recognize their myriad intersections.

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