It is extremely heart-warming to see youngsters in their late teens or early twenties go in for courses and careers in nature conservation, farming, eco-activism, social entrepreneurship and sustainable living in general. Letting their hearts and conscience lead them rather than follow conventional thinking. But there is another band of eco-heroes too who are gradually making their presence felt – the second-careerists.
Nishant Gupta, after seven years of corporate jobs in finance, felt restless and unfulfilled. Unable to enjoy his work, he took the plunge by quitting a high paying job and gave wings to his wish of doing something that was in harmony with Mother Earth. Nishant now makes and markets chemical-free personal care products under the name Bliss Botanicals and is also involved in organic farming.
Another Green ‘second careerist’, Siddharth Shankaran, has started his own solar energy company. He too plans to get into organic farming and marketing of farm produce. The number of people opting out of the rat race to find meaningful work seems to be gradually increasing.
Many are discovering that sustainable and meaningful living can never be left in the hands of the government or big businesses. It is the basics of roti, kapda, makaan, gaadi and waste mismanagement that are responsible for over 60% of carbon emissions. The new green heroes realise that the way to a sustainable future lies not in high-tech solutions like AI, but in people taking responsibility for co-creating local communities and small enterprises which are ecologically wise and economically ethical.
Many ex-IT professionals with financial security seem to be making such life changing decisions to take up less lucrative work. Often while one spouse maintains a regular job, the other goes in for a green career.
However, there are other reasons why people are choosing green careers. We are increasingly becoming aware of the disasters brought in by modern ‘development’, be it climate change or food and health related crises, the pollution of air and degradation of farmlands or the impending water shortage in most major cities in the world.
We humans, especially in cities are helplessly addicted to foods, vehicles, conveniences, media and a high carbon urban life in general; and the corporate-politician nexus continues to merrily and mindlessly exploit the world. Gridlocked between these two realities, we may despair and worry about human inability to change course and live sustainably on Earth. But slowly and surely, there are more and more people choosing careers based on how they can create a better world and for their own fulfilment.
To respond to the needs of such people, Bhoomi College, as well as other educational initiatives around the country and the world have emerged, offering learning programs, incubation centres and experimental spaces which are semi structured, flexible and offer opportunities to learn in a community setting.
Many who went the mainstream way thinking TINA –There Is No Alternative, are soul searching and rethinking what life should be all about. At least a few reasons lead them to transform their lives – the call of sustainable living, the need for personal wellbeing, concerns about healthy food and the future of their children.
The call of Sustainable Living
While most of the world is unable to move away from business as usual, a few are unable to refuse the call to live sustainably. Avani Gupta, an MBA who once worked for engineering and telecom companies, quit her job after the birth of her first daughter. She later got involved marketing of organic garden products and compost bins for a couple of green enterprises. While it was tough going in the beginning, and her education and family had prepared her only for a ‘standard job’, she says, “I am happy now as I am working on my terms and feel good about doing work that is ethical”.
The need for personal wellbeing
There are many studies done on the way the mechanical, over structured work in large organisations and a lack of meaningful purpose in life that leads to poor mental health, and even violence and chronic diseases in people. Sidhanth Narula had graduated with an MBA from a prestigious institution and had taken up a job in Mumbai. Finding the work and the stresses of a big city depressing, he enrolled for a course on sustainable living at Bhoomi College and found that working close to Nature, be it in a farm or in the wilderness, gave him a great sense of wellbeing. He now works at the Corbett National Park and feels fortunate to have found what gives him peace and happiness.
Concerns about healthy foods
Fortunately, the buzz around the chemical doused vegetables, pesticides and acidifying foods causing cancer is gradually increasing, mostly through social media. Over 10,000 chemicals, used by the food industry to sell addictive tasty foods are playing havoc with the health of adults and children. Schools and colleges are still wearing blinkers with no mention of junk food and disease-causing aspects of sugar, pesticides, polished cereals, certain meats in their curricula.
Many people are proud to be ‘foodies’, with a ‘taste is king’, ‘who cares about health’ attitude. Interestingly, Santhilakshmy Nam, who was a teacher and administrator for 15 years at Prakriya Green Wisdom School, was one such foodie who discovered that natural organic foods could be both delicious and health giving. She left her NGO job and created an unusual social enterprise, Sankalpa Flavours: offering workshops and training in schools and communities on cooking organic, healthy and tasty foods.
Education for Sustainability
While most schools offer a dry, soul destroying, exam-oriented curriculum and teaching processes, many brave souls are convinced that there can still be space to help children become thinkers and doers. They believe that for any major change we must start with the very young. This leads them to take up teaching, particularly in the alternative schools around the country which usually have a stronger emphasis on ecology, land care and sustainable living.
A passion for farming
“Running a farm, growing mangoes and vegetables is something I am passionate about. It has been my weekend hobby for long, but I could say that it is as good as a very satisfying second career for me”, says Girish Krishnamurthy, who has been working at Hewlett-Packard for no less than 25 years. His farm is in Denkanikottai, near Bangalore.
Incidentally, many Bangaloreans have taken up farming on the outskirts of the city and many have formed marketing systems to supply highly perishable organic vegetables to health-conscious citizens of Bangalore. For many of this new breed of urban farmers, it is not only the joy of farming that has bitten them. Realising that chemical, monoculture farming is unsustainable, they have taken to organic farming to contribute their bit towards one of the important solutions the world needs.
Promoting crafts, handlooms and natural products is another career option that is attractive to many second careerists. Such crafts people exist across the country – crafts form the second largest employment segment in India after Agriculture (the organised sector provides less than 7% of jobs in India). Many crafts people suffer as much or more than farmers, and many are involved with wonderfully intricate work that may die out, unless supported by more well to do citizens through some social enterprises.
Whatever the reason that some get drawn to green careers and become change makers, it is a trend that the world badly needs. How can these more adventurous trendsetters make a difference? Many thinkers on sustainable living believe that we are at the early stages of an ecological movement that is very gradually unfolding. Today’s green careerists are the pioneers of this movement.
And let us remember Margaret Mead’s famous quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has“.
Seetha Ananthasivan is with Bhoomi College, Bangalore that offers fellowships in Sustainable Living and Holistic Education.The article above is based on her experience at the College, many of whose students have taken up second careers that connect them with Nature.