Karuna Rana from Mauritius

Published on: November 2012
Give us an insight into your present work whereabouts.

Based in Mauritius, I currently work as a Youth Editor for the 'Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5) for Youth' publication with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Simultaneously, a lot of my work involves the non-profit sector. I work on environmental, youth leadership and communications projects with global and regional youth networks/organizations such as One Young World, WEF's Global Shapers Community and UNEP-Tunza amongst others. My most recent venture is a non-profit 'Green-it!' which I co-founded in Mauritius. Green-it! is a youth organization aimed at engaging young people in sustainable development and policy-making processes related to it.
I also write to share my thoughts and ideas, mainly as a Contributor to The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karuna-rana/) and media organization 'Speak Your Mind' (http://www.symnews.org/author/krana/).
karuna rana from mauritius,leadership
Brief us about your background and qualification.

I'm a 24-year-old environmentalist born in Mauritius and raised in Mumbai, India from age 5 to 13. Given my mixed ethnicity of Indian, African and French, I consider myself a global citizen.
I hold a Bachelor's degree in Chemical and Environmental Engineering from the University of Mauritius. I chose to study this degree knowing that it will empower me, in my future career, to address some of the environmental challenges of my country, and globally. Since graduating, I've had a short but diverse and substantial career experience within sectors such as the United Nations, corporations and non-profits, in areas ranging from Quality Management Systems to environmental and youth leadership.

Throw some light on the history of the work you have done so far.

Sustainability, youth leadership and environmental education - these are my passions, and these have been my focus areas. So far, my work in these areas span across grassroots actions, advocacy and civic journalism, both lo-cally and internationally.

Through my past leadership roles such as UNEP Tunza Youth Advisor for Africa and One Young World Ambassador Leader for Environment, I have had the opportunity to be the voice of 3 billion young people at high-level conferences. For example, I most recently delivered the statement on behalf of Children and Youth at the Opening Plenary of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Summit) in June.

I have lobbied Governments and protested outside conference halls for a sustainable future. My biggest advocacy project is Wake Up Call Mauritius - a campaign by young people demanding the Mauritian Government to actively include young people in decision-making processes pertaining to sustainable development.

While I feel humbled to have traveled the world and represent young people on international platforms, I have also worked with the local community in my own country. These include a paper reuse project (awarded runner-up of the Youth Excellence Award in 2009), plastic recycling campaign, beach clean-ups, teachings at schools and orphanages, environmental flash mobs and an upcoming Mauritian documentary on sustainable development.

The media has also been a major part of my work. While I often write for the media, I'm grateful that my work has been featured in some of the major Mauritian and international media such as Vanity Fair.

What is your vision/purpose/inner-calling? What triggered it and in which part of life?

An active and environmentally conscious generation of young people, and who have a say in deciding their future - this is my vision! My passion and dedication is my inner-calling.

The ideal answer would be that I have always been environmentally conscious. Sadly, the fact is that our education system and even our society fail to integrate a sustainable lifestyle and communicate environmental issue from an early age. No doubt we study about climate change in our primary textbooks but the urgency of being sustainable is not adequately addressed, nor is the easy actions one can take to lead a sustainable life. We have all the scientific proof that climate change and environmental degradation is real and that we are at the eleventh hour. We are using resources worth of two planets. So I asked myself, do we have to wait for islands like Maldives and Mauritius to go under water to realise the importance of sustainable development? Sustainability is not an option - it's a matter of survival.

I was first truly exposed to environmental issues thanks to my Bachelor's degree in Chemical and Environmental Engineering. The more I learned and dig deeper into environmental issues, the more I realised its urgency. When I was in 3rd year of my course, I was selected to participate in a workshop organised by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through a paper reuse project that I came up with at my university. From there, my work and keen interest in environmental issues was consolidated through attending several inter-national environmental conferences. These conferences gave me the chance to meet and work with several amazing young people who selflessly work hard to protect the environment. They inspired me to think that if young people worldwide are working hard to protect their futures and that of small islands like ours, why can't we?

Coming to the second part of my vision, it makes perfectly sense for young people to be involved in decision-making processes and the politics of sus-tainable development. Our future relies on these very policies. As young peo-ple, we cannot say that politics doesn't interest or concern us. By saying that, one is either being ignorant or apathetic to their future. We are inherently part of anything to do with our future, and therefore inherently part of politics.

However, the current structure does not allow for proper youth participation in environmental policy-making. Where the input of youth is needed the most, it is lacking. I believe that every young person should actively participate in such decision-making processes. But many young people do not have the capacity and opportunity to do so. And this is why I participate in these high-level UN conferences where world leaders make decisions about our future, sometimes at my own cost, so that I can represent the voice of young people who couldn't make it.

"The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people!" - This appalling reality stated by Napolean is what drives me towards my passions.

Challenges are a part of every journey. Cite a few anecdotes from your life of strong challenges that confronted you and how you won over them.

All great things happen outside your comfort zone, and challenges precisely bring you out of your comfort zone. I see challenges as opportunities - an opportunity to grow, learn and succeed. Without these challenges, our life would be mundane.

One of my life's biggest challenges occurred to me at the end of last year. I had to choose between my job and my passions. Normally, one can do both, but it was an absolutely "either-or" situation for me. So I took the tough deci-sion to quit my job and take a gap year. It was frightening initially, but it turned to be good in the end. From there, I managed to attend the UN Conference on Climate Change, start a youth movement in Mauritius, initiate environmental projects that I always dreamed of doing, and ended up landing a better job! Now I must be clear here - I don't aim at telling you that you should quit your job. In my case, I was lucky enough to have the support of my parents. I also had a clear vision of where I'm going with my career after that.
karuna rana from mauritius,leadership
What are the current challenges that stand ahead of you and what makes you face them fearlessly?

I face the challenge that every young person faces - the older generation, including our leaders are yet to trust our judgment, and believe in us and our capacity to improve the state of the world. They still think that young people are apathetic to their future. I have seen this in my own country where some Government officials are still reluctant to properly engage young people in decision-making processes or even invest in youth entrepreneurship.

I also face the challenge that every environmentalist faces. It's a constant and unnecessary battle between our economy and the environment. Many people are yet to understand the urgency and severity of the environmental issues we face. Our environment is linked to us; by damaging our environment, we're damaging humanity and our future. Changing behavior of people to lead a sustainable lifestyle is yet another challenge.

My passion and self-confidence is what makes me face my challenges fearlessly. But it's more than that. I'm lucky enough to have met thousands of young people working towards the same goal as me. I'm constantly amazed by the work they do - they're true change-makers. So I know I am not alone in this. I know young people have all what it takes to bring about positive change, where our leaders have failed to do so. Our need for positive change has never been so necessary and so possible.

Generally women face more obstacles than male counterparts. What is your take on this? Does this apply to your life?

Sadly, I'll have to agree with this. Women have made enormous progress in the workplace, but still get lower pay and fewer top jobs than men. However, this varies between different countries and cultures, where woman empowerment is more evident than in other places. I'm lucky enough that my family has always given me equal opportunities, have taught me to be ambitious and taught me to be a strong woman. Nevertheless, I was once refused an engineering-related job which was eventually given to my male classmate who had equal qualifications like I did, simply based on my gender. In the end, I got a better job. It was unfair but it only made me stronger to face any upcoming obstacles.

I believe that instead of whining about the obstacles women face, we should be focusing on the stories of strong and successful women who came over these obstacles and now govern capitals and boardrooms, as they rightly deserve to. We simply need more strong and self-confident women. Women will continue to face obstacles and be treated unjustly only if women allow themselves to be treated so. Women should quit compromising and accept situations as they come, and most importantly quit feeling guilty to be more successful than your male counterparts.

How important is a role model? Do you have one? Is it an inevitable part of a journey to success?

I personally have too many role models to name one - this ranges from leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi for his humane attitude, to even some of my friends and colleagues.

However, with time and experience, I have come to realise that although role models are a source of inspiration, they're not an inevitable part of a journey to success.

Comparing and wanting to be like someone is not always healthy. We should rather strive to be the best version of ourselves, rather than versions of someone else. We are all unique, with special set of abilities - just like our role models.
Anything else that you would want to throw light on to send across the message of inspiration to the readers?

Whatever I have achieved so far has been a result of me going out of my comfort zone and taking risks. And most importantly, trying. As states George E. Woodberry, "Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure." So don't be scared of failure; there is a lesson in every failure.

Finally, the most important lesson I have learned is to be grateful for what you have.

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Changing lives.
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