The Optimist Citizen

How three millennials are using education and awareness to create a more inclusive and conscious society

The flamboyant city of Gurugram juxtaposes Rajputana history and Haryanvi flavour with a contemporary, corporate and lavish lifestyle seldom witnessed in India. The ‘Millennium City’ is the hub for future financial and industrial developments vindicated by the ever-increasing offices of ‘Fortune 500’ companies, and more condominiums than you can Imagine. While the concrete jungle keeps getting denser by the minute, its inhabitants keep getting distanced from the lesser-privileged struggling to survive in this scorching environment. And it is this gap between the two societies which the three bright teenagers from Gurugram are trying to bridge through their social initiative.Dhruv Kulgod (15), Aditya Bharath (15) and Manraj Singh (17) at first glance may appear regular sports-loving and school-going kids far away from the treacherous and brutal reality of Indian streets but their actions tell a completely different story. All three share an appetite to learn, help and bring about positive changes in the society and it is this ever growing appetite which led them to Pravah, a national non-profit based in Delhi. Incidentally, Pravah runs a program called ‘Beyond Zebra’ which is a 54-hour programme designed for adolescents to experiment and explore with a variety of social spaces as part of an intensive journey aimed at improving skills like leadership and providing opportunities to work at grass-root organisations.

The program seemed apt to satiate their appetite and the trio embarked on the journey. In the initial brainstorming, there was a common consensus regarding perpetual environment degradation and the need for an intervention.Lack of knowledge among citizens about environmental issues and ways to prevent pollution was something all three were aware of and eventually decided to take action. ‘Beyond Zebra’ recognised their responsiveness towards the environment and placed them in ‘Teach for Green’, a social enterprise providing training and skill to create awareness about environmental issues and its sustainable solutions. It provided them with a platform to resolve their conflict and tackle the problem head-on.

After an initial brainstorming session, the three conducted a survey in a nearby rural area to comprehend its lifestyle, problems and understanding of the environment, with a special focus on consumption of energy and waste segregation. They came up with intuitive small-scale solutions to reduce energy consumption in the form of solar chargers to tackle barriers like lack of resources, knowledge and apprehension towards new technology. Eventually, they realised the ineffectiveness of solar energy as a small-scale option and shifted their focus to waste collection and segregation. Another survey was conducted, covering 75-100 households in various localities, on waste segregation and disposal system. Realising that carelessness towards waste segregation cuts through class and income, the three boys started running numerous awareness campaigns to teach people efficient ways of handling waste. They specially focussed on e-waste and made the presence of valuable metals inside it cognizant to the needful sections of society. Furthermore through ‘Teach for Green’, the boys connected them to an organisation specialising in procuring metal out of e-waste resulting in tangible success.  Apart from the awareness campaign, the trio also organized a display on recycling at a school fair, further broadening their horizons.

They identified the rich mentoring that they received during the experience as one of the turning points of their journey. They were able to reflect, rethink and act based on the mentorship conversations during their journey. During one such mentoring conversation, when asked whether their new endeavour was a success, Aditya calmly quips, “Yeah, to some extent. While success is subjective, one thing which has been constant throughout the process is learning. The 6-7 hours spent in the office every day, brainstorming, creating a plan of action and then implementing it was an enriching experience.” Talking about their learnings, each one of them took something different from the programme. While Aditya learnt the importance of inclusivity and improved his social skills, the social initiative made Manraj realise how good his social skills were and refined his leadership qualities. For Dhruv, the experience was a reality check on difficulties in inflicting real change in society while the first-hand office work was extremely serviceable.  

Beyond Zebra was an eye-opener to Dhruv

More than anything, the experience has helped them to bridge a gap their own city has extended. As eloquently put by Aditya, “Just in a span of one day I met a person who works in a sewer, I met a man who makes brick, and I met a man who owns a business. Now, when you meet these people, each one of them has a different outlook on life, each one of them has a different problem and each one of them has a different style of life. When you meet so many people you take something different from each one of them. You learn to incorporate the world as a whole. You learn to look at the world as one big picture. You learn to incorporate everyone’s ideas.” This view was further reciprocated by both Dhruv- “The Pravah journey was very helpful for me as it let me expand my horizon because it let me experience society for the first time properly” and Manraj- “Life is not black and white. When we become aware, we expand our view of life beyond our own to include others; and in making lives better and happier for others, we become happier ourselves.”

While the ‘Millennium City’ keeps growing and alienating itself from the streets, it is three ‘millennials’ who have decided to take action and create a more inclusive, conscious and collaborative society.


Beyond Zebra, is a 54 hours volunteering programme for adolescents between the ages of 14-17 years run by Pravah. Here, young people are placed with Pravah’s grassroots community partners where they get an opportunity to undertake social action initiatives and explore the world and contribute to the community. Beyond Zebra is currently accepting applications for their Spring cycle. Click here to know more


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