Featured Profiles

The Humanitarian Warrior

Palak Sharma is the Co-Founder of the ‘Green Governance Initiative,’ a group that works towards influencing policy to reflect the development goals and make sure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are implemented at a grassroots level. She has trained thousands of young people to understand the SDGs and connected policymakers with young people to create real change.   Palak Sharma was born in Rajasthan, India, to a well-educated and hardworking family. Having had an affinity for mathematics, Palak’s family had chosen the career option of engineering for her.   However, this changed when Palak shifted to Mumbai to complete her undergraduate studies in Economics at Sophia College. As a requirement for the hostel she was residing in at the time, she had to volunteer for the National Service Scheme (NSS). In the NSS, they were made to teach kids below the poverty line who had no access to education. Initially, Palak dreaded teaching them since she had no exposure to kids and no prior teaching experience. Many of them did not have access to water and therefore could not afford the luxury to take a bath every day. However, as time went by, Palak says, “I realized that they were just like me, and were as lost as I was. So we started spending more time together and bonding.” This experience opened her up to the world of social causes and humanitarian work.   She decided to simultaneously work with a Member of Parliament back in Rajasthan who was doing commendable work for the people. Along with office work, she helped set up internship programs to help the youth and set sustainable development goals. Palak recalled, “That is where I met the Co-Founders of my current organization, Green Governance Initiative. We started contemplating on what we can do to involve the youth in sustainable development goals and the execution of these goals.” Within a year, they formed their organization, and they started their work.   The Green Governance Initiative (GGI) is a youth-based non-partisan policy research think-tank working with elected representatives, policymakers, and administrators. GGI facilitates the outreach of various social welfare schemes to the grassroots level through the concept of Constituency Development and also helps tackle multiple social causes.   The group also helps educate the youth concerning sustainable development goals for a greener future. Palak says, “At GGI, we believe that it is important to promote and bring today’s youth on the front foot for the development at ground zero by involving them in policy- making and governance. It is indeed crucial to provide a platform and strategize development in target constituencies thereby making them an Ideal Parliamentary Constituency.”   Her work with GCI led her to pursue her Master’s in International Social and Public Policy from The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). However, while she was there, she started working for the UK Civil Services by assisting them in their projects. After completing her course, she returned to India armed with extensive knowledge and new ideas that could help better GCI.   She immediately started educating the youth about sustainable development goals (one of the primary focuses of GCI) and how they could achieve them. During one of her workshops, she recalled an incident, “One girl messaged me and told me that during the whole process of the training, she had finally found what she wanted to do; write on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And now, she has begun her journal on SDGs. The passion I heard in her voice made me feel overwhelmed with the kind of response we were getting.”   Unfortunately, the pandemic hit in 2020 and stalled many of their SDG projects that were initially planned. They decided to divert their efforts to tackle social causes with a pressing concern of sanitization in the underprivileged areas that could lead to the spread of COVID-19. Palak collaborated with World Toilet Organisation to work in public toilets of rural Maharashtra and helped develop their sanitation system to decrease the threat of a mass spread.   The lockdown also halted another one of their social welfare schemes wherein they supplied sanitary pads to girls below the poverty line by partnering up with multiple schools. According to the data they had received, they installed sanitary pad vending machines in various schools and were in touch with the principals of these schools. However, when the second lockdown took place, one of them informed her that their stock of sanitary pads was over, and they also had no means to reach out to the kids since their villages were in lockdown. After brainstorming, they decided to do a fundraiser and provided them with reusable sanitary pads that could be used for three years; they concluded that it was the best alternative in these uncertain times.   Palak fondly reminisces, “the next day we had a video call with the Principal because I had to explain to her the benefits of the reusable pad and how it worked. With tears in her eyes, she remarked, ‘I feel so happy that you are even younger than my daughter and I am learning so much through you to help and reach out to more people. It is a wonderful experience!'” It is a memory she often looks back to during trying times.   After her success with their social outreach programmes, Palak went back to working on SDGs by preparing for the upcoming UNFCCC COP 26, the Climate Change Summit that will take place in Glasgow, Scotland. Her organization is currently working with 3,500 young leaders to generate a decolonized version of climate mitigation. GCI is finding stories of revolution against climate change in the global south, climate change rebellions in small pockets of India, where people have fought against climate injustice to showcase the country as a sustainability warrior.   Her work has recently been recognized and praised on the Global Stage. Palak was recently honoured with The Diana Award, the highest accolade in the world that a young person can receive for their work in humanitarian crisis by Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex, Plan India Impact Award & the Bangladesh Digital Social Innovation Forum Award for going above and beyond to create and sustain positive change in her daily life.   In conclusion, she says, “This journey has taught me that there will be years working without monetary benefits and support. But it is an incredible change that gives me an insurmountable amount of joy and happiness that makes up for it all.”