Generating Youth Nature Leaders in India

By Diti Mookherjee, Women Leaders for the World graduate 2011

green_rhino_final_LargeThe Green Rhinos Program is a transformational leadership program that is creating youth nature leaders in India. It ignites in them a passion for nature conservation that stays with them throughout their lives. It comprises a series of interventions with knowledge sharing and transformational leadership training that leads middle school and high school students to create and execute local nature conservation projects. We are working with students in schools in India which are situated in forest fringes and in urban areas.

The Green Rhinos Program was conceived during the Women Leaders for the World training organized by GWLN in December 2011. It is the culmination of 30 years of my work with youth and environmental education. Working with my team from the Association for Social and Environmental Development ( our short term aim is to create 10,000 Green Rhinos by 31 December 2020. We are close to 5000 at present!

During the Leadership training, the Green Rhinos create a vision for how they want to see the nature of their city/ town/ village and work in groups to create projects that will help them move towards their vision. At the end of the leadership training, each group comes up with a project plan comprising the  “what, how, where, when and who”. The project period varies from three months to six months.

A popular project that the Green Rhinos come up with is tree plantation.

Planting trees

In the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve, 200 girl Green Rhinos from four schools created projects to plant trees in their villages. These girls live in areas where there is no electricity and where an occasional tiger might stray into the outskirts of the village.

Each school had 50 Green Rhinos and they were divided into four groups. From each school, two or three groups decided to take up tree plantation. The numbers varied from planting 3,000 trees to 6,000 trees.  Adding up the numbers we found that they wished to plant 25,000 trees!

Exploring the possibilities of how to source the saplings the Green Rhinos decided that they would get them from the Forest Department, would raise saplings from seed and gather saplings from under the trees where they were growing and also requested us to help them to source the saplings. We were doing the work in partnership with a local development organization called Baikunthapur Tarun Sangha. In partnership and with the help of the Green Rhinos we created a nursery for 20,000 tree saplings just before the start of the monsoon season.

During the monsoons, the Green Rhinos planted the saplings in their schools, along the village roads and around their homes. Along with the saplings from the nursery, they had also locally collected and even raised saplings from seed.  In their words, “After all we are children of farmers”. They also got saplings from the local Forest Department office Wherever they could they made tree guards from local materials. We also provided them with some nets. Today the trees are growing under the tender loving care of the Green Rhinos, their families and community with a 70% survival rate.

The little seed in the mind of a Green Rhino has been transformed into a beautiful tree …….such is the power in pursuing a possibility.

Anti-plastic campaign:

We worked with six schools in Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary on the Green Rhinos Program in 2016-17. This area is on the fringes of the Bhitarkanika National Park which is home to the Estuarine/ Saltwater Crocodile.

In every school out of the six groups that created their projects, two or three groups decided to work on an anti-plastic campaign to make the Bhitarkanika area plastic free. They conducted rallies with posters and slogans, installed garbage bins and even got the local authorities to install concrete bins.

The Field Coordinator of the Green Rhinos Program gave the Green Rhinos the idea to make bags out of their father’s old trousers and use these instead of plastic bags. The Green Rhinos of all the six schools loved the idea and they all made these bags. We gave them cloth Green Rhinos stickers for their bags. They are using these as school bags. They also distributed these bags to the public at the local market place. Over 3000 bags were made!!

Green Rhinos of two schools received training on making products like mats and baskets out of recycled materials like biscuit wrappers and plastic bags.


Diti Mookherjee is the Founder and CEO of the Association for Social and Environmental Development in Kolkata, India.  She was a Fulbright0Nehru Fellow for Environmental Leadership at Santa Clara University in 2011-2012.  Here is her profile on LinkedIN


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