02 Dec How I Met My New Hero – UN Champion For The Earth
A few weeks ago, while speaking at Sustainable Brands Bangkok, I met a man who inspired me so much that I immediately booked a trip to India to spend a week with him. As many of you know, I wrote a book called Stepping Up to show what happens when each of us decides to be the agent of change- not waiting for anyone else to act! If I wrote the book today, he would have a starring role.
Afroz Shah is a constitutional lawyer in Mumbai, India. Though he grew up in Mumbai, he later spent many years away in pursuit of his goals. When he returned a few short years ago, he went back to visit a beach he had played on as a child. He remembered children playing on pure sand and in the ocean on that beach. Yet when he returned, he discovered that the beach of his childhood was covered in five feet of plastic garbage. Yes, literally end to end, five feet high of plastic debris. He was devastated. Not only was the beach of his youth ruined, but he realized that the problem stretched far beyond Mumbai. Plastic in the ocean is a symbol of a species out of touch with the impact of our daily convenience and its consequences for all life on Earth.
But what happened next eventually led to him being named by the United Nations as a Champion for the Earth in 2016. Shah began cleaning up the beach and he also began visiting the homes of people near the beach to invite their participation. He said, “I simply told them what I was doing and asked for their help. No judgment. I simply told them it would be great if you helped me.” The movement grew, and the effort took time, but the beach is now clean and turtles have returned for the first time in many years.
His actions have spurred a movement across India involving thousands, including many school children, who are stepping up for the oceans. Shah has done all of this in his spare time while still practicing law. He told me, “It is amazing what we can do with our two hands when we decide something is ours to solve.”
Wherever he goes, he is never a tourist. The afternoon he and I were both interviewed for a television show in Thailand, he kept saying, “Take me to the garbage” and soon we found ourselves with gloves and bags, picking up plastic garbage and debris from a local river. The locals watched with curiosity as we did our work. Eventually he and I went into a local home where he weaved his simple magic. “When I come back, will you join me?” he asked the family.
These past weeks have been filled with bad news for the Earth. The climate crisis is accelerating. The oceans are choking in garbage. Shah told me, “The problem is we keep our homes clean, we keep ourselves clean, but then we go outside and think this is not my home.” But it is our one collective home.
Those of you who have heard my keynotes on Stepping Up know that taking 100% responsibility changes everything-in business, in our personal life and Afroz Shah is showing that when each of us steps up, it also changes the world.
How will you step up today?
Here are some videos to inspire you. This first video introduces the work of my hero, Afroz Shah.