Gold for Young Climate Activist: An Interview with Sanghamitra Mukherjee

by Sophie Jäger


In the context of inspiring others to take action on climate change, sustainability, and raising awareness for our surroundings, we would like to introduce Sanghamitra Mukherjee as an amazing and inspiring young woman. Recently Sangha’s contributions as activist have been rewarded with the Gold Global Citizens award. Forest Friends Ireland interviewed her on the path she took.

Interviewer: Sangha, the list of things you do goes on and on: Climate Ambassador, Climate Reality Leader, SDG Advocate, educator, writer, Impact Entrepreneur… But I particularly stumbled across the word Multipotentialite Artist. As my mother tongue is not English I had to research what a multipotentialite artist is and I found something I could relate to and probably many people can too. It felt good reading and internalizing it while I was reading about it. So, the author of the article I found told his audience about having so many jobs and hobbies he wanted to live up to: “I wanted to let you know that I get it. I’m a scanner, or renaissance soul, or multipotentialite like you. I’ve had so many artists tell me that they can’t get over the idea that they were meant to be more than one thing, and that’s great! You don’t have to pick one thing. You can make a living from one thing, or multiple things. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Its up to you to decide.” Sangha, do you think this description nails it? Describing yourself as a multipotentialite artist is very fitting, isn’t it? What activities are you juggling at the moment?

Sangha: The headline and all the different titles you see on LinkedIn might look like showing off a little bit, but I am actually involved in many things. I think the description ‘multipotentialite’ fits my trajectory quite well and for a long time I couldn’t explain to people what I did because I did so much that they were genuinely confused. But that’s who I am and it’s part of my identity. I first came across this term when a career coach mentioned it at an online event for people who were planning a career transition. She brought it up as a way to describe people like us who are interested in a lot of things and who have different hobbies and are making or planning to make a living out of them. This is definitely not a mainstream career path for most people. I remember I was both delighted and surprised that there was a word in the English language that could explain how it is for some of us. In terms of my activities: I’m a PhD student, so I am a researcher at UCD – University College Dublin. That should probably be my main job but I’m also into multiple other projects. I’m involved in the climate movement quite a bit now and as part of that role I am working with An Taisce, the national Environmental Education Unit for Ireland, with whom I work as an ambassador. I am also part of the Climate Reality Project, which is based in the US, but they have branches all over the world. There’s a European branch and an Irish branch as well now that I am part of. I’m working with them as a Climate Reality Leader which is mainly about learning to communicate climate change in a way that appeals to the public and becoming a leader in this space. I did the training last year and as part of that project I give presentations and collate educational material on climate change and climate justice. I also signed up with Development Perspectives as an SDG advocate this year.

You’ve been given a series of awards during the past 10 years. You’ve been Best Mathematician of the Year, and you’ve been given several scholarships. Most recently you achieved your Gold Global Citizen Award for taking part in UCD Volunteers Overseas, for being an active advocate for climate justice, and amongst others, for being an SDG Advocate with Development Perspectives. My first specific question is, what did your work with UCD Volunteers Overseas entail and where did you go to?

S: I did the UCDVO (UCD Volunteers Overseas) volunteering and development education programme in 2019-20. UCDVO organizes international volunteering projects for students, staff and alumni of UCD. It’s essentially a year-long programme to develop skills in facilitation, leadership, and tackling development issues first hand. There are lots of learning and training opportunities throughout the year and in the summer there is a placement abroad for a month, in a location in Uganda, Tanzania, or India. Since Covid happened in 2020, we still completed the programme, but had to cancel our travel plans for the summer. So, we converted the programme to remote volunteering. My project was on ICT education in a rural town in Tanzania where we were teaching teachers how to use computers and software so that they could develop their technical skills in classrooms. We did all the trainings online which worked very well in the end. We were glad that we still managed to reach our planned teaching outcomes. We worked as a team, and I was a team leader for that year for our group of about 12 to 14 volunteers. As part of the programme we had to fundraise a certain amount in advance. This way we were not paying out of our own pockets, but were fundraising enough to contribute towards the costs of living abroad in terms of accommodation, food and things like that because the local community couldn’t afford to support so many volunteers otherwise. If we had made it to Tanzania we wouldn’t have had any major expenses as such as we would have essentially paid for that already through the initial months of fundraising. We participated as volunteers so we didn’t get paid for any of it.

As an active advocate for climate justice, you not only took #ActionAtHome by offering virtual workshops on responsible consumption and climate action but also hosted a virtual photo exhibition to encourage participants to think critically about what sustainability means to them. What in specific did you teach the participants in your workshops about responsible consumption, can you give us some examples? What did the virtual photo exhibition look like? Can we still find it online?

S: The GCA – the Global Citizen Award – was linked to the UCDVO-programme, as you mentioned before. So as part of the GCA programme we had to develop our own independent projects and write reflective articles on our experience while linking local and global development issues. As part of the GCA, I ran a series of workshops around Christmas last year that demonstrated how to reuse paper, cloth, and other kinds of materials that people have lying around the house to make our own presents, decorations and gift wrappings. I brought in a few other people to facilitate as well who were skilled at upcycling. Through the conscious Christmas project, that’s what we called it, we were essentially trying to reduce the amount of waste that people generate around Christmas time by buying single use wrapping paper and so on. The second project was an art exhibition I curated and published online. I collated entries from around the world where I posed a question which asked, “what does sustainability mean to you”, and people shared an image that represented what sustainability meant to them and explained their image in a short caption. The photos were taken by the contributors themselves so they were the owners of the art work. I had my own contributions in there as well. It went live in March and April this year and was a huge success because we had contributions from every continent. It’s very cool in that sense because it was a good collection of ideas and wasn’t focused on Europe or Ireland, or you know, just a limited section of the population. I used my social network to get in touch with the artists, mainly LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook to a lesser extent. I started getting involved in the climate movement last year and slowly increased my own network quite a bit through projects like the Climate Reality Project. Through those programmes I came to connect with a lot of people from around the world and I think it just grew from there. Somebody recommends say the exhibition to somebody else they know and then you meet more people, that’s how networking works I suppose. The exhibition cannot be found on the internet anymore, it was only online for a couple of months, but we can always bring it back if needed – for another month for example – but currently it’s not live.

You are an SDG Advocate with Development Perspectives. SDGs are the Sustainable Development Goals implemented by the UN in 2016. What is Development Perspectives about? Which of the SDGs do you like to advocate for the most?

S: Development Perspectives is one of the key institutions in Ireland who educate the adult population on development education. Development education is about thinking critically about the development issues we have and implementing actions to solve them. It is not just thinking about it or learning the theory but it’s very practical and so as part of that programme we have to implement our own action projects. We choose a SDG that we would like to work on. I chose Climate Action and Responsible Consumption and Production, which are the SDGs 12 and 13, as the main global goals in my work.

Interviewer: Sophie Jäger

Check Out Sanghamitra’s LinkedIn:

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