Abdullah Rehman is all about civic engagement. Born and raised in Dubai, Rehman traveled to India where he saw a poor environment afflicting the nation’s citizens. He is proactively addressing a huge local issue in the country, fully believing that the solutions to address it can come from Indian citizens. Air pollution is a big problem in India: “In 2010, outdoor air pollution contributed to over 620,000 premature deaths in India, up from 100,000 in 2000.” (Yee, A. 2013) “I regularly visit cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai and Pune. From living and navigating through these cities, I often found myself choking from the pollution in the air. The physical impacts high levels of pollution, especially in Bengaluru, not only affected my eyes and skin, but led to the clogging of my respiratory system.” Realizing the lack of seriousness in the system to take action on air pollution, Rehman brought a group of friends together and they set out to make some noise about the issue. He started off in 2014 with a Facebook page to voice his concern against the pollution caused by smoke emitting vehicles and facilitate a platform to collect like-minded people to do the same. A year later, the Anti-Pollution Drive (APD) Foundation was registered as a non-profit organization with a core team working towards mitigating air pollution.
The aim of the APD is: “To wake the conscience of people by spreading wareness about air pollution, connecting with experts in the field to understand laws that govern air pollution, litigating unimplemented laws and also meeting officials to capture the gaps in the system and additionally working towards innovative solutions to achieve clean air.” Most of the challenges Rehman faced when founding the APD stemmed from execution. Raising awareness of air pollution in India has been problematic: from finding it difficult to coax the government into taking action, to encountering outright rejection from other stakeholders. Having the right people support the foundation and its work has helped Rehman immensely. He hits home with a really important point: “There have been several promises which remained unfulfilled, but being a non-profit, whatever assistance is promised also comes unaccountable.” The APD has set goals, chartered a path and with its small team, continues to move ahead and reach out to more people with the hope that they will find their stake within the organization and align with its objectives. Rehman looks to his team for guidance and thoughts. The APD have a strategic planner on board and a few advisers including experts from diverse fields like environmentalists, scientists, activists, lawyers, journalists, municipality officials, urban planners and doctors among others. They bring their domain knowledge and expertise on how to tackle air pollution. This fits with Rehman and his accepting nature, he doesn’t don’t impose the issue but continues to drive it with grit and determination, mobilizing the right people as needed. Rehman is open about fears for the organization and its direction. “What scares me is the scale of the problem and its exponential growth. With the fastest growing population in the world we are still directionless in terms of mitigating pollution or ensuring a better environment.” Obviously this is a huge ask yet, Rehman has found a number of people who are equally thirsty for change who have wanted a public platform to express their views on air pollution. A strong following is essential for the APD to deliver its work be it through advocacy, legal action or strategic partnerships.
To handle a problem as vast and complex as air pollution, there are significant levels and perspectives that Rehman is actively taking into consideration. Be it public participation by the citizens from all walks of life, litigating several UN implemented laws, influencing ground up policy, tapping citizen capital and innovating smart solutions there are so many ways to challenge the problem. India will benefit on a multitude of levels if, in their own words, APD continues to create a platform where experts from all fields come together and join hands in enabling the change we all want to see and giving our future generations a healthier environment! 3 LESSONS FROM REHMAN’S STORY: 1. IDENTIFY YOUR PASSION: Don’t stop exploring till you find where your passion lies, it’s a hunt and the harder you hunt the sooner you’ll find out. 2. BUILD YOUR TRIBE, OR FIND ONE: It’s important to understand from the very beginning that you are looking to solve a universal problem, not an individual one. If you are venturing to solve a universal problem then practically or logically it’s impossible to do it on your own. You need to work towards building a team, otherwise you won’t get far with your objectives from the beginning. 3. GETTING BACKING ISN’T EASY: When you venture into a social cause
you will have individuals and companies willing to extend their support, but very few who would actually come forward. So let that not demotivate you as eventually you will find the right ones, without you having to pursue. Keep them close, as they are the ones who feel as connected to the cause as you are. (Yee, A. 2013) http://green.blogs. nytimes.com/2013/02/14/the-airthat-kills-in-india/?_r=0 This article was originally published as a part of the Founding Stories project.