How do you catalyze bold, transformative climate action in a country with over one billion people, a fast-growing economy, a vibrant and diverse civil society, and ambitious policy commitments?
Vinuta Gopal, Brikesh Singh, and Sanjiv Gopal found they could make the biggest impact by bringing diverse actors to the table, facilitating collaboration, and providing the expert support they need in strategy development, research, facilitation, communications, and outreach. They are the first in India and the first team, not an individual, to receive the Climate Breakthrough Award.
Support India’s ambitious national climate targets from the subnational level by connecting diverse stakeholders and fostering collaboration in regions with strong potential to become “climate champions” and drive a “race to the top” across the vast country.
“India has shown a willingness to seize the opportunity of building a low-carbon future that is equitable and doesn’t compromise its development needs,” says Vinuta. “That is an enormous challenge that requires all stakeholders to come together to find solutions, including governments at various levels. We’re working from the ground up to enable this.”
Asar Social Impact Advisors, which Vinuta co-founded in Bangalore in 2016, draws on its leaders’ two decades of experience in environmental and social advocacy, including at Greenpeace in India and internationally, and their very different skill sets. Vinuta, the CEO, brings a big-picture vision and policy expertise; Sanjiv is Chief of Strategy and Planning and an adept facilitator; and Brikesh, the Director of Communications and Engagement, adds creativity and innovation.
They work on a wide range of climate-related issues, from the national to the local level, but always with a focus on collective impact, taking an “all hands on deck” approach. “Building connections and spaces for collaboration takes time, resources, and sustained effort,” says Sanjiv, “but we believe it is critical to ensuring more ambitious climate action.”
One of their biggest successes to date is the Clean Air Collective, convened by Brikesh, a network of more than 150 civil society organizations, citizen groups, and experts with a presence in 12 states and 25 cities. The work has been mostly project-based, however, constrained by the available resources.
That’s where the $3 million grant from Asar’s 2022 Climate Breakthrough Award could make an enormous impact. Vinuta, Sanjiv, and Brikesh are using the award to scale up their efforts, focusing on states and cities with the potential to become “climate champions” and drive a “race to the top” across India.
“India has adopted ambitious climate policies, but last-mile delivery has been a challenge,” says Brikesh. “Action at the subnational level is critical to creating momentum. States and large cities are already developing climate plans, and some are emerging as clear leaders. We hope to connect and support diverse actors in multiple states to collaborate for real-world impact.”
They envision it as a “mycelium,” spreading underground to catalyze climate action. It’s a massive endeavor, but as Vinuta sees it, nothing less would suffice.
Vinuta Gopal is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Asar, which she co-founded in 2016 and has grown to support a diverse group of consultants, networks, and organizations addressing climate action. She has worked on the ground with communities and developed campaign strategies at the national and international levels. She was previously Program and Co-Executive Director of Greenpeace India, where she had worked since 2002 and also led the Climate and Energy team for close to a decade. Vinuta is also a student of classical Indian dance, which she has pursued since her childhood.
Sanjiv Gopal is Chief of Strategy and Planning at Asar and was previously Global Director for Climate and Energy at Greenpeace International. In this role, he was responsible for the formulation and overall success of an integrated climate and energy program across 40 countries. Through his career, he has worked on various environmental and social justice campaigns, covering a wide spectrum of change and engagement. Sanjiv has also engaged with and played an advisory role as part of government outreach, providing input on strategy to donors and philanthropies on a wide range of issues relating to sustainable development.
Brikesh Singh is the Chief of Engagement and Communications with Asar. He has close to 20 years of experience in environmental campaigning, citizen engagement, and fundraising, including at Greenpeace in India and abroad. Brikesh has been on the frontlines, taking direct action to highlight the climate crisis and demand accountability from decision-makers. Brikesh joined Asar in 2017, and his expertise includes conceptualizing, planning, and implementing innovative and engaging mobilization strategies. His excitement lies in using new platforms to engage young people in the key social and environmental issues of our time. Brikesh is also a stand-up comic and was an active member of the open mic scene in New Delhi before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.