Kaaya Urban-Rural Connect Program
Connecting the dots...
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
I am 18 years old or older.
Initiative's representative name
Initiative's representative date of birth
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India
Where are you making a difference?
Website or social media url(s)
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan going forward)
Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
Post mid-career program in Public Policy, I chose to begin from the scratch and started Kaaya.
One day, at a friend’s place, I was offered a slice of freshly cut guava from their backyard. It was wonderful in taste and I asked whether I could grow it at my own place. However, in that awkward silence, I was hit by the realization that we both really don’t know. Despite having studied forestry management, I really don’t know, how to grow one plant from another in specific. I don’t know if I should take seed, take a stem or pull the root or do something else.
I felt this dis-connect from the things that really matters in life, for us humans, and the things that we routinely do..led me to re-think and conceptualize Kaaya
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
The urban settings do make us a consumer, even of the education we get. We lack tools to act, despite an imminent crisis around. There is a growing disconnect between 'rural' that creates and 'urban' that consumes. Cities feel trapped in rising cost of living and deteriorating quality, while villages keep on shrinking. They are either adversely incorporated or pushed further into marginalization. Can this relationship be inclusive, perhaps synergistic…was the question that led to Kaaya
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Kaaya began as an experiment, a small parcel of land was purchased in a village far from the city.
There was no blueprint, the idea was to see how it evolves. The space was named as Kaaya, in Hindi it means 'body', the outer form wherein the person who visits rubs off its soul. A small building was created using locally available material with local people. Slowly urban people began to come to do things that they feel important either for themselves, or for their kids. Soon it became Kaaya Learning Centre, a space for living, doing, sharing, creating nature art, build, learn farming, or buying directly from farmers. However, as we were evolving, we couldn’t help but notice that the river streams are drying up; land erosion looms large over sloping fields and the biodiversity is being lost gradually in our neighborhoods. So, we began imagining Kaaya as a ‘learning ground’, where the people who are its residents take responsibility of their immediate environment? To be hands on, learning as well sharing about sustainable living and showing others a way.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
The first unique approach we adopted was to go in the village without any project. To manage on personal reserve; to diversify; to really become entrepreneur; finding ways how we can be sustainable. What this meant for us to be more creative and open to support from others. The other approach was to build upon existing resources using design thinking. A lot of innovative programming in collaborations is taking place to bring urban visitors- be it experiential learning or eco-tourism. In the process, urban consumers are getting sensitized to rural life; and their demand for rural products is inspiring village communities and artisans. We are now channelizing this energy towards eco-regeneration
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
Kaaya as an initiative is evolving naturally to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable livelihoods. Since last two years, local schools, community as well as interns and urban volunteers are engaged in finding ways to regenerate neighbourhoods. Essentially, the idea is to get hands on, to draw up an eco-restoration plan; get scientific inputs; engage children, community and urban volunteers/experts in its planning and execution. The rejuvenation of local spring fed stream is taken up by smart eco-clubs, set up by Uttarakhand Scientific Education & Research Centre (USERC) in Inter college of the region. Agriculture Department has taken two villages under bio-village program, and a water shed baseline has been generated to stream lime further interventions. Recently, Kaaya has been accredited by Government of Uttarakhand as a Training Partner on Organic Farming and farmers from neighbouring villages are undergoing training to become organic growers
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
The project Kaaya was conceptualized as a social enterprise i.e. to sustain by doing what we love to do as a non-profit. Within limited resources and purely using market mechanism, we could impact educational eco-system by imparting practical and hands on-learning to more than 600 students annually coming from different parts including Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Dehardun, even US etc. So far, we have been able to directly support a full-time local team of 12 members, while engaging 36 local community members as resource persons or suppliers. The scope of our programming as a ‘learning ground’ includes 9 villages, 3500 Ha land area, and 605 rural households. There is engagement with local community where students and volunteers undertake ‘live projects’ to address local issues be it water, natural resources or sustainable farming/practices etc. Kaaya has been also sharing its approach & learning to other entrepreneurs who wish to do something like this in their own region
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
The strategic direction Kaaya is evolving into includes:
1. At rural community level: We are moving towards a community supported agriculture model that will increase geographically
2. At urban community level: We are emerging more as an incubation space to put ideas of sustainability into practice, as a learning ground, to learn and replicate elsewhere, or to hold workshops. We need to augment facilities in this direction, particularly the idea of a ‘living library’ and a 'maker’s space' as a facility for visitors
3. At organizational level: We need to build our team's technical capacity and perhaps it’s time that we should raise some funds to speed up the eco-regeneration work of the watershed
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
Kaaya bought urban visitors/ school kids to a village (not connected with tourism). It is the village that became a teacher, sharing how they grow food, take care of cattle and engage with nature. They saw the light of appreciation in the young one's eyes. Similarly, the village kids, aspiring to migrate to cities wondered why the city people are coming to their village.
On the other hand, urban kids, when introduced to the process of farming and nature’s creation begun to appreciate the traditional wisdom, science and persistence inherent in rural folks from where they get their food and milk
Kaaya connected both and now is enabling them to take control in regenerating neighborhoods
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
Kaaya is on a path to sustainability, gradually but surely. Funds will accelerate the process. We are currently crowd funding for $20,000 to create a ‘living library’. The idea is to have a dynamic space where one can not only refer books but also create and add material for others to use.
Kaaya team can meet its operational expenses from the receipts of boarding & lodging from regular visitors. We can increase this revenue by creating some additional accommodation facilities.
We need funds to invest in community based micro-enterprises and ventures that promote sustainable practices. We expect an initial grant/soft loan to support this as we believe in the long run all enterprises will sustain on their own
10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
Kaaya is managed by a committed team of 12 locals who handle logistics like accommodation, food, and community outreach. This team is able to sustain. They are supported by a group of urban enthusiasts, including me who provide their services on voluntary basis.
All the board members of the non-profit are in advisory role, none of them is in the executive as the organization has little budget to support salary. We plan to raise some funds to induct a program team on full-time basis
11. How did you hear about this challenge?
Recommended by others
12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.
The project aspires to find simple tools to regenerate/restore biodiversity through local action. The idea is to transfer ‘control’- to children and community, in such a way that one is motivated enough to act individually for problems like climate change, biodiversity, environmental degradation etc that apparently seems huge-beyond individual control.
For example, in outdoor learning program, children learn to make seed bombs, carry in their pockets and to broadcast where they feel they have to take action (last year, approximately 20000 seed bombs were broadcasted by children while trekking in designated regions of the watershed)
The community is finding a way to deal with monkeys that are affecting their homesteads. The idea is to diversify existing forests with food species. So, we learned to propagate by cuttings. Last year, 5000 mulberry cuttings were planted by Panchayats and schools as part of a Government greening project, provided by Kaaya community without any cost
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
The beneficiary’s involvement is growing from direct as permanent job (for 12 people)-as resource persons (14) -as suppliers (22)-as organic growers (90) and as potential micro-entrepreneurs. Many are now willing to invest & diversify their agricultural practices, are beginning to re-evaluate their common property assets. Be it undertaking repair of their traditional water management system, rejuvenation of the springs in the watershed or their self-motivated volunteering and involvement in other activities organized by us.
Similarly, we also see urban consumers as a beneficiary, as they are getting social and environmental returns from the watershed. Here, one trajectory is moving towards a community supported agriculture, another, towards Kaaya as a venue for sustained action for conservation events and example of alternate life. Also, as a learning ground, we have many entrepreneurs coming specially to learn how can they do a project like Kaaya in their own regions
14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
There are many government initiatives and multilateral projects that address challenges of climate change, diversity, livelihood covering villages and regions. Often at the village level, they become part of a larger scheme, with almost standard guidelines. The degree of adaptability, improvisations, leveraging existing resources and opportunities, and not having a deadline bias…appreciating what we have and what we could do ourselves...as an approach, we are different.
Also, there are many individuals and small organizations that have begun alternate living, creating private forests, community living etc. To some sustainability, is the issue and to some community engagement. Kaaya is emerging as a sustainable model that also has a potential provide the required depth of interventions as well. We believe solutions are often lying within the local environments, even for problems that are global in scale and warrant a global action
15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
In 2019, we were listed in the top ten in the category of best ‘experiential operator’ under Outlook Responsible Tourism Awards
16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.
individual donations or gifts 25%
grants or contracts 25%
earned income (provisioning of boarding and lodging facilities, sale of products or services sales, etc.) 50%
17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?
Kaaya has traveled a lot of distance on its own without any award, grant or institutional support. We would continue to move forward and institute a fellowship program for ‘learners’ who want to initiate a project for sustainable eco-regeneration in their own neighborhoods.
We will also use the money to get some technical support and help community and school children rejuvenate their springs (there are four in the watershed, we will begin by one) and create a 'living library/a learning ground' for others to learn