Raising awareness of overlooked environmental deterioration, through crowdsourced photography.

Photo of Maanit Goel
2 2

Written by

Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Date You Started Your Project


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Across the US and the world, there are so many environmental problems that go overlooked and remain unknown, often disproportionately impacting marginalized communities. The people who feel the impacts and encounter these issues daily are often without a voice. Tackling this lack of awareness and support will require educating people of these issues, in a way that accurately reflects the problems from the perspectives of those directly impacted.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We aim to crowdsource photography of these overlooked environmental issues and their impacts. Campaigns will consist of reaching out to the communities directly witnessing and impacted by these issues, and working with a ground team to reach out to the community to have people in the area send in photos of a specific environmental issue and/or its impacts on the community. For example, we're currently looking at working with groups in North Carolina to document the impact of factory farms on local residents. Working with our ground teams, we aim to raise both local and international awareness of these issues through pushing out the crowdsourced photos through channels such as social media, online 'eco-journalism', media publicity, community partnerships, and public photo displays. We will gather support to eliminate these issues through long-term solutions, whether through assembling community pressure for policies, fundraising to address the root causes when possible, or whatever other method is deemed most applicable for a specific issue after discussing with leading voices in the impacted community. Working with local youth and orgs. will ensure a lasting impact framework.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

While photographs are crucial to bridge the gap between cause and effect in environmental action, and to invoke an emotional response to have people pay attention to pressing, overlooked environmental issues, we will use these photos as a segue into educating people about the causes of these issues, their presence in communities around the world, as few of these problems are truly unique in their location, and how people can work to address them. This fits into STEM because our explanations of these problems, and the strategies with which people can address them, are based strictly on science, to provide the people we reach with the facts they need to understand these issues before working to address them. Our core strategy of raising awareness and drawing in support through crowdsourced photography is derived from a STEM base. A psychological study from UCSD found that photos, even when shown for only 10 milliseconds, had a greater effect on participant behavior than words rated as equally emotive. Our brains are hardwired for responding to visuals, and as such, our strategy is based off scientific research that shows photos can have a much greater impact on behavior than words.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

2020 was the most tumultuous year in recent history, but also a year of great mobilization, progress, and change. I was emboldened, and determined to do something, to do my part in pushing towards a future my generation could look forward to. My generation has been and will continue to be defined by environmental disasters around the globe, and I was deeply involved in local environmental work before the pandemic. After six months of quarantine, it was easy to feel helpless. But every day, I saw photos in the news, of all that was going on- and I realized that these photos were driving me to act. With a seed of an idea, I brought together a group of pre-COVID friends (online), and we realized, after a year defined by injustice, we could use photos to evoke this same response for overlooked environmental issues. Crowdsourcing photos for the planet could give impacted communities a voice.

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

After scattered activism through remote means at first, our team established that the first step was environmental outreach on a global scale, to get people to care. We reached over 4,000 people, and collaborated with youth from 16 countries. After this first phase, which we treated as an experimental stage, we developed an impact plan regarding the use of crowdsourced photography to address UN SDGs 11.6 and 12.8. To further develop strategy, we consulted local youth, cities, and envt'l leaders.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

MarbleWatch is the only initiative aimed at crowdsourcing photography to address overlooked environmental issues. This approach is crucial, because a picture is a thousand words, and having affected communities take these photographs rather than an external, seasoned photographer allows for an understanding of the perspectives of the people most directly impacted. We are working to help these people speak for themselves. Finally, we are actively working to tackle overlooked, ignored environmental issues, rather than serving as another brick in the wall where change is already being made.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

In the past three months, we've spoken to youth across the Puget Sound regarding getting involved with envt'l activism. We developed our website for a professional online presence and usability to submit photos. In November, we connected with our first outreach partner- the YMCA Earth Service Corps, based in the Seattle Area. After a couple months of experimentation to find an effective approach, we developed a thorough impact plan targeting UN Sustainable Development Goals (as detailed earlier), setting our focus for 2021. Over 100 youth pledged to participate in our photo campaigns, from local schools. We consider our project to be in its initial stages, as we aim to launch our first photo campaigns shortly, and we plan to know we are making a difference by monitoring how many people we reach, and how much support we gather for measures such as petitions, community action, and more.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In 2021, we aim to launch multiple photo-based campaigns, to gather community support in locations around the United States and potentially internationally to push for action on key issues. Current target issues for us include the environmental impact of factory farms, or CAFOs, in North Carolina, the modern-day impact of the 'Love Canal' on nearby communities in New York, and the growing problem of COVID PPE waste even as the vaccine is distributed. We aim to work with schools and orgs. in these areas to photograph these issues and their impacts, and pilot a strategy of directing resulting awareness towards petitions for top-down civic action. We're currently assembling robust global teams for 'eco-journalism' and social media outreach.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

While our initial stage was experimental, we managed to connect with youth from 16 countries in spreading awareness of common environmental problems, encouraging them to lead local campaigns. For example, we got in touch with youth from Santiago, Chile, and inspired and collaborated with them to educate their community on how to make DIY compost bins, as composting is not a common practice in the area. This work reached 100s of people, halfway across the world. We are 100% proudly youth-led.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

The beauty of using photos for environmental activism is that it does not have to be standalone. Introducing our strategy and working with changemakers addressing issues in their own communities can accelerate impact, and we hope to find changemaker partners focused on community issues, to crowdsource photos in their areas and have a joint campaign in which we can focus on gathering wide support for the cause. We'd also love to collaborate on eco-journalism, and form a global coalition platform!

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

Our theory of change is based on the power of visuals in activism. As we launch our initial campaigns this year, the photos we gather from involved communities will mobilize people to push for action in eliminating these issues, and we'll direct this mobilization into channels that will produce results. The most important aspects of this project to express are the power of photos, our push to represent impacted communities' perspectives, and the use of a novel approach with untapped potential!

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Donations less than $100

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Project Plan & Strategy

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or General Motors, who was it?

Kim Fredericks, from the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce!

Find this idea inspiring? Add your own!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Hector Moyeton

This is a very impressive project, I like how you're already collaborating with several other organizations and how you're using the photos to drive both, community education around issues but also action from individuals and policymakers. As you're already gathering all these photos, I think you can also take advantage of big data here, you can track how certain issues change in communities over time and potentially be able to partner with universities and other research centers.

Photo of Maanit Goel

Thank you! We've actually been talking to local cities on how we may be able to use the information gathered as data to influence certain policies, and I appreciate your suggestion to use these crowdsourced photos in partnership with universities and research centers as well. Definitely something for us to look into as we grow and get more people to contribute. Bringing this up with the team!