Tackling overlooked environmental deterioration through crowdsourced photography and STEM-based solutions. 4,000+ people reached.

Photo of Maanit Goel
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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): (Target audience: environmentally-concerned [generally younger generations] suburban/urban communities worldwide, with emphasis on the Puget Sound region at present!)

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 social media, media publicity, local partnerships, and science-based online 'eco-journalism' rooted in STEM solutions. 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.

The strategies with which people can address these issues we identify through photos are rooted in STEM. For example, in one of our first campaigns, we learned that Santiago, Chile had very little composting, so we worked with local youth to build homemade compost bins and educate others on how- not only using engineering to creatively address the issue, but teaching others to use STEM as well. We have also been developing our eco-journalism focus, in which we will write regular articles on our website describing the issues, using photos to draw people in, and focusing on STEM-based solutions applicable to any individual, in the same fashion as the solution of making compost bins for Santiago. In addition to these solutions, we believe that education is the best way to ensure long-term sustainability. We're working to educate people about the scientific bases of each of the problems we're working to address and many more, currently through eco-journalism, and soon, through regular panels with environmental researchers and accomplished problem-solvers which we're currently working to develop. STEM education is crucial for a lasting envt'l impact, and this is a priority for us.

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

On Apollo 8, a photo was taken depicting Earth in all its beauty and fragility from outer space- 'Earthrise'. It had an underappreciated role in the roots of the environmental awakening of the 60s, and gave me perspective when I first saw it. This photo showed me that we had to protect our planet, a fragile blue marble floating in empty space, and was key in pushing me to take action. In 2020, I was deeply involved in local sustainability work (yes, even remotely), and I eventually put two and two together. What if, through photos, this 'overview effect' could be applied to environmental advocacy? With a seed of an idea, a group of pre-COVID friends and I assembled- remotely- and just began to experiment. We found that crowdsourcing photos of localize environmental issues could have this effect, and make people care, while giving impacted communities a voice. Thus, MarbleWatch was born.

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!

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Probably - 0%

Maybe - 66.7%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 0%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 100%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 0%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 66.7%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 100%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 33.3%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4- Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3- Maybe - 33.3%

2- Probably not - 0%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 33.3%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 33.3%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 33.3%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 66.7%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 50%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 0%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 50%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 50%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kai-Han Chang

I'm so grateful that we have a great group of young changemakers (and still expanding with the help of MarbleWatch!) that participate into the education part of environmental awareness

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