There’s no such thing as a 7 year itch for Solve Ninja Vibish Kashyap
For over 7 years, Vibish Kashyap has spent his weekends and free time investigating and solving public problems. Meet the Solve Ninja who took 300 economical and water saving urinals to 15 low income schools in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu!
Solve Ninja Origins
Vibish Kashyap still remembers the very first time he met Reap Benefit co-founders Kuldeep Dantewadia and Gautam Prakash. The year was 2013, and Vibish was a grade 8 student at TVS Academy, Hosur.
“We were hardly asked to stay after school or come in on weekends. But this one week, our teacher asked the entire grade 8 to come to school on Saturday, because someone called Kuldeep was coming to talk to us,” recalls Vibish. “We thought it would be another typical seminar where someone would make a presentation and then leave. But it wasn’t like that at all. Kuldeep and Gautam were so friendly, played games with us, asked us questions and most important of all, they actually listened to our answers.”
TVS Academy, Hosur is well known for imprinting upon students the need to be environmentally aware and active. A school led tree plantation drive saw 1 lakh trees planted in Hosur while a recycling paper mill and drip irrigation system on campus are active.
Vibish recalls how Gautam and Kuldeep made the students examine why such activities were restricted to their school and not extended to their homes and communities.
“Their simple question highlighted a subtle hypocrisy that existed. And it caused a huge change in my mind set.”
While #solvesmalldentbig hadn’t been articulated fully yet, Vibish says that he and his peers were constantly pushed to think about what change they could make at an individual level. It was a water audit that convinced Vibish that each of us could have a tremendous impact on our environment by taking a simple action.
“We did a water audit with and without aerators. Initially I thought, what was this small aerator going to do? But my mind was completely blown by how much water was saved when we used this small hack. It really drove home the point that something small could make such a huge difference.”
Solve Ninja 24/7
Once this thought had been embedded in his mind, Vibish and his classmates began spending many of their weekends voluntarily organising cleaning drives and awareness campaigns in their communities.
“One weekend, 6 to 7 of us went to clean up a local outdoor space that was a huge mess. Plastic, construction material, broken bottles, it was terrible. We started cleaning the spot and after 4 hours, the place didn’t look any different from when we had started, it was so bad! We were ready to give up but after lunch we decided to go back and do some more. It was then that people walking by noticed us and asked us why we were doing this. Four adults were impressed and said that they had always seen kids complaining about the problems around them but it was the first time they were seeing kids taking action! They even offered to join us in cleaning the place up. We collected 28kg of waste that day and I remember that even though the place didn’t look terribly different at the end, as a group we felt proud of what we had done.”
Building 21st Century Skills
At the core of Reap Benefit’s work is imparting 21st century skills to young people through public problem solving.
Vibish says that one of the skills he has learned over the years is the ability to think analytically about an issue and the need to not just find one stakeholder’s perspective but include those of everyone involved in a situation.
Communication is a strong suit of Vibish’s and one he says that he has been able to hone as a Solve Ninja.
“I have always enjoyed talking to people but never really had so many opportunities to speak to diverse people until Reap Benefit came into my life.”
It was his communication skills that brought about an opportunity to become one of 12 global brand ambassadors for Unilever’s Project Sunlight that tackled the importance of sanitation and hygiene.
“Along with the chance to talk about sanitation and hygiene for a short film, I had the opportunity to write a proposal for my waterless urinal project with the help of my prinicipal, who also envisioned basic rights like sanitiation for children to obtain a good education. The grant helped me, Reap Benefit and the juniors of my school TVS Academy Hosur implement the project.
Vibish and Reap Benefit were able to install 300 toilets in 15 schools across Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
New innings, new experiences and learnings
When Vibish started his engineering course in Chennai, he was invited to join Reap Benefit’s newly formed Youth Board.
“I was busy trying to settle down to my course and life in a new city and wasn’t sure if I would be able to take the role on. But one day I had this epiphany: social responsibility is a habit one should always have. It doesn’t matter how busy a student or professional you are, you have to make time for it.”
Since joining the Youth Board, Vibish has worked with Reap Benefit in ways big and small. From planning activities to being a part of the Covid Ninja cadre of volunteers to representing the organisation at national level events like KidsEducationRevolution, a Teach for India initiative.
“Through Reap Benefit I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many young people, educators and leaders and speak about the importance of civic leadership and the need for young people to be involved in their communities. My experience at KER has made me realise how important education is in making people understand and believe in the need for them to take steps and actions for the world.”
The pandemic has seen the birth of KERx, a virtual space intended to foster change at the school level. Vibish has been a key member of the initiative.
“KER and Reap Benefit have got together to bring together their respective learnings and channelise them into schools. Students and educators work together as partners to create safe spaces for young people to become changemakers.”
Vibish is a KERx facilitator and helps schools ideate and work through solutions through immersion programs. KERx is currently working with 4 private and 4 govt schools in Mumbai, Surat and Pune.
From Mentee to Mentor
What’s wonderful about Vibish’s journey is that he has not only imbibed and practiced the skills he has learned as a Solve Ninja, but is now actively passing them on to other young problem solvers.
After being mentored by Kuldeep and Gautam, Vibish now mentor others through his work as a Youth Board Member, a KERx facilitator and his involvement with Covid Ninjas.
“The most amazing thing about mentoring is you get a huge and new perspective on a number of things. The students themselves are so inspiring! I remember one student had left Chennai due to the pandemic and gone to his native place. He only had one hour access to the internet every day but would use that time to search for ideas! He shared some amazing rain water harvesting ideas that he wanted to implement in his uncle’s home during one of our virtual sessions.”
Vibish has also taken all his collective learnings, experiences and ideas and started Reform Trail along with fellow Solve Ninjas Amisha and Shivani. The initiative that uses social emotional learning to sow the seeds of social responsibility and leadership in students. The program has been designed in levels, from self-awareness to social awareness to social responsibility. So far, Reform Trail has conducted two workshops during the pandemic, and is now working on next steps.
Vibish truly embodies the Solve Ninja spirit, and he believes that there’s a Solve Ninja is all of us. All it takes for that Solve Ninja to emerge is understanding that, “A small change in our own behaviour can make a huge difference to their families, communities and the world at large.”
If you’re an educator at a school focused on the holistic development of your learners, and are interested in activating 21st Century Skills in them through public problem solving, write to firstname.lastname@example.org to know more!