For taking a glass-half-full approach to reducing water waste
Garvita Gulhati was just a teenager when she realized the fundamental need for a sustainable water supply in India. On a trip to Ahmedabad, she encountered a little girl vying for her attention. "I thought she needed some money," Gulhati recalls. "Surprisingly, she pointed at the bottle in my hand—she just wanted water." With that experience locked in her memory, Gulhati encountered a statistic showing restaurants waste millions of liters (millions of gallons) of water each year, simply from emptying glasses left behind by customers.
"The divide between the two worlds—that wasted water and the little girl I met at Ahmedabad—shook me, and I committed myself to save every drop of water I possibly could," she says.
From there, in 2015 Gulhati launched Why Waste?, a bold campaign dedicated to educating restaurants and their customers about sustainable water usage. For the first project, dubbed #GlassHalfFull, Gulhati and her team of volunteers created placards highlighting stories of those in need of water. They then made site visits to restaurants, talking to operators about the economic benefits of water conservation.
In 2019 Gulhati secured buy-in from the National Restaurant Association of India, which rolled out #GlassHalfFull to the half-million restaurants it represents. So far, Why Waste? has helped save more than 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) at eateries across the country.
While many local business owners initially bristled at the idea of taking advice from a teenager, Gulhati's leadership has pushed her onto the global stage. Why Waste? has partnered with Facebook, Ashoka, Google and the Ikea Foundation, and Gulhati is now actively involved with the UN's climate campaign We the Change in India, which aims to bring ideas from young leaders to political decisionmakers.
During the pandemic, Gulhati also developed the Why Waste? app to help people calculate their daily water footprint—and see how their actions can make a difference.
"If each of us lived a bit more sustainably, we would build impact and drive change that matters," she says.
Garvita Gulhati on perseverance, finding meaning in chaos and trusting the process
How do you build an engaged and effective team?
Every person who comes onto the team has the freedom to do what they love. If you’re a great writer, we’ll find a way to have you give value to the organization.
And the second thing is to believe so strongly in the project that people are moved by your perseverance and resilience toward wanting to solve that idea. You adapt it, you consume it, you make it a part of your life so it’s a part of every conversation that you have, and you will start to see people who love the idea just as much as you do—and who want to build solutions toward it.
What’s one way you see managing projects changing over the next decade?
Being a leader today means being able to manage chaos. That’s what project management is: It’s about managing and finding some kind of meaning in all of this chaos, extracting value out of it.
What moonshot project would you like to work on?
Businesses play a pivotal role in empowering people to be the change we need to see in the world. So I would love to be part of a project focused on building sustainable businesses. Imagine if the world’s largest businesses were sustainable. The planet would already be moving in a more positive direction.
What advice would you give to your (even) younger self?
Trust and enjoy the process of making your idea reality. Fall in love with it. Learn from it and believe in it. It’s all about the process.
Listen to Garvita Gulhati discuss two critical components to Why Waste?—effectively engaging stakeholders to boost buy-in and creating a team that’s passionate and determined to deliver value.
Engaging stakeholders to get their mind on changing water usage—obviously, [it's] a challenging task. But I think the key goal was finding an alignment between every one of the stakeholders. So with restaurants, we realized it was telling them that the economics of this whole concept is going to be valuable. With the National Restaurant Association of India, it was telling them that partnering up with a youth organization is going to be a really, really powerful activity for you and something that you should definitely consider and encourage, etc. And, of course, that continues, right? We're a completely grant-funded organization. We've never fundraised. We've never had CSR funding. So we have obviously convinced very, very high, key stakeholders to invest in us.
[The] key to building an effective team—it's twofold, right? One is every person who comes onto the Why Waste? team does what they love the most. So you are constantly going to be engaged in activities that matter most to you. So if you're a great writer, you're going to do something along the lines of writing—but something that also supports and gives value to the organization. Anyone who joins the team has the freedom to do what they love. And I think the second thing, which is very key to building an effective team, is to "Believe and to make believe." So you believe so strongly in it that people are moved by your perseverance and resilience toward wanting to solve that idea. You adapt it. You consume it. You make it a part of your life so much that it's a part of every conversation that you have, and you will start to see people who love the idea just as much as you do and who want to build solutions toward it. And I think those are the kind of people we need to hold onto. For a very long time, I wasn't sure what kind of a leader I was. I wasn't the best at anything, but I was great at a lot of things, so sort of a jack of all [trades], but I think what I was best at was bringing the best out of different people, bringing the right people to work together. It's not about having the smartest people in the room, but it's having the smartest team in the room, I think.