From her early encounters with environmental literature to her immersive experiences across continents, Rozina Kanchwala has emerged as a steadfast advocate for a sustainable future. With her innovative approaches, she challenges apathy and ignites dialogue.
Expeditions and encounters
It was during Rozina's formative years, in her fourth-grade classroom in Chicago, that the seeds of environmental consciousness were sown. An insightful teacher introduced her class to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. As Rozina turned the pages and learned of the intricate ecosystem that sustains life on our planet, she wondered why humans were causing it harm.
“That question has stuck with me ever since,” she said. The book left an imprint on Rozina's young mind, nurturing a passion for the natural environment that would continue to grow.
While at college, her horizons expanded further while studying abroad in West Africa.There, she observed first-hand the harsh realities of desertification in Senegal.
“One farmer showed me how the desert was encroaching on the planting area, affecting his ability to grow crops and feed his family,” she explained. The changing climate was no longer an abstract concept but a tangible force, affecting the daily lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities.
During a year-long sojourn in India, Rozina delved deep into the the tragic reality of farmer suicides, seeking to understand the underlying causes — often climate-related — and related implications. It was a second up-close and personal encounter that left an impression: “I knew I had to work on this issue,” she recalls.
Rozina later decided to pursue higher education in the field of Environment and Sustainable Development, as part of the GPISH programme at The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS). She learned of the strong emphasis on environmental conservation and the concept of stewardship within the Islamic faith.
“Islam teaches its followers that humans are trustees or caretakers of the Earth and its resources, and that it’s their duty to protect and preserve the natural world,” she said. “This viewpoint aligns with the belief that the Earth and all its components are considered creations of Allah, deserving of our respect and responsible management.”
She also realised that the ecological crisis was not confined to remote parts of the globe, but had far-reaching implications for humanity as a whole: “We are not separate entities merely coexisting with nature,” explained Rozina. “Rather, we are an integral part of it.”
This recognition of our intrinsic link to the natural world led her to conclude that caring for the Earth is not only a religious obligation but a fundamental aspect of our identity as humans.
Combined, these experiences compelled her to channel her newfound knowledge and empathy into action, and laid the groundwork for her arduous journey as an environmental advocate.
Once back in the US, Rozina entered the clean energy field, working to raise awareness and help drive the shift to greener, more sustainable forms of energy. The amount of time and effort spent in the industry began to take a toll.
“I’ve been in this field for a long time,” she explained. “With that comes a certain amount of environmental anxiety just because you learn about these issues and they're so overwhelming and so difficult to address.”
Rather than succumbing to despair, however, Rozina harnessed her anxieties as a driving force for creative expression. Recognising that not enough people were talking about climate change, she crafted a play that aimed to provoke thought and spark dialogue. Her innovative approach helped to forge connections among audiences who would have otherwise remained indifferent.
Despite not having any background in the performing arts, she was invited to produce the play at two theatre festivals in Washington D.C. She had no idea what to expect: “We hoped that 20 people would show up each night,” Rozina recalled.
The show sold out every single night of the festival, and even attracted media coverage. Love in the time of climate change is a ‘climate comedy’ with a different take — it explores the central characters’ anxieties around the climate crisis. People came up to her after the shows to thank her, and share how relatable it was for them.
“There was this real appetite and enthusiasm for it,” said Rozina. “It was really cool to see environmental issues presented in a way that wasn't doom and gloom, but it was entertaining and it did educate people and inspire action.”
Capitalising on this public appetite for environmental education that also entertains and reaches people in creative ways, Rozina decided to found Eco.Logic, a non-profit organisation that uses arts, community building, and education to inspire environmental action.
“A lot of people care about environmental issues, but they don't know how to engage,” said Rozina. “So through Eco.Logic programmes, we really make it accessible and help people find a community in the process as well.”
“Often, people aren't talking about climate change because they don't know what someone else is thinking. I may be really concerned, you may be really concerned, but I'm not going to talk to you about it because I don't know how you think about it and vice versa. So through our programmes, we create a safe space for people to talk, learn from each other, learn about the topic, and then offer tangible ways to take action.”
Eco.Logic prides itself on being an intersectional organisation, taking into account the environmental angle when discussing racial justice, public health, gender, and national conflicts.
Their next initiative is an ambitious one that aims to address as many of these angles as possible. Rozina has set her sights on a land restoration initiative, driven by a belief in the power of regenerative practices to heal and revive ecosystems, and to address the challenges posed by human activities, in particular intensive agriculture.
“In Illinois, there is so much farmland — about 75 percent of the state is farmland, said Rozina. “And while that may sound nice, it's actually quite ecologically destructive because farmlands have really destroyed the native prairies, the native ecosystems, the wetlands, which are flood mitigation measures and carbon sinks.”
The team hopes to create a blueprint that empowers other communities to undertake their own land restoration initiatives. This will involve engaging with Indigenous communities and mobilising local farmers, environmental organisations, and government entities to foster a sense of stewardship and collective action among the diverse stakeholders.
“It's such a massive puzzle,” she added.
Over the years in the environmental field, Rozina has seen encouraging progress and changing attitudes. Yet even with gathering momentum, there’s still plenty to do. So what advice does she have for us?
Within environmental action, she said, everyone should reflect and decide on what to focus on, where their sphere of influence lies, since there are so many topics to choose from. We need to think bigger, and we need to come together.
“Even if your company or organisation isn't an environmental organisation, is there something that you can do to bring environmental issues to the company culture?” Rozina urged.
“Narrow down into the topic that you care about most, identify your skills, talents, and resources, and engage where you think you can have a real impact,” she said. “Is it food, transportation, clean energy, sustainable fashion, water issues, etc.? Then figure out who you can bring along with you to do that.”