How One Environmental Science Class Inspired an 8-Year Old in India to Focus His Future on Clean Water Access

In 2004, Madhav Datt was only 8 years old when he attended a mandatory environmental science class. The teacher packed an immense amount of information into this one session, but there was one fact that resonated with him for the past fifteen years: in Haryana, India the water table was dropping at a rate of two feet per year. At 8 years old, Madhav decided he was going to take action and enlist his friends to start a school environmental club. At 8 years old, Madhav started his life’s work on climate action, beginning with the planting of trees in the front of his school and store-to-store campaigning to stop the use of plastic bags.

Madhav sharing his story at One Young World 2018 in The Hague

Madhav first founded his club Green the Gene, and over the years scaled it to become one of the world’s largest youth-led, environmental nonprofit organizations. Their mission is to develop technology and data-intensive solutions for local communities in acute and immediate environmental crises around the world. Working in 62 countries with over 7,000 volunteers, Madhav and his team mostly work with young people in these communities because he recognizes that youth are the ones most impacted and will have to deal with the consequences of climate change.

Since becoming an organization, Green the Gene has made significant strides to improving the health and wellbeing of people in different regions of the world through inventions and projects:

  • with his academic background in computer science, Madhav invented low-cost (<$8 USD) water purification devices at the intersection of machine learning and chemical-free filtration, and led the deployment of 8,000 filtration units in rural Tanzania, bringing safe water access to 40,000+ people
  • Green the Gene developed systems for recycling more than 3 million liters of swimming pool water annually in India
  • Volunteers and members from local communities came together and planted over 2.2 million trees in The Gambia and India in order to address deforestation and to encourage communities to get involved in climate action
  • Supported over 2,000 youth to establish compact, vertical micro-gardening urban farms to position them as home-based entrepreneurs in Uganda and Kenya
Deploying Green the Gene’s portable, point-of-use machine-learning driven water filtration units in rural regions of Mwanza, Tanzania

The work does not stop there. This year, Madhav and his team are aiming to scale up their operations and increase the accessibility of their data to improve access to clean water for their beneficiaries. They plan to do this by bringing the cost per water filtration device down to $4 with improvements in hardware and machine learning algorithms, and open source more than 700 gigabytes of water quality parameter data sets for other NGOs, local organizations and governmental agencies, deploy 100,000 additional water filtration units, and expand on existing projects in India, Kenya, Tanzania, Mali, and other countries to reach an additional one million individuals. As a tech-forward organization, they were also one of 9 social enterprises selected by Akon to join Team AKON, and are building a mobile app that would serve to crowd-source water quality monitoring data on a global scale.

Green the Gene is leading the charge in open source models to serve the greater good and drastically transform the lives of so many individuals who otherwise lack access to data or improved water sources. Other organizations should replicate their commitment to open sourcing for social good, for it can spur ideas and inspire others to follow their lead.

To stay informed on Green the Gene’s updates, follow them here.