HomeEnvironmentEnvironment, teamwork, and leadership

ANANYA PATEL talks about the evolution of the Gigatonne Challenge, a grass roots environmental movement. She also explores leadership, why teams should sometimes take a pause to connect, and how a sense of responsibility toward the people involved helps her stay focused on the challenges at hand. This is part 2 of her interview with ELIZABETH DENLEY.

Next Steps in the Gigatonne Challenge

Q: How many teams are there around the world now participating in the Gigatonne Challenge?

AP: At this point, we have around70 teams – some not so active, some very active, some at level 1, some at level 4 – which is 40 times the amount of waste. It increases 10 times for each level.

I designed a lot of the crowdfunding material for social media, especially for the more focused campaigns to communicate with the world about the vision and the work that has been done.

Q: Apart from food waste, what other projects are involved?

AP: There are a couple of teams in Canada working with energy, with their local councils. The councils are receptive to creating policies that limit the use of energy in office buildings.

For the teams in the southern hemisphere, a lot of the work is with sustainable zero-emission transport, from carts to electric vehicles. The Gigatonne Challenge helps the teams get electric vehicles for their work, so that they don’t add to the problem.

Q: Ananya, where do you see this going? You’ve been there since the beginning stages. This is something that works at a grassroots level around the world, and it’s coordinated out of a university. What sort of leadership will make this grow going forward so that it has a huge impact on the world?

AP: I started out as a team member physically going to restaurants and food vendors, picking up bags of garbage, bringing them to compost, and actually doing the work. Now I’m helping other teams do that, because I have built a capacity, I’ve built some experiential knowledge.

I’ve spent time with communities who are experiencing this issue on a much larger scale. I think I have a responsibility to support these communities, to help them pick up skills.


The climate crisis is something we’ve grown up with, and we can’t ignore the way it’s happening in the world. One of the things that really had an impact on me were the big fires in the Amazon. I remember thinking, “What do we do? What is the future for me?” I know a lot of people who were coming out of university and starting their careers, and trying to figure out who they are, when the pandemic hit. A lot of things were uncertain. At that point I was like, “It doesn’t help to just fret about it.”

If you can imagine a world where all these issues don’t exist, maybe you can do something about them. It just made sense to me. I’ve always wanted my work to have an impact that is beyond myself, that means something more to the world, and this is something I have stumbled upon that gives me that.

Q: You’re also a designer and a very good illustrator. How does that capacity help with this?

AP: The teams do a lot of really hard meaningful work, but they don’t have the tools or the capacity to share their stories in an impactful way. Telling their stories makes a huge difference. While designing a lot of infographics and visual material for the Gigatonne Challenge, I have started to see how the creative aspect comes into play – communicating the story, and the design.

Tips for Young Leaders

Q: What qualities do you think are important for young leaders today, given the uncertainty of our future and the need to do something and not just wait for somebody else to do something?

AP: When there is this intense need to do something, it’s easy to get caught up in the work. I remember being so focused on the project and making sure the team was okay that I didn’t ask myself, “Am I okay?” Had I done that, I would have supported the team better. It’s important to take a minute to assess yourself, what you’re going through. It’s difficult and challenging, and a lot of people have anxiety about it.

It’s frustrating because things don’t work out sometimes, and it’s easy to just keep going and going, especially when you don’t have much time. It’s important to take a step back, assess how you’re doing internally: Are you in connection with yourself with why you’re doing this work? Why are you in this space? While working with people, it’s important to keep reminding yourself of these things, and place yourself in your world. It helps to keep going, otherwise you can easily feel burned out or lost. When I did connect with myself, I was able to communicate better with others.

When I was open about the challenges I was facing, the other team members were more open about what challenges they were facing. That created a space in the group where everyone felt it was okay to share what they were going through.


Q: Is that how you deal with differences of opinion in the team? With a team of five, obviously you won’t all agree on things all the time.

AP: We haven’t been in a position of insane conflict, but when everyone is feeling overworked or tired then conflicts bubble up. I just press pause on everything.

For example, one time we were not able to agree on how we were spending the money or what our priorities were. We were all tired and feeling pressured, so I said, “Can we press pause?” That meant no more spending money for the next three days. We didn’t go to work for the next three days. We took a moment, and then we came together and had a physical meeting.

We spent half a day connecting with each other, talking about what was important to each of us, why these challenges were coming up, and why we were having disagreements. That pause and reset helped us pick up and say, “Okay! Now we’ve understood everyone’s needs, what do we need to do as a team? In our group’s needs, everyone’s needs came into play. My training in Heartful Communication has really helped.

Q: Any last words?

AP: The reason I’m able to continue working with people in this way is because I have a sense of responsibility toward them. If you don’t have that sense of responsibility, you can’t do the work as effectively on an operational level. It’s important for me to remind myself why I’m doing it, what my role is, and what I need to do to make this work. Then balance that with accepting those things are not in my hands, as I need to be patient and mindful with those.

Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL


Ananya Patel

Ananya Patel

Ananya is a designer and illustrator who enjoys finding dynamic ways to tell stories. She works on projects with social impact, and runs a youth collective bringing innovative design approaches to climate action and gender equality.