Take Me to the River

IVLP alumnus Arun Krishnamurthy works to inspire a new generation of volunteers and activists for environmental conservation. 

Arun Krishnamurthy decided to quit a bright career at Google to pursue a higher calling: restoring India’s polluted lakes and rivers. In 2011, he formed the Chennai-based Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) focused on scientific research and environmental conservation through community participation. Krishnamurthy, and his team of about 900 youth volunteers, not just restores water bodies, but also undertakes tree plantation, herbs restoration, waste management education, mass awareness campaigns, documentary filmmaking and establishment of bio spots. He participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on environment in 2010. The IVLP is the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals.

Excerpts from an interview.


How did you first come to experience India’s lakes and wildlife? When did they become the focus of your work?

Growing up in suburban Chennai, blessed with freshwater habitats and many different kinds of animals, taught me key life lessons. The fact that we share this planet with many other lives got strongly etched into my belief system. My appreciation for the environment has always been an inseparable part of my life.


What were your biggest takeaways from your time at Google? What inspired you to start Environmentalist Foundation of India?

Google taught me to think outside the box and about the business world at large. I had begun thinking about forming my own NGO during my days in college. However, the formalization happened while I was at Google. Deciding to leave Google was not easy but, ultimately, my calling toward conservation became so strong that I just decided to quit one fine day.

How did your experience with the International Visitor Leadership Program influence your career?

The IVLP visit gave me global exposure and helped me broaden my knowledge resources. It came at a critical juncture and gave me some much-needed confidence to go forward.


How do you approach communities to get them involved in environmental conservation?

Almost every individual is worried about the deteriorating conditions in the larger environment and wants to help. The challenge is linking their desire to do something with actually getting something done. Citizens lack a clear platform to directly engage in conservation efforts. EFI aims to be a platform that educates and inspires people to actively participate. By listening to people about what changes they want to see, we help motivate them to bring about that change.


You’ve been critical about “urban arrogance” and the lack of a cohesive multidisciplinary collaboration for environmental conservation efforts. How would you like to see this improved in the future?

I’m unsure how exactly this will change. However, I am sure it has to change. Unless we work together, life isn’t going to be easy for future generations. We need to understand our environmental conservation mission is not just to protect the natural world around us, but also to ensure future generations continue to enjoy this great planet. We are dependent on it for everything, and we cannot disregard that fact due to urban arrogance and shortsightedness.


How many restoration projects has the Environmentalist Foundation of India completed so far?

EFI, to date, has restored 19 ponds and six lakes, with work currently underway at 54 more water bodies all across India. We never abandon a restoration project. Even after completion, we continue to follow up and ensure sustainability.


What are some of the goals of the Environmentalist Foundation of India?

Getting as many like-minded citizens to volunteer for environmental conservation efforts remains our simple goal. Result-oriented and real-time projects will continue to be our sole focus.

EFI is growing rapidly, with new team members. We are expanding our efforts into new regions. In the near future, EFI will branch into Sri Lanka and Bhutan as EFS and EFB.


What would be your advice to those who are interested in environmental advocacy and wildlife conservation?

1. Step out of your homes: Go outside to explore and understand your natural environment.

2. Take charge of your personal lives: Be more conscious with regard to waste, water and energy.

3. Start living as a “human” and abandon the “consumer” in you.


Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.