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Life in Seattle, Heart in Punjab, the story of a successful Punjabi entrepreneur based in the US

PUNJAB NEWS EXPRESS | September 17, 2022 01:46 AM

MOHALI: Nine lakh trees planted in 900 villages of Punjab since 2019. Waste management units were set up in 122 villages, engaging more than 22, 000 households. Running 223 ‘Learn Labs’ which are shaping the future of more than 14, 000 children.

All this and more has been achieved by RoundGlass Foundation in Punjab in the past four years. A non-profit based out of Mohali, the Foundation is working towards improving the lives of children, youth, and women of Punjab, and helping communities and the environment flourish by making significant social, cultural, and economic investments in the state.

Recently, its founder Sunny Singh – a Seattle-based tech entrepreneur –was in Mohali and in a freewheeling discussion spoke about his vision for Punjab. “I imagine a state where people are living a life of wellbeing. I love Punjab and I am bringing resources and the Punjabi diaspora to it. I want to make Punjab the greenest state in the world. I believe in the people of Punjab and have faith in them. I want to see Punjab unleashing its potential in the world, ” said Singh who was born in Patiala and later moved to the US for higher education.

Challenges to Environment

Punjab’s environment has been witnessing continuous degradation for since 50-odd years. The Green Revolution followed by the rapid industrialisation of agriculture in the state has led to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilisers, resulting in water, soil, and air pollution. As per government data, a typical farmer in Punjab now uses 3.5 times more fertilisers and pesticides than in 1970 to get the same output.

Almost 85 per cent of Punjab’s geographical area is under agriculture, and just 3.6 per cent of the area is forested. More land under agriculture means higher stress on water resources leading to over-extraction of groundwater. A 2021 study done by Punjab Agricultural University found that the state’s groundwater level has been dipping by 1 meter every year, from 1998-2018. The low water productivity of the state has also contributed to the overuse of groundwater. To give a perspective, Punjab uses about 5, 400 litres of water to grow one kilogram of rice, five times more than what China utilises.

Taking Positive Action

During an earlier visit to Punjab, Singh became familiar with his home state’s environmental and social challenges and decided to act, the result was RoundGlass Foundation.

RoundGlass Foundation aimsat creating a healthier, happier, and more vibrant Punjab by applying the principles of what Singh calls “Wholistic Wellbeing” – an integrated approach to physical, mental, social, community and planetary wellbeing. "It truly allows us to take care of the people, " said Singh.

The Foundation works in areas of sustainability and climate change, and the wellbeing of children and women of the state by empowering them with knowledge, skills, and financial independence.

Working towards Planting 1 billion Trees in Punjab

“The Foundation runsvarious programs such as Sustain Punjab, Learn Punjab, Sports Punjab and Her Punjab. Under Sustain Punjab, it is running initiatives such as Plant for Punjab, which is regreening the state by planting native trees. Since 2019, the Foundation has created 700 mini forests and planted 9 lakh trees in Punjab, ” said Singh. Plant for Punjab has a goal of planting one billion trees in the state.

Reforestation activities help in mitigating climate change by enhancing carbon sequestration through trees, they regulate water cycles, prevent soil erosion, and desertification, and restore wildlife habitats. In addition, reforestation drives improve the health and livelihoods of local communities.

Taking Sports to Children

Sport is a powerful tool for social transformation. RoundGlass Foundation is using sports as a medium to nurture children’s potential for leadership, teamwork, and discipline and, in the process, enables them to make positive life choices. Under its Sports Punjab programme, it is running 262 Sports Centres which are training 7, 000 children, including girls, across Punjab.“We are creating spaces in villages for children to play a variety of sports and providing them with nets, goal posts, footballs etc. These spaces will also have a walking track and places to sit. The idea is to invite both elders and children to come out. The elders can keep an eye on children as they play. This will help keep children away from over-use of screens and put their energies to constructive use, ” said Sunny.

To raise a generation of changemakers and problem-solvers, Foundation has invested in Learn Labs which foster curiosity, cognitive flexibility, and critical thinking in children and youth, working with them during after-school hours. At present, there are 233 Learn Labs across Punjab, teaching more than 14, 000 students in the age group of 6-14 years.

Her Punjab is another programme run by the Foundation that empowers women and girls living in villages through initiatives in health and financial independence.

Power of the People

While Singh is on this ambitious journey to transform Punjab, he says he is not alone. “Punjab and its people have been very supportive of the work being done by the Foundation. Its social initiatives have garnered a lot of love and respect and people truly value its work and its mission to build a better, more vibrant Punjab, ” Singh said.

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