How Nature inFocus Cultivates Environmental Empathy Through Natural World Storytelling

Nature inFocus aims to bring awareness and attention to the climate crisis and act as a conduit for natural world storytellers.
Nature inFocus aims to bring awareness and attention to the climate crisis and act as a conduit for natural world storytellers. Dana Niazi for Nature inFocus

Nature inFocus is a Homegrown organization dedicated to conservation; preserving the wildlife and biodiversity of the world around us through a series of initiatives that include documentaries, photoseries, festivals and awards. By providing a platform to organizations and individuals working tirelessly to aid fractured ecosystems across the planet, they aim to bring awareness and attention to the climate crisis and act as a conduit for natural world storytellers. 

Homegrown recently spoke to Nature inFocus’ founder, Rohit Varma, who took us through his views on the way forward, from both an individual and a collective perspective as well as the work that his organization is doing at both a grassroots level as well asl in the form of the Nature inFocus Festival and the Nature inFocus Photography Awards.

With so much doom and gloom surrounding the issues pertaining to the environment and sustainability, it’s easy to become cynical and jaded. In your view, how can ordinary citizens contribute to conservation on a grassroots level? On a larger scale, what can homegrown organisations do better? Could you talk about some of the initiatives your organisation undertakes in pursuit of this?

I believe conserving nature is the responsibility of every individual. We have forgotten that Planet Earth is our only home and that we are a part of this ecosystem. We are harming nature more than ever in the name of development, and if we continue on this path, there will be no turning back.

Each one of us can contribute towards conserving the natural world. We need to be more conscious about what we are consuming and how much we are consuming. Small measures can drive a big impact when done by a large group of people. It can be as simple as carrying your own water bottle or grocery bag instead of spending on single-use plastic. Walk or cycle as much as possible, and switch off lights, fans and ACs when not required. Sustainability should be taught and inculcated in the minds of the next generation. They are the ones who can drive a huge change.

Large enterprises certainly can and should do much more. Hefty, purposeful CSR budgets for nature conservation should be the topmost priority for every organisation. Just planting trees or donating money is not enough for where we stand today. There should be sustainability champions in each and every department within the organisation. Simple things like a jug of water and glasses in place of disposable packaged drinking water in conference rooms, investing in a smart light system to save power and alternative sources for electricity generation.

We are very conscious about wastage at Nature inFocus. We use power conservatively. We print only when we need to. All of our employees bring their bottles to work. We don’t ask our team to come into the office every day, only when required. We support non-profit organisations in promoting their work through our portal and social media channels. We help them build communication in the form of articles or films so that their work can reach a larger audience. The core purpose of Nature inFocus is to reconnect people with the natural world and help them understand the importance of nature and how it is possible to lead a sustainable life.

Could you expand a little on the idea of “causes people can connect with”? How do you go about making the most pressing environmental issues of today resonate with people who are justifiably wrapped up in their own responsibilities and a myriad of other distractions?

Causes do connect people. I agree, everybody has their own challenges to deal with on a daily basis, but survival is the biggest challenge we face today, and there cannot be a bigger cause than survival.

In terms of how we can make an environmental issue resonate with the common person, there are many ways to do it. One can showcase the beauty of the natural world and talk about why it needs to be conserved but most of us only get concerned when we are directly impacted. By showcasing how a problem can become a personal problem is a definite way to connect with them.

At the end of the day, emotions connect people with a cause. Also, people need to know what they can do. Not everybody can survive on conservation as a full-time job, but I believe conservation starts at home. How conscious are you in your day-to-day life? It matters a lot!

Do you believe that development and conservation are compatible ideas in the world we live in today? How do you temper the expectations of a world that expects growth to continue at the same breakneck pace that has wreaked so much havoc on the natural world thus far? Can the two ideas ever truly coexist or is it necessary to compromise to protect the delicate ecosystems across the planet?

We need to take a step back and think. How does this mad race for development help us in the long term? Can we survive without natural resources? Just look at the sheer scale and frequency of floods, droughts, earthquakes and wildfires that have ravaged the world in the last few years. Even with all the latest technology, we are unable to predict these natural disasters and save precious lives.

Also, we don’t learn from our mistakes. We keep repeating them again and again. I am not against development, but it needs to be well-thought-out and sustainable.

Could you talk about the Nature inFocus Festival and Photography Awards and their role in amplifying and bringing attention to the plight of the natural world? How has the initiative evolved and what’s the overall public response been like to the art and photography on display?

The purpose of the festival is to celebrate nature. It is possibly the only such event of this scale in Asia, where researchers, scientists, conservationists, activists, wildlife photographers and filmmakers, and nature enthusiasts all congregate under one roof.

Discussions are not limited to wildlife photography or filming. We showcase research and conservation projects, discuss the pressing issues concerning the environment, talk about the impact driven by individuals or organisations, and award exemplary work in photography and filmmaking.

The Nature inFocus Photography Awards have evolved to a different level altogether. It is a serious competition that sees participation from across the world. Last year, the contest received more than 16,000 images from 1,200+ participants. Our contest focuses on creativity and storytelling rather than pure natural history.

We display all the finalist images (approx. 120) at the festival, where the public gets a chance to peek into these little windows to our natural world. People from across the country attend the exhibition, and obviously, they end up building some connection with nature. The last festival was in 2019 (before the pandemic) and witnessed 2000+ attendees. India's nature and wildlife community eagerly wait for the festival, and we are happy to be back this year. To be honest, the festival belongs to the community and we just play the role of the curator.

You can find out more about Nature inFocus via their website.

You can follow them on Instagram here.

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