SayTrees: Uniting Hearts and Hands for Environmental Revival

Cultivating Hope, One Tree at a Time
Kapil Sharma - Founder - SayTrees

Kapil Sharma - Founder - SayTrees

The CEO Magazine - SayTrees.pdf

“SayTrees has set an ambitious goal to plant 1Billion fruit and timber saplings, impacting the livelihoods of 2 million farmer households by 2035 and to achieve this, they seek - All Hands-on Soil”

Kapil Sharma - Founder - SayTrees

As we navigate the 21st century, our relationship with the environment stands at a critical crossroads. Let’s face the truth: our environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate, and the signs of strain are evident with the changing climate and loss of biodiversity. Fortunately, we are witnessing a positive shift as people become increasingly aware and accountable. There are visionaries who refuse to stand idly by, recognising that the preservation of our planet is not solely the responsibility of governments—it demands collective action from us all.

This shift is inspiring individuals to step up and make a difference. Meet Kapil Sharma, a changemaker who decided to be the change he wanted to see. Driven by a deep-seated desire to reverse the tide of environmental degradation, he took a stand and founded SayTrees—a community of climate change warriors with a local focus and a big vision.

SayTrees is a story of grassroots environmentalism and practical solutions. Through initiatives like urban forestry and supporting farmers, SayTrees isn’t just planting trees; they’re transforming lives and building a greener tomorrow. Kapil and the team at SayTrees effectively demonstrate how each of us can make a difference in tackling climate change—one tree and one drop of water at a time.

SayTrees: Nurturing Nature

SayTrees is a dedicated team of ordinary individuals extraordinarily determined to protect the environment. It represents a passionate community committed to combating climate change through localised solutions and remarkable support systems. Beyond their own efforts, the SayTrees team strives to raise awareness about the importance of conservation and encourage participation in tree-planting campaigns. Their vision for 2030 is a world adorned with two million hectares of thriving forests, empowered communities, and a massive reduction in carbon emissions.

SayTrees leads various initiatives encompassing research, education, sensitisation, and advocacy for environmental preservation and tree planting. The organisation thrives on its extensive volunteer network, which includes thousands of participants ranging from young children to busy professionals, housewives, and retired individuals. They have also garnered support from Fortune 500 CSR initiatives like Dell Technologies, Mercedez Benz and tech companies such as CGI and Zerodha.

By collaborating with eco-warriors, businesses, and individuals committed to making a positive impact, SayTrees plants trees, revives water bodies, manages waste, and cultivates a greener future for all. Through their efforts, they have established 100+ Green Zones, resulting in the planting of more than 7 lakh trees in urban areas and an impressive 22 lakh+ trees through agroforestry initiatives.

Presently, SayTrees coordinates tree planting and water conservation projects across multiple cities in India. They actively scout for suitable plantation sites, considering local biodiversity and ecological factors. This approach ensures that local communities benefit in multiple ways—besides restoring green cover, the planted trees provide fruits, flowers, leaves, and other resources commonly used in community life.

SayTrees operates across 13 states and three union territories in India, with a significant focus in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu. They also conduct impactful work in Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand, along with union territories like Delhi, Goa, and Ladakh.

The Origins of SayTrees

Bangalore, also known as “The Garden City of India,” has long been celebrated in fables and verses for its lush greenery and pleasant weather throughout the year. Then came the corporatisation and rapid growth of the IT industry, which, although it brought jobs and investments, also transformed this once-green haven into a bustling metropolis characterised by concrete jungles and diminishing green spaces. As trees were felled at an alarming rate, concerns grew among old-timers and tree lovers. In response to this environmental crisis, Kapil Sharma, a—software engineer by profession and passionate tree lover at heart—came together with his friends and family to plant on weekends, which soon became SayTrees Environmental Trust by 2013. Kapil says,

“Bengaluru’s dwindling tree diversity sparked a personal outcry in me, leading me to found SayTrees in 2007.” He adds, “Witnessing Bengaluru’s rapid urbanisation rip away its vibrant tapestry of native trees was a heartbreaking crime against nature. It fueled a fire within me – I had to act. SayTrees is a response dedicated to conserving the city’s irreplaceable tree diversity.”

What started as a casual weekend activity of planting native saplings has evolved into over 50 tree plantation drives during the monsoon season alone. Initially starting with tree plantation, the team soon realised another pressing issue: water scarcity. The realisation that water resources could deplete faster than fuel prompted SayTrees to shift their focus to two critical areas: afforestation and water conservation. They engage in initiatives to rejuvenate lakes, restore open wells, and actively involve and empower the community to contribute to this important cause.

Their Key Initiatives

Urban Forestry: They specialise in dense plantation techniques like Miyawaki, which maximise tree growth within limited urban areas, creating vibrant urban forests that promote biodiversity.

Empowering Farmers: SayTrees partners with small and marginal farmers by providing them with fruit and native tree saplings. This initiative not only helps restore degraded farmlands but also improves livelihoods through fruit production while promoting a healthier environment. Their innovative agroforestry models were recognised as top innovators in the One Tree Tribe Challenge by the World Economic Forum’s Uplink Platform.

Water Conservation: Through community engagement, SayTrees focuses on restoring degraded water bodies. This approach enables these bodies to store rainwater, recharge groundwater, and support sustainable livelihoods that depend on healthy lake ecosystems in the long term.

Navigating Initial Setbacks

Establishing any organisation from scratch has its challenges, but for nonprofits like SayTrees, the obstacles multiply tenfold. Many NGOs struggle to secure sufficient and consistent funding for their initiatives, and SayTrees was no different. Kapil reflects, “Securing funding was the primary challenge for us during our establishment.”

Back in 2007, climate action was still more of a buzzword, lacking the urgency it commands today. However, with floods, droughts, and unprecedented heatwaves now knocking on our doors, disrupting our children’s future and challenging our notions of food security and climate resilience, the importance of investing in and supporting nature-based solutions like agroforestry has never been more apparent.

“It is high time we channel resources towards grassroots efforts and amplify the impact of proven strategies to combat climate change,” says Kapil.

Why SayTrees is in a Class of its Own

The cornerstone of SayTrees’ mission is afforestation and water conservation, setting them apart in the industry. Their flagship program, centred on multi-layer Agroforestry, is a pioneering intervention focused on improving farm livelihoods and revitalising degraded farmlands. Through innovative multi-stakeholder approaches, SayTrees ensures the survival of saplings while providing ongoing support to farmers and nurturing these vital assets.

SayTrees’ program operates at scale with a farmer-centric and consultative framework, catering to the needs of small and marginal farmers in remote arid and semi-arid regions. Recognising water as essential for sustainable rural and urban ecosystems, SayTrees has developed targeted interventions in water conservation, including contour trenches with farmers, farm ponds, and the rejuvenation of city lakes.

By fostering community engagement and promoting transparency among stakeholders, SayTrees has reclaimed and preserved a significant 22 crore litres of water lost to encroachment and debris in Karnataka and its surrounding areas. This commitment to impactful initiatives and community involvement sets SayTrees apart in their industry.

Empowering Communities through Sustainable Practices

SayTrees as an organisation, is committed to sustainable practices that benefit both communities and the environment. Kapil views their impact through a unique lens. He asserts, “We are uniquely positioned to make the most of every contribution. Our focus is on planting native trees and rejuvenating lakes to capture rainwater.”

SayTrees is also focusing on the restoration of hand-dug wells, not only reviving a dying craft for the Bhovi community but also promoting a healthier groundwater ecosystem. One significant accomplishment for SayTrees lies in the agroforestry program, where farmers have experienced a remarkable 150% increase in income.

A coder by day, Kapil acknowledges that achieving his dream wouldn’t have been possible with a standard job alone. He attributes his success to the incredible community surrounding him, comprising equally passionate, if not more passionate, teammates. Kapil says, “Every day, we make a difference together. That’s why celebrating this collective spirit is so important to us.”

Redefining Success

The conventional definition of success often revolves around monetary gains, awards, and accolades. Success for SayTrees, however, diverges significantly. For them, success would be achieving their ambitious goals of increasing water holding capacity by 100 billion litres, planting 1 billion trees in urban and peri-urban areas, and positively impacting 2 million farmers’ livelihoods through the restoration of 2 million hectares of farmland. Kapil emphasises,

“These are not possible without collaborations and adequate funding. For us, success is defined by the community we are able to build and people and companies who join us to make a difference.”

Their efforts, however, have not gone unnoticed, and SayTrees has been the recipient of numerous accolades. They have been recognised as the top innovators in the 1 Trillion Tree Challenge by the Uplink platform of the World Economic Forum. Additionally, SayTrees is a working group member contributing to the policy on financing restoration in G20 India.

What Lies Ahead for SayTrees

SayTrees has set ambitious goals to increase water holding capacity by 100 billion litres and plant 1 Billion fruit and timber saplings, impacting the livelihoods of 2 million farmer households by 2035. To achieve these objectives, SayTrees is currently focused on surface and groundwater ecosystem conservation through a multi-pronged approach.

They are collaborating with experts and communities to rejuvenate lakes, tanks, and ponds, ensuring long-term sustainability. Additionally, they are restoring degraded farmlands and empowering remote and vulnerable farming communities by planting fruit trees and offering farmer training programs.

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