Ever since she can remember, Gurgaon-based Anjali Birla has been interested in the environment and climate change debate. The 27-year-old manager with Tata Teleservices has been a part of various cleanliness drives in Bengaluru and Indore, and has also volunteered with various organizations like Clean Gurgaon and ZeroWaste in Rajasthan. In November, she was selected for the International Antarctic Expedition for Climate Change and Sustainability 2015.

In its 12th year, the expedition brought together people from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change on Antarctica’s wildlife and landscape. The 13-day expedition in March was organized by 2041, a company founded by Polar explorer Robert Swan which aims to understand Antarctica’s ecosystem.

Birla said the selection process included writing an essay, an interview and physical tests. She spoke to us about how the expedition changed her both personally and professionally. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Why did you sign up for the Antarctic expedition?

I was always passionate about environment and sustainability, right from my childhood. But the real trigger was in 2012, when I worked in Doondi village to encourage sustainability among the villagers. I realized how sustainability is intertwined with issues such as migration and employment, and that if more people are to be made aware of environment issues, then the focus has to be on practical solutions to complex problems. In 2013, when I read about the Antarctic expedition on the Internet, I immediately knew I had to be a part of it. I cleared all the medical and personal tests and was selected to be a part of the 81-member team that constituted world leaders, environmental experts and other youth ambassadors from 28 countries.

It must have been quite a challenging experience...

Our first stop was Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, which took us about 56 hours to reach from New Delhi. Then we explored the Antarctic peninsula, King George island and sailed through the most difficult part of the expedition—the Drake Passage. For these 13 days, we were on a ship in harsh cold weather with no connection to the world outside. But these very conditions forced us to think why we were there and what we could do as individuals to raise awareness about Antarctica and our environment in general.

How important was your organization’s support?

This expedition was of personal interest to me, but it couldn’t have been possible without my organization’s support. They paid for the programme and encouraged and helped me from the planning stage to the execution. I think initiatives like these help employees build a strong bond with their organizations and see them more like family than a 9-5 workplace.

How has this expedition helped you to enhance leadership qualities?

The first thing that Robert Swan asked us to think of was why we are interested in environment and sustainability in the first place. It was such an obvious question, but it got us thinking. The next task was to come up with solutions to communicate and inspire others to have a similar passion for the environment. The whole process made me realize the importance of a clear objective if I want to lead and inspire the youth of India to take up sustainability issues. Being passionate is one thing, but being practical about it is a leadership lesson that I learnt from this expedition.

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