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BITS Pilani’s very own Antarctic ClimateForce Ambassador: Divya Nawale’s journey from classrooms in Pilani to the United Nations and beyond

BITS Pilani’s very own Antarctic ClimateForce Ambassador: Divya Nawale’s journey from classrooms in Pilani to the United Nations and beyond


Divya Nawale, a graduate of BITS Pilani (Pilani, '03) who has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical(Hons.) is a driving force in the field of climate change advocacy. Currently working with the United Nations as a Climate Policy Engagement Officer and as a board member for several non-profits, she has done impactful work in shaping sustainable practices and climate change solutions across the globe. She has set foot on all seven continents, including two commendable expeditions to Antarctica, to fulfill her mission of preserving the planet. She is equally passionate about women's empowerment and has been an active member of Nirmaan since her time in Pilani. Adding to her list of brilliant achievements, she also won the BITS Alumni Association 30-Under-30 award for Social Entrepreneurship and Community building.

What inspired you to get into climate activism? Was it something you were invested in since your childhood?

Firstly, I would like to tweak the question a bit. I consider myself to be an advocate rather than an activist. There's a fine line between activism and advocacy. In activism, the emphasis lies on identifying issues and urging others to address them. In advocacy, on the other hand, one actively contributes to the solutions by following an active approach rather than a passive one.

And to answer your question further, my appreciation for nature began in my early years. I loved watching "underwater shows" as a kid, which sparked my interest in learning about the environment in general. But it was only in high school that I got curious about global warming, and later spent some time understanding what climate change is and how it is the most significant human challenge of the 21st century. Throughout my journey, Nobel Prize laureate and ex-Vice President of the US, Mr. Al Gore, was an essential inspiration, especially since I watched his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” the same year I graduated from BITS. And a decade later, I had the incredible opportunity to share the stage with him and tell him how he inspired me!

What led to the Antarctica expedition with the 2041 organization? Did you have any interesting experiences there and was there a difference between the two visits?

I was a part of the 2041 organization founded by my mentor and polar explorer Robert Swan OBE. The organization is dedicated to understanding the impact of climate change on Antarctica. Every year, 2041 invites innovators, researchers, pioneers, and other experts to Antarctica to observe the changes happening due to climate change. Well, if you want to know about cool experiences, there are just too many to count! Besides penguin-watching and whale-watching, we did several activities for team building and to encourage leadership skills. There were a bunch of storytelling sessions and water polar plunges in -3 degrees Sea water. We also meditated on the ice and made igloos! Surprisingly, Antarctica is easier for a physically sound and fit person than the hikes, which are not super intense. It is more the mental strength that matters more.

Regarding differences between the two visits, I first went on the Antarctic Expedition in 2009 as a youth champion representing India. I returned later in 2018 as a Director for the ClimateForce expedition, so the experience differed in how I approached my viewpoint. I felt there were way too many ships the 2nd time, which meant increased tourism. Additionally, during the second visit, it felt like the ice was less knee-deep thick or packed with snow, making me question if we are losing polar ice at an unprecedented rate. This is not good, given that this will be the prime reason for rising sea levels this century.

How was your experience as the Director of Fundraising for BITSAA International, where you led fundraising efforts to support daily wagers and students/alums in financial need?

Working for BITSAA International was indeed a very fulfilling experience. I was involved with them for over 2 years, during which we primarily raised funds for the daily wage workers during COVID-19. We raised upwards of 35 crores, the most successful BITSAA campaign ever. The contentment I felt was definitely unparalleled. I think being a part of the BITSIAN community is all about being there for each other. I also helped students get some support on used laptops and other technological challenges they faced attending classes during the pandemic. Both these initiatives were super fulfilling.

Being from the Pilani campus, could you share some memorable moments that you cherish till date?

Looking back, my time at BITS has been a rollercoaster of great memories. I was there when LTC/ FD5 first opened up in my freshman year, and I had my first class in one of those huge lecture theater halls. The main library opening in my 2nd semester was another highlight, and being part of the first students to check out the new Student Activity Center (SAC) in my final year was also awesome. I was also a part of the Dance Club at Pilani, where my team won the 1st prize in Choreo, and while we were a batch that still had a curfew, during Oasis and Apogee prep for a dance club, we were able to extend our curfew from 11pm to 1am which meant we could drink coffee at ANC. And, of course, who could forget having the most epic Maggi from ANC – such good times!

What are your hopes for the future of climate change?

The first thing I hope for is active participation and involvement from the younger generation. There is a lot that can be done by college students like you. Moreover, it would be much easier if everyone did their own bit. It doesn't have to be anything grand; just small steps in the right direction, such as composting, campus-wide initiatives, or spreading awareness in our communities, are all things we can do. I believe a course on Environmental Studies has already been introduced in BITS? This wasn't the case back then, and it's commendable that changes are being introduced. So, I am optimistic about what the future holds, and I hope all of us can collectively participate in bringing about this change.