“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

When I was ten, my classmates’ callous attitude towards littering frustrated me deeply. Most adults shrugged off my indignation as childish, but my father, a government officer, asked me to think of what I could do. So, I banded together friends to clean up the natural areas around our school during recess. The area we covered wasn’t large, and our club didn’t last beyond middle school, but the thrill of having done something remained.

Working to protect the environment has been my passion for as long as I can remember. My father was my earliest inspiration. I grew up watching him devote his life to balancing public mandates with the realities of environmental conservation. For me, climate change was a reality we lived with, experienced in wildly fluctuating rains that flooded my house, turbulent storms that eroded roads, and increases in sea levels that caused Maldivians to migrate to my city. When my father died shortly before I turned 13, his loss was devastating but also cemented my determination to shape a career in sustainability.

While my approach to being an “environmentalist” is certainly not by the book, I have learned that it is idealism tempered with realism that helps me achieve my goals. As I consider what’s next, I remain strong in my willingness to try to mold reality to match my ideals, to compromise intelligently to drive change and to always, be a daughter my father would be proud of.

— Ratnika Prasad