Latika Thukral, Co-founder of Iamgurgaon, Ex-senior VP Citibank and winner of the prestigious Naree Shakti Award, took a sabbatical from work and never went back.
Iamgurgaon started as a ‘mom and pop shop’ as she puts it, but went on to become something much bigger than she had ever imagined. Originally born out of the need to improve the city so that her kids had no complaints, Iamgurgaon has developed into a passion project that strives to cater to the needs of every citizen of Gurgaon.
She spoke to us about Iamgurgaon, the need for public spaces, and creating a forest in the middle of a city.
Once Latika took a sabbatical from Citibank, she enjoyed it so much that she never went back. “Most people think that I gave it up to start Iamgurgaon but that isn’t true”. While she was looking for things she could do, there was the realization that they had brought their kids to Gurgaon, and she didn’t want them to complain. The idea was to help in making Gurgaon a better place to live in. It was never meant to grow into a big organization.
“When we started, like I was saying that the intent was to work with the Government, work with the people around here, with citizens, school children, everybody, just to be able to give time. I basically wanted to sit in the MCG office and say, can I give my time? And then you realize that it doesn’t work like that. You have to have your own outfit and help them. So that’s how Iamgurgaon got formed.”
Iamgurgaon is now in its 11th year, with huge projects and hundreds of volunteers. “It’s completely taken over our lives now. I keep saying I’m going to retire every year, but I can’t see that happening for the next 3 years at least.”
On creating 380 acres of forest land in Gurgaon
“The site for the Aravali Biodiversity Park used to be a forest. However, it developed into a mining site that totally killed the ecosystem of the site. The project started as an idea to just help the Government in what was already undertaken. Our idea was to plant a million trees.”
When latika approached the Commissioner with the idea, he almost fell off his chair. Upon his suggestion, Iamgurgaon decided to start with planting trees at the Biodiversity Park. They raised funds, oversaw the planting and today, the park occupies a place of pride in every citizen’s heart.
“We had to learn everything from scratch. We hired an expert, but it was still tough. We were only clear on one thing – nothing should change our vision statement.”
Today, the Biodiversity Park (or forest, as Latika wishes they should have referred to it as right from the beginning) is one of its kind. They have completely restored the ecosystem and created a new habitat. It is the only forest that uses drip irrigation. Iamgurgaon has planted over 1,20,000 trees there already, with a 100% survival rate. 64 corporates have funded the project.
On the importance of public spaces
“The best thing about the Biodiversity Park is that people from all walks of life come there. Be it people like us, or school children, or villagers. And they interact with you.”
Latika firmly believes that the only kind of good is the common good.
“I think we get so caught up by people like us. Our parties and our living and forget that there are people besides us and how they live. And there, you know, everybody will smile at you. There is an interaction, there is their language, and they also learn so much from us. So it’s very, very important that public spaces are for everyone from whichever walks of life.”
On spreading out into other cities
“Our ambitions kind of stop at Gurgaon.” The reason Latika and her co-founders feel this way is because a large part of their ethos is to get their hands dirty, interact with people and work at the grassroot level. “That wouldn’t be possible if we worked in other cities.”
“We’re not doing it out of ambition or money. We just want to make a difference in the city we live in.”