LUCKNOW Ankit Agarwal, 29, of Kanpur is among the 17 young leaders from across the globe selected by the United Nations for its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative-2018.He and the others have been invited for the ongoing Social Good Summit that began in New York on September 23. Agarwal, the co-founder of HelpUsGreen, earned the UN invite for his work in using floral waste to manufacture incense sticks and generating employment for marginalised women. His venture is a social enterprise that has pioneered India’s flower-recycling technology to prevent the river Ganges from becoming a sewer. HelpUsGreen received the United Nations Young Leaders Award at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 23. The others of Indian origin, who are part of the initiative, are Kriti Sharma and Kartik Sawhney. Kriti is an artificial intelligence (AI) expert while visually impaired Kartik is a disability advocate and technologist.“It is a proud moment to be a part of the UN summit and meet so many enterprising leaders. The initiative aims to recognise young people who are leaders in the effort to end poverty, combat climate change and reduce inequalities,” said Ankit.“We up-cycle waste from temples/mosques dumped into the river into patented organic products – biodegradable alternatives and charcoal-free incense; thereby, providing livelihood to marginalised women in India,” claimed Ankit, who holds a Master’s in innovation management and is an automation scientist by training.According to Ankit, his venture is a profitable solution to the problem of floral waste around temples. It brings systems for change and gives hope to revive the lifeline of more than 420 million people along the Ganga.Pleased at getting the invitation, Ankit said, “The selection was done following a rigorous process during which UN reviewed more than 8,000 candidates. The UN Young Leaders Initiative is a flagship project led by the office of the secretary-general’s envoy on youth.”The letter of the UN youth envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake reads: “We recognise your proven leadership and ability to inspire others. As a young leader for the SDGs, Ankit has been invited to support efforts to engage young people in the realisation of the goals by collaborating with the UN on strategic opportunities, and through your existing initiatives and networks.”“As a young leader, he will also be engaged in UN advocacy efforts, which offer an opportunity to highlight and complement your existing work. The duration of this commitment is two years, honorary, non-remunerated and does not entail speaking on behalf of the UN,” the letter reads.ABOUT ANKIT’S PROJECTAnkit and his friend Karan Rastogi gave up their jobs to launch this venture, HelpUsGreen, to preserve the country’s rivers by making better use of the floral waste rather than allowing it to rot or pollute the rivers. They started the venture by collecting flowers thrown around small temples, as doing so around bigger temples needed permission from municipal authorities.Currently, the venture collects about 6 tonnes of floral waste daily from various temples and ‘mazars’, transports it to the backyard of his homes where it is divided into two heaps – one for making incense sticks and soaps and the other for vermin compost.Agarwal put the first consignment of incense sticks for sale online at HelpUsGreen.com and was surprised with the response. Besides incense, a few other products, like handmade bathing soaps, are sold online. The incense sticks are made in 10 different fragrances and soaps in eight fragrances.Part of the money earned from the sale of the products is used to educate children of the women who work with the ‘start-up’. The duo is also planning to set up a centre for vocational training where children will be taught skills of other jobs too.To give employment to women of nearby villages, Agarwal and Rastogi also set up self-help groups (SHGs) so that they could engage with women who were in need of a job.