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“Simplicity is the best way to live”: Sonam Wangchuk

An innovator, education reformist, Wangchuk inspired ‘3 Idiots’.

One of the major highlights of day two of the second edition of Star FLOW was the stand-alone session by Sonam Wangchuk, innovator, education reformist and inspiration for the film ‘3 Idiots’. In an almost hourlong session, Wangchuk talked about how simplicity delivers beyond tech solutions.

“I come from a very different world than yours. I am more in the social entrepreneurship sphere where the impact is more important than income. But we share a big common ground, that is, solving the problem with innovation,” he began.

He went on to share his own story of his work in Ladakh, which is where he comes from. He tells that his work is more about selling good ideas than about making money. “Being a minority is a big challenge particularly for children who go to school. My journey started when I saw the status that through the 1980s and 1990s, 95 per cent of Ladakhi students used to fail in matric exams. We began to train teachers and villagers to demand good education along with their other demands. We realised when they change their priorities, the government changes its priorities.”

“We then started focusing on failing students. We created a school in 1999 where admission was granted on the criteria that 'you have failed'. Since they were failing to learn the way we were teaching, we thought to teach them in the way they learn."

Nobody is too poor to afford soil or sun or ice or foil, Wangchuk opines, so it is around these things that he based his innovation on. “This science is new. We wanted to build on what our ancestors had. We went to them to learn. We made the mud building, naturally heated it and lived in harmony with nature.”

Further, speaking of Leh, he mentions, development there was on the same road as any other part of the country. “People with the mud building felt small in this town. So, they moved to concrete houses in which people had to put a huge chunk of their earning to keep it warm during winters.”

Wangchuk took a lesson from this transformation in Leh and back in Ladakh, along with his students, went on to build high-end contemporary buildings with natural heating. Inspired by it, 10 years later, people started looking back at earth buildings.

In the case of water solutions, glaciers are of course melting. In sprintime, when farmers in Ladakh need water, they get only a trickle and have to fight over it. Whereas in summers, there are floods. “People laughed at us when we said we will freeze the winter water, when nobody is farming, and melt it in spring when farmers need it. But we did succeed. We made a pyramid of ice that lasted till the end of August.” Wangchuk put flags around it and marketed these pyramids in a spiritual manner in an attempt to save it.

“Simplicity is the best way to live”: Sonam Wangchuk

Today there are ice stupa building competitions around the globe. This idea also won the Rolex Award. Wangchuk also devised another crowdsourcing movement - #ILIVESIMPLY Movement.

Sonam who had walked on the stage in a shirt which was donated by a volunteer and stitched to make it wearable and trousers bought in a flee market was greeted with a standing ovation as he descended the stage.