Ananya Rao
Three Cairns Scholars

Ananya Rao, India

Goal: Help India’s Indigenous communities and smallholder farmers reclaim natural resource rights.

It was natural for Ananya Rao ’25 MESc to study anthropology in college. She grew up speaking four languages. She lived in a city but spent time with smallholder famers, industrial laborers, and native tribes living in protected forests. She has, she says, “comfortably navigated 18 countries across four continents.” The rich cultural tapestry of our world is familiar to Rao—and this is what she wants to protect by empowering local communities and their longstanding traditions in the frontline fight against ecological crisis.

“After college, I began working at an environmental action research organization, on the implementation of community forest resource rights and ecological restoration of degraded agrarian lands,” she says. “During this time, I realized that to progress in this field I would require a stronger grasp of the natural sciences, particularly ecology and environmental science.”

This need drew her to YSE, where she is studying tropical forest ecology while keeping one foot in the practice of anthropology, “allowing me to engage with the politics and complexities of natural resource management, rural development projects, infrastructure expansion, and Indigenous movements across different geographies.”

After graduating from YSE, Rao plans to return to India and continue her work with Indigenous communities and smallholder farmers, helping them shore up their livelihoods in the face of climate change while reclaiming natural resource rights. As part of this, she wants to highlight the value of Indigenous knowledge systems in confronting climate change.

“Given their under-representation in governmental and nongovernmental decision-making processes,” she says, “this knowledge remains sadly under-utilized.”

Meet the 2023-2024 Three Cairns Scholars

Ananya Rao

Ananya Rao

'25 MESc India
Singh portrair

Srishti Singh

'25 MEM India
Benedicta Frimpomaa Asiedu

Benedicta Asiedu

'25 MEM Ghana
Lucia Castellares

Lucía Castellares Tello

'25 MEM Perú
Jorge Forero

Jorge Andrés Forero Fajardo

'25 MEM Colombia
Iyer portrait

Mahica Iyer

'25 MEM United Arab Emirates