Not that long ago, if someone mentioned climate change or environmental sustainability, I just shrugged. As a middle-aged man with kids and a job, I had enough on my plate. Plus, let’s face it—what could I do other than recycle some waste, opine, or make the occasional snide remark about global warming deniers or the inevitability of it all? Then something happened.
I was sitting in my office in a sleepy town in Switzerland when I heard a commotion outside. I got up to check and then stood there in amazement as thousands of kids marched by my window, taking over the streets and expressing their frustrations and passion about environmental sustainability.
That evening, I asked my kids what it was all about. They explained the concept of school strikes that had been inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and had spread like wildfire across the globe. The next day, I picked up a local newspaper, finding on its cover a photo of the front of the march, with my daughter standing in the middle! I decided then and there to do something.
The birth of the Earth Prize idea
I’ve always loved the concepts of leverage and passion. In my opinion, these 2 things are the key to success. So I decided the best way to leverage the passion I’d seen outside my window, the passion that hundreds of thousands of kids had shown on streets around the world, was to educate these same kids, to inspire and mentor them, and then empower them to follow their passion and solve the unthinkable. I figured the best way to achieve that was a global competition for teenage students, and so The Earth Prize was born.
Except the Earth Prize was already in existence, run by an Italian professor. While a team was assembling to put my idea into action, we contacted this Professor Salomone and pitched to him the concept of a reimagined Earth Prize. He was open to it but wanted to learn more. We realized a competition on its own was not enough. What we really needed was an ecosystem, so we laid that out, and I’m happy to say Professor Salomone came on board, becoming our first advisor.
What did we mean by an ecosystem? The first thing we realized by talking to teachers was that sustainability is simply absent from the curriculum in many countries. This causes no end of frustrations for both teaching staff and students. So, we commissioned bespoke educational materials. We decided that kids need to learn the key sustainability concepts, then be inspired, and finally, learn some real-world skills. Every participant in The Earth Prize can access these bespoke videos and materials just by registering, and we’ve already had extremely positive feedback from schools.
Inspiring, mentoring, and educating teens
How do you inspire frustrated teenagers? We trawled the globe, finding and interviewing the most inspiring change-makers, young people solving sustainability issues right now in the real world. I have no doubt that anyone, not just teenagers, will be inspired while watching these videos.
Education and inspiration are key, but just as important in our ecosystem is mentoring. We decided the best mentors would be university students who were passionate to pass on their knowledge and experience. I’m proud to say we had dozens of candidates from top universities across all continents, and those we have carefully selected will be an invaluable resource to our teenage participants.
Along the way, we set up an adjudication panel of world-class caliber, with members including the head of sustainable investing at UBS and the former education minister of Bhutan, to name just a couple. We formed a youth board of teenagers to guide the foundation behind the Prize, and we’re building a team of inspirational ambassadors to help our finalists when the time comes to showcase their solutions and ideas.
The other valuable aspect of participating in The Earth Prize is who they will compete against. With schools from over 40 countries on board, students from refugee camps and inner-city schools, schools from literally across the globe, we will have truly diverse solutions. I hope that every participant will find it inspirational to know they are part of a much bigger move to solve the problems we face together.
Finally, I could mention the prize money—the winning team will get $100,000 each for their studies and their school. However, I think the last element of the ecosystem worth highlighting is the alumni association we will build. Comprising teenagers, university students, teachers, professors, change-makers, and creators of inspiring solutions, it will in time become the most valuable part of what The Earth Prize offers to each participant.
At one time, I didn’t think twice about environmental sustainability. I got inspired to act by my kids. I now ask you as a parent of a teenager or someone who knows a teenager to tell them about The Earth Prize so we can spread the word. You won’t regret it.
Registration opens on September 1st. Find out more at www.theearthprize.org