It was a chance conversation in a school hall that gave Melati Wijsen and her sister Isabel the inspiration for their latest social venture.
But after speaking at one high school, the then-15-year-old Melati realized there was more they could do.
“I remember coming off the stage and this line started to build up. One kid stayed until he was the very last person to talk to me. He said, ‘What can I do to be like you? How can I start making a difference and take action?’"
“All I could say was, ‘Use your voice’, but even then it didn’t feel like a good enough answer. So my mind started turning and thinking how we could actually create a place for young kids to understand from each other how we can build a world and a future that we want to be a part of.”
Building a Youthtopia
Melati told the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January that a shake-up of education is needed: “The education system is outdated. It is not keeping up with the changes in the real world. It is not preparing us for the real issues, the urgent issues that are happening.”
She left the audience with a clear message: “You're never too young to make a difference, and it's not too late to take action.”
This outlook led to the creation of YOUTHTOPIA, which will host on-the-ground local workshops and training, and wants to become the global headquarters for a movement of young changemakers.
“Our philosophy is: don’t wait to come to us in Indonesia, we’ll come to you in pop-ups all around the world,” says Melati, now 19, adding that online masterclasses and youth-led lesson plans will also be available.
“We wanted to help empower other young kids around the world to be able to find a tangible action that they could do,” she says.
“We wanted to equip them with the right tools, the right skills and the right resources to look into where they could start making a difference and find their voice as a changemaker.”
Calling all changemakers
Melati and Isabel are part of a growing phalanx of young people determined to shape Earth’s future, alongside Greta Thunberg, who started the Fridays for Future school climate strikes, and Felix Finkbeiner, who created Plant for the Planet more than a decade ago, aged nine.
At the heart of YOUTHTOPIA is a changemaker programme based on the sisters’ belief that every young person can make a difference, even if they might not know how.
Young people are hungry to understand how they can get out there on the front lines, according to Melati. So their latest venture will teach basic skills such as public speaking, leadership and how to talk to government officials – everything they have learned from Bye Bye Plastic Bags over the past six years.
“At our core is curiosity, the chance for us to ask the question: what if we could start from the very beginning? How would we changemakers create the world that we actually want to be a part of? We need to start today. Banning plastic bags should not have taken six years. So no more excuses, no more waiting for the regulations and the policies to be in place. Be brave enough to start taking action today.
“We're at the most important tipping point in human history, and we do not have the luxury of time. As young changemakers, we really embody this. We see this in our everyday work where we work with all levels of society to change behaviours and mindset. It's an everyday battle to challenge the comfort of the status quo.”
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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