It is always a real pleasure to meet people doing good for wildlife and our planet. Hearing their stories of why they got involved and how is always inspiring.
Let me introduce you to Natalie, the founder of My Green World. Natalie reached out to us with an invitation to do something collaborative. Well, as we had quite a bit in common we decided to interview each other.
Meet Natalie Kyriacou with My Green World
Q: Natalie, what inspired you to get involved doing good for wildlife and the planet?
Half of the world’s species have disappeared in the last forty years. Approximately 95 elephants are killed every day. And terrible atrocities being committed against our natural world continue to make headlines every day. It was this knowledge that inspired me to dedicate my life to wildlife and environmental conservation, as well as animal welfare and human development. In 2008 I travelled from my hometown in Melbourne, Australia, to spend some time connecting with nature throughout Asia. My first stop was Sri Lanka, where I worked with abused elephants in a rural community near Kegalle. It was in Sri Lanka that I first lay witness to the huge animal overpopulation problem that the country was experiencing.
I was astounded particularly by the street dog overpopulation problem: at every street crossing, every corner, and outside every shopfront was a roaming street dog. Most often, they were riddled with mange, a parasitic skin disease, and starved beyond belief. Thousands upon thousands of dogs and cats were in urgent need of medical attention, scattered across the worn streets of Sri Lanka, and nobody seemed to be helping them. Hidden within a tiny canteen in an obscure village in Sri Lanka, I came across a modest pamphlet which simply said “Dogstar Foundation- Contact us if you have a dog in need.” I began enquiring after this mystery charity, and eventually was able to meet Samantha and Mark Green, the Founders of Dogstar Foundation. Soon afterward, I became heavily involved in Dogstar Foundation, which has expanded into a leading Sri Lankan charity that is transforming the lives of animals in Sri Lanka and providing education to communities throughout the region.
From Sri Lanka, I journeyed to Malaysian Borneo, where I spent time working with orphaned and abused orangutans who were rapidly losing their habitat to palm oil plantations. These plantations have eaten away at a continent once ample in species, engulfing the countryside and swallowing the rich diversity of the famous jungle. I returned to Melbourne feeling determined to educate my community, and the greater international community, on the injustices that I had witnessed. That was when the idea of My Green World was born. Since then, I have travelled widely, partnering with various charities around the world in order to create a collective platform where people can work together to fight for the future of our planet.
Q: There are many who love wildlife and want to help, but just don’t know what to do. How did you come upon the notion for My Green World?
I founded My Green World in 2013, while undertaking a Master’s degree in International Relations and Development at the University of Melbourne. As I mentioned, I had been heavily engaged in wildlife, environmental and animal welfare initiatives for the past few years, and decided to launch my own initiative to advance the profile of charities worldwide and to revolutionise the way that the international community connected with global wildlife, environmental, animal welfare and developmental issues.
My first project at My Green World was to create a mobile game app called World of the Wild; that would re-engage communities with wildlife and environmental issues through fun gameplay. I noticed that while there were so many mobile games in the app store, there were very few that were inspiring change, education and activism. I thought, maybe I can help save wildlife through a game!
In World of the Wild, every day people can participate in virtual wildlife conservation scenarios. The game represents 18 global charities and gamifies the concept of saving animals. Each action that users take in this app represents a real life scenario that is carried out by My Green World’s partner charities in real life. In this game, users can build their own wildlife sanctuary, and rescue, feed and provide medical care for a variety of animals, compete in educational pop quizzes, and meet some of the world’s most endangered species.
Both My Green World and World of the Wild have grown exponentially since then, and it all started with a three small questions that I asked myself. How can I help our planet? What can I do to create change, inspire people and be impactful? And what does the world need to make such changes?
Q: When all is said and done, what is the single most important thing you want to accomplish with My Green World?
I want to create a global ecosystem where people can connect with wildlife and environmental issues and initiatives, where they can learn, feel inspired and be encouraged to make change. I want to be a leading resource for individuals and charities around the world to feel empowered to take action. I want to provide our next generation with the tools to be able to ensure the survival of our planet and all of its species. But most of all, I want to be able to prevent our world’s wildlife and their habitats from suffering at the hands of humanity.
Q: What are your biggest challenges? And how do you overcome them?
My Green World represents one of the biggest challenges in my life, but it is also the most rewarding aspect of my life. I have poured my life-savings into this organisation and my mobile game app; selling my car, hosting numerous fundraisers and working around the clock to ensure that the company is able to fulfil its charitable objectives.
The progression of My Green World has been a series of successes, failures, and challenges, and each one is something that both myself and the company can grow and learn from. There are always major challenges to running a wildlife and education organization; lack of funding, feeling overwhelmed by the global atrocities that are occurring around the world, feeling insecure and being riddled with self-doubt; but I have learnt to welcome these challenges and stay true to my beliefs. I remind myself why I started this enterprise, and that there are animals, environments and people around the world that need our help. I remind myself to remain confident and determined and to treat each challenge as an obstacle that I can learn from and feel proud of myself for overcoming.
Q: What are your most rewarding moments?
The greatest, and most rewarding part of my job is seeing the actual on-ground results of our work. Last year I visited the headquarters of Dogstar Foundation, one of my partner charities in Sri Lanka (I have recently launched Dogstar Foundation in Australia) and was able to take part in a two-week street dog rabies vaccination program. Two teams of roughly six people took to the streets to find and catch every stray dog within carefully mapped towns of Sri Lanka. The mission was to provide a free rabies vaccine to the many dogs of Sri Lanka as well as educational materials to any owners. I accompanied the Dogstar team during this campaign as we spent the day chasing down dogs, jumping fences, scaling walls, climbing through barbed wire, running along beaches and driving down tiny alleys in pursuit of dogs. Once we caught them, we would net them, record them (and their health condition) into a GPS tracker, vaccinate them, paint their little heads (to keep track of dogs that have been treated) and set them free again. In two weeks, we vaccinated over 5000 dogs against rabies. It is moments like that which make every failure, every challenge, every sleepless night, every financial loss, and every bit of sleep deprivation seem completely inconsequential.
Q: What words of wisdom do you have for others who want to do their part in making the world a better place for wildlife?
My advice would be to persevere and welcome challenges. We are faced with huge barriers, and sometimes it seems that the odds are not tipped in our favour. Wildlife extinction, habitat erosion, food insecurity, poverty, and animal abuses are gargantuan issues that sometimes seem too big to take on. But we can do it. Remember,
for every one person that is acting illegally or unethically towards wildlife, there are thousands of people who are fighting against it. For every one person that isn’t aware of the plight of our world’s wildlife, there are thousands of people trying to educate them. It is the individual acts of bravery that make a difference, along with the knowledge that such bravery is bringing our society together in a collaborative, compassionate space to make a difference.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
I would also like to tell my fellow female conservationists and aspiring changemakers that the world of women leaders is not yet tilted in our favour. But don’t be discouraged. Never before have there been more opportunities for women, and never before have we had such support and such networks as we do today. So please don’t be afraid, nor intimidated; there are thousands of us female changemakers who are waiting for young women to join us in this fight for a better future.
Don’t you just love to meet people doing good for wildlife? For the planet?
Young women like Natalie are so inspiring, be sure to visit her website at www.MyGreenWorld.org