Her Green World
11 April 2016 at 10:16 am
Natalie Kyriacou has spent most of her life standing up for society’s voiceless members. The wildlife campaigner is this week’s Changemaker.
The wildlife warrior explains her work as ultimately “trying to forge new understandings of humanity’s relationship with nature”.
Last year she developed what she calls the first mobile application with a positive impact on real-life conversation.
After working with more than 10 different charities and being selected as one of the Foundation for Young Australian’s 2015 Social Pioneers, Kyriacou is showing no signs of wavering or slowing down.
Perhaps one of her proudest achievements was the role she played in getting Australia’s largest travel wholesaler, Tempo Holidays, to enforce a global ban on elephant rides.
As this week’s Changemaker she shares what a typical day for a young leader entails and explains what enables her to keep striving to make a difference.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
Right at this very moment, I am in Sri Lanka with my organisation, My Green World, working alongside one of my partner charities, Dogstar Foundation. We are just about to undertake a huge street dog sterilisation campaign within the Negombo region. Sri Lanka is home to millions of roaming street dogs and cats, who suffer immeasurable pain from diseases, vehicle accidents, and cruelty. Overpopulation of street dogs (and cats) has been an issue that societies have dealt with in a variety of ways, many inhumane. The welfare of the animals has rarely been considered and, as a result, campaigns of poisoning, shooting, electrocution, drowning, starvation and other cruel methods have been used to “dispose” of unwanted animals. Such activities are not only brutal, they are ineffective because, although they may serve as methods for “immediate” results, they are not long-term solutions.
In Sri Lanka, the most effective way to deal with the street dog overpopulation crisis is through education, sterilisation and vaccination. My Green World is working with Dogstar Foundation to transform animal welfare in Sri Lanka. Since 2006 Dogstar has worked closely with Sri Lankan communities and vets to provide sterilisations, vaccinations, veterinary treatment, education leading to attitude change and the development of veterinary practice.
Added to this, I am working on building and expanding My Green World. My Green World is a wildlife and environmental organisation that is dedicated to bridging the gap between the public and wildlife and environmental initiatives. It catalyses new leadership in wildlife and environmental conservation; inspiring dialogue, education and collaborative problem solving via unique platforms. The foundation of the company is to develop innovative and educational platforms that will enhance the efforts of global wildlife and environmental conservation. Partnered with 18 international charities, My Green World is a platform for the public to learn and engage with various organisations that have a positive impact on the natural world. Through My Green World I have utilised online technology platforms to educate and mobilise the community to participate in wildlife, environmental, animal welfare, and community development issues.
One of my biggest current projects at My Green World is a mobile game app called World of the Wild; the first mobile game app with a positive impact on real-life conservation and charity initiatives. 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, interact with other players, compete in educational pop quizzes, and meet some of the world’s most endangered species.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
I have been working in the sector for about eight years now. My Green World was founded with the aim of assisting Not for Profits around the world and creating a collaborative platform for Not for Profits to engage with one another and to create unique and impactful ways to engage the broader community in important social issues.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
My first job in the Not for Profits sector was with Dogstar Foundation. In 2008 I travelled from my hometown in Melbourne, 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 shop front 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. To this day I continue working with Dogstar Foundation; I sit on their board of directors, they are one of my My Green World’s partner charities, and I have also launched Dogstar Foundation “Down Under” in Australia.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
My Green World’s success has relied heavily on my being glued to my laptop, networking, building tech platforms and creating educational content. While I love doing this, the greatest part of my job is seeing the actual on-ground results of our work. I love working with kids who have been impacted by My Green World’s initiatives, and who feel empowered and inspired to make change. I love working with partner charities like Dogstar Foundation where we spend our days chasing down dogs, jumping fences, scaling walls, climbing through barbed wire, running along beaches and driving down tiny alleys in pursuit of dogs, before vaccinating them, micro-chipping them and spaying/neutering them. It is moments like that which make every failure, every sleepless night, every financial loss, and every bit of sleep deprivation seem completely inconsequential.
What has been the most challenging part of your work and how do you overcome that?
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 organisation; 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.
In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?
I think communication and transparency are key to an effective NFP board. A willingness to learn from mistakes, and to constantly strive to improve and adapt to changing landscapes.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
The freedom to be creative and explore innovative and exciting new ways to solve global problems is one of my favourite things about running My Green World. The opportunities are limitless, and I am able to think outside the box and explore areas that I was never able to when I worked in the corporate sector. I love being able to wake up every morning bursting with energy and inspiration to create change and tackle issues that once seemed so impossible to solve. I love that through my company, I have been given the great privilege of being able to educate, inspire and collaborate with people from of all ages and from all walks of life.
I consider my greatest achievement to be…
One of my greatest achievements would have to be my mobile game app called World of the Wild. Added to this, I was recently recognised as one of the Top 50 Leading Conservationists from around the world, in a new book called Saving Wild: Inspiration from 50 Leading Conservationists by Lori Robinson.
Favourite saying …
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
I’m always being asked …
“Why did you choose to help animals?” The answer to that is far more complex. I don’t believe I am just helping animals. I believe that I am trying to forge new understandings of humanity’s relationship with nature. My aim is to empower young Australians and global communities to follow their dreams and realise the incredible power that they have to make positive changes in the world.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment? Why?
I am re-reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, a book that explores the relationship between beauty and female identity. I am a bit of a bookworm, but I particularly enjoy reading feminist literature, because, well, I am a feminist. I am also reading Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, which is almost as good as the Harry Potter series. And yes, I am an unashamed Harry Potter fan. My taste in books is quite diverse! I just finished the Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, which I would highly recommend.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
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.
My greatest challenge is …
Switching off and relaxing! There is always work to be done and I find it difficult to find a good work/life balance.
School taught me …
That you never, ever stop learning, and you should always question everything, and always strive to expand your knowledge. School taught me the importance of education, and to this day, one of my primary objectives at My Green World is to both educate and inspire people from all over the world.
What does a typical day for you involve?
There is rarely a typical day for me. I spend a lot of time travelling and am always getting involved in new causes and initiatives. Most recently I have started supporting the Wombat Awareness Organisation in South Australia.
I suppose that a typical day in Melbourne would be to wake up, have a shower, coffee and breakfast, and then spend 30 minutes trying to retrieve my socks and personal items from my thieving dogs. After this, I set up with my laptop and go through emails, schedule my company’s social media posts and fiddle around on my website, updating content and improving SEO.
Then, I would normally have a meeting with either a fellow entrepreneur, my app developers, a charity or a volunteer, or alternatively, run a few errands.
After that, I would have some lunch, spend some time with my dogs, and then head over to a café to do some more work (I find that I work best in a bustling café in the city).
In the afternoon, I usually spend time creating educational content, writing blogs, liaising with partner charities, and coming up with new material for my mobile app.
That being said, my days are really varied. This week, my schedule is a little different, and probably a little more exciting. My partner charity and I will be spending our days racing through the streets of Sri Lanka, catching roaming street dogs and cats, vaccinating them, micro-chipping them and then loading them into a mobile van to be spayed/neutered. We will then spend the evenings sitting by the beach talking strategy, opportunity and animal welfare!
What (or who) inspires you?
Working in my field, 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. 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.
Of course, I would never be where I am today without my mentors and inspiration, Samantha and Mark Green. Sam and Mark are the Founders of Dogstar Foundation in Sri Lanka, and while I know they would hate me to refer to them as “heroes”, that word certainly pops to mind when I think of them. Since I met them in Sri Lanka back in 2008, they have been my friends, business partners, mentors and inspiration. Not only are they transforming animal welfare in Sri Lanka, but they are running one of the most impactful charities that I have ever come across.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
I have always been both sensitive and inquisitive, two qualities which I believe set me on this exciting journey. My parents certainly had a huge influence on me, and I am extremely lucky to be gifted with a family that has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and have taught me love, respect, compassion and strength. Though my foray into the Not for Profit sector was probably most heavily influenced by Sam and Mark from Dogstar Foundation, who have inspired me through their dedication.