Raspberry interviews: Natalie Kyriacou of My Green World
Hi Natalie! What is your raison d'etre? (Your purpose, or reason to be)?
My raison d’etre is to forge new understandings of humanity’s relationship with nature. I believe in a world where compassion, collaboration and education overcome prejudice and cruelty. I feel that my purpose is to create spaces for people to share stories and engage with important issues; where people can learn from one another and collaborate to create a kinder and brighter world for all. 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.
How did you come to be where you are right now?
In 2008, I travelled from my hometown of 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 by the street dog overpopulation problem – at every street crossing, every corner, and outside every shopfront was a roaming street dog. More often than not, 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. (I now am the Director of Dogstar Foundation Down Under!)
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.
It was in Borneo that I met Miko, a young male orangutan who had had his habitat and family destroyed to make way for yet another palm oil plantation. My first introduction to Miko was outside my jungle-side lodge where he was perched on my balcony with my underwear draped around his neck. Despite our initial meeting being one of a tug-of-war contest (which I inevitably lost), I couldn’t help but feel a deep connection to this incredibly fascinating animal.
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.
Why did you decide to go from studying communications and international relations at uni, to starting a conservation company?
Originally, I undertook a degree in Journalism with the hope of becoming a foreign correspondent, reporting on global wildlife and environmental atrocities. I decided to supplement my Journalism degree with a Master of International Relations degree, where I was able to explore the interconnectedness of issues such as poverty, wildlife trafficking, terrorism, resource scarcity, environmental crime and war. My studies gave me a really unique perspective and I wanted to educate communities on the multi-layered issues surrounding wildlife and environmental conservation and create platforms for people to engage with these issues in really unique ways. I realised that global wildlife and environmental atrocities were being drowned out amid the competition between charities and the lack of resources that engaged children in these issues. It was that thought that led me to create My Green World, and prioritise children’s education as well as collaboration and innovation. My first order of business was to launch my mobile game app, World of the Wild, which allows users to participate in virtual wildlife conservation while supporting charities and learning about nature.
What is your dream-level goal for 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.
What advice would you give those of us who perhaps feel that being environmentally conscious is not making a difference?
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.
For those that think these efforts are futile, let me put it in perspective:
- In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people and absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles
- A single person who follows a vegan diet produced 50% less Co2, uses 1/13th water and 1/18th land compared to a meat eater.
- Cruise ships in the Caribbean are estimated to produce more than 70,000 tons of waste each year – the ethical traveler can reduce this immensely.
- Today, around 50 percent of the goods we use every day contain palm oil. Over 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed every HOUR in South East Asia to make way for more Palm Oil Plantations.
As consumers, we make a vote each day. The products and services that we purchase are a vote, and it is up to us to make our vote count by choosing to purchase ethical products and support sustainable businesses.
What’s a rewarding project that stands out for you, from your time in business?
My most rewarding moment was launching my mobile game app, World of the Wild. I have received an outpouring of emails from parents, children and families who have downloaded the app, and been inspired, through World of the Wild, to take action on global wildlife and environmental issues. It has been truly amazing to create something that inspires and motivates people in a really unique way, and to feel as though I have made a small and positive difference to people’s lives while contributing to wildlife and environmental conservation and education efforts.
You’ve worked alongside some amazing partner charities. How did these opportunities come about for you, and do you think collaboration is a powerful way to get things done?
I feel so lucky to be able to support such a diverse range of charities, all of whom are making a remarkable difference in the world. I was drawn to charities who supported the conservation and protection of wildlife, and were opposed to any form of exploitation and unnecessary captivity. These charities are all vastly different from one another; operating across different continents, and facing different challenges, however, they all share the same vision and values and are dedicated to preserving and promoting wildlife and environmental conservation and empowering and educating communities on the importance of our natural world.
I spent a lot of time researching charities that I felt mirrored my own values, and that would benefit from the support of My Green World. Once I reached out to them and explained my vision, they jumped on board and we have never looked back.
Collaboration is absolutely imperative. The global charity sector is approaching saturation point. There is now one charity for almost every 400 people living in Australia and more than 56,000 registered organisations currently available for the public to donate to. In order to achieve maximum impact, like-minded charities must collaborate with each other, and with organisations, individuals, communities and governments.
What does your current business model look like?
We are a volunteer-run social enterprise that is 90% online and the remainder is run on-site in collaboration with our partner charities. I run the operations and most facets of the company, however, I outsource paid technical development (i.e. our mobile game app) to developers. We have a team of about 6 volunteers, who contribute blogs and assist with social media. We also have some great high school students involved who help us test our programs and provide suggestions and feedback. We want our kid’s education programs to be by-kids-for-kids!
Talk us through what typical day (or week!) in the Natalie Kyriacou world might look like.
There is rarely a typical day for me! Last month, a typical day included 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. This month, I am back in Australia focusing on the administrative side of my business.
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.
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, creating campaigns and coming up with new material for my mobile app, World of the Wild.
How do you make work/life balance happen?
In theory, I believe that it is absolutely essential to have a strong work/life balance. We must find time for ourselves to enjoy life and stop and smell the roses. In practice, I struggle a lot with this. I am so passionate about my company and about the charities that I support that I find it difficult to switch off. The first year of my company’s launch, I struggled with exhaustion and worked myself into the ground. Slowly, I have begun taking care of myself better and finding time away from my work – but it is hard!
What three key lessons have you learnt in your entrepreneurial path, which continue to carry you forward?
1. I have learnt that it is imperative to have a strong support system. Find a mentor or somebody to guide you, and don’t try to do everything on your own. It is easy to become isolated and work yourself to the ground, but it is certainly not healthy. To achieve success, you must sometimes lean on the people around you and accept their support.
2. Don’t follow convention and don’t find a problem to fit your solution. Ignore convention and find smarter paths to addressing the problem.
3. Perseverance. The entrepreneurial path is never easy, but it certainly is rewarding. As Steve Jobs once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance”.
What doubts or fears have you had to face through running your business?
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.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
My advice would be to persevere and welcome failure. Failure is a defining and ever-present hurdle throughout our lives and is the precursor to success. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
What's next for you?
I am in the process of launching a new ‘Resource for Charities’ platform within My Green World. We have created this service specifically for grassroots charities and social organisations to achieve greater impact. Many smaller charities simply do not have the time, resources or the money to dedicate toward items like PR and marketing, and their messages are often muted by some of the bigger charities who get a lot more publicity. I want to be able to support grassroots organisations and give both them, and their causes a louder voice.
Please tell us your favourite:
Book: It is so hard to choose just one - I am a bit of a book worm!
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is certainly on my list; it is a book that explores the relationship between beauty and female identity. I think that Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert is also a must-read.
I also have to say Saving Wild: Inspiration from 50 Leading Conservationists by Lori Robinson, because she was kind enough to profile me as one of her top 50 Conservationists.
Website: Apart from my own website, of course, my favourite is Art and Letters Daily
Early morning activity: Coffee & emails (with my dogs).
Late night activity: Reading & red wine.
Gourmet snack: Vegan roast with olive oil and cherry tomatoes.
Natalie Kyriacou is the Founding Director of My Green World and the Creator of World of the Wild mobile game app. She has enjoyed a rich and rewarding career as both a wildlife advocate, entrepreneur and freelance writer. Her work has been published in various journals and she has been bestowed numerous awards, including being recognised as Australia’s 2015 ‘Social Pioneer’ by the Foundation for Young Australians, Griffith University’s ‘Finalist for the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award’, and a finalist for the ‘Victorian Young Achiever Award’. In 2015, Natalie was recognised as a ‘Top 50 Leading Conservationist in the World’ in Lori Robinson’s book, ‘Saving Wild: Inspiration from 50 Leading Conservationists’.
Natalie is on the Board of Directors for Sri Lankan-based charity, Dogstar Foundation and is a sitting member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Natalie has revolutionised technology platforms through her innovative mobile game application, World of the Wild, and she has mobilised the international community to take action in matters of global concern through global education programs and unique technologies.
Added to this, Natalie was responsible for the global ban on elephant rides by Australia’s largest travel wholesaler, Tempo Holidays.
Visit My Green World’s website: http://mygreenworld.org/
Download World of the Wild app here.
Find My Green World on Facebook here.