Natalie Kyriacou who was born in Melbourne, Australia is a passionate multiple-award winning environmentalist. She is the Founder and CEO of My Green World and the Creator of World of the Wild, the first youth-focused mobile game application with a positive impact on real-life conservation, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and a 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia talent. She is our Woman to Watch.
Natalie, you were doing your Masters in International Relations and working in a corporate role when you launched your business. Were you always fascinated by nature, wildlife? Is that from where the strength to take your passion forward came?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia. Enjoying and exploring the outdoors has fascinated me since I was a little girl. I always liked volunteering and involving myself in social and environmental causes. I have had multiple passions but working for nature stemmed from spending a significant amount of time in Australia and overseas with wildlife. I saw problems that I thought I could find solutions to. So yes, I feel it’s my passion for nature and wildlife that brought me to where I am.
Coming from a rich and path-breaking background, you have openly questioned and condemned the devastating impact of humanity on nature. How does your organization ‘My Green World’ aims to change that?
My Green World addresses barriers that young people might face while they try to engage with wildlife and environmental issues. We inspire curiosity and encourage inclusive learning through various activities, games and play. We do this by creating digital education platforms that give children an opportunity to learn about global environmental issues in a fun, positive and inclusive manner. Also, we try to cater to diverse learning styles and abilities and ensure that people living in low socio-economic areas are included as well.
We have two main programs (both digital). One of which is ‘World of the Wild’, an app that allows children to become virtual wildlife conservationists. The other program is ‘Kids Corner’ which is an online classroom covering over 50 topics. This program is divided into two different models, one is designed for schools and the other is customized for individuals. In the school model, we provide teachers with a lot of content, lesson plans and ideas for classroom sessions. In the individual model, we provide content in the form of books, infographics, learning videos, crosswords, puzzles that kids can play while being online. And, since all our material online is aligned with the Australian curriculum, so, it helps kids with their school projects.
Tell us everything about the ‘World of the Wild’ app…
Well, the idea of ‘World of the Wild’ app originated before My Green World became a company. This was the original idea that I had to counter wildlife and environmental issues. It’s a mobile game app available in the IOS app store, it encourages young people to participate in virtual wildlife conservation scenarios. Kids can download the app and build their own virtual world where they can recue different species. They can connect with other players and learn about wildlife and environmental issues. The app represents and profiles 18 charities from around the world and each charity represents a particular species. For example, you could rescue an orangutan in the app, learn about them and some of the threats they are facing. These orangutans are supported by Borneo Orangutan Survival, so you can learn more about that particular charity through the app.
Recently, I watched a TED Talk by Sustainability Strategist, Leyla Acaroglu who argues on the accountability of our environmental efforts. While all of us know we are doing the right thing but are we targeting in the right direction is a big question. So, how do you strategize your efforts, so they hit the right cord?
I think Leyla raises some excellent points. As global citizens, we all have a responsibility to the environment. Many actions taken both in the present and past have had good intentions but have not necessarily accomplished the right results. For example, scientist may remove a species from a particular eco-system which can then unravel that entire ecosystem. Exhaustive research needs to be done into impact and outcomes of our actions. In terms of strategy, My Green World is not an advocacy organization. We are an educational organization, so we aim to provide factual objective material to children, and ensure they remain well-informed. We don’t make any decisions for them, we don’t advocate through them. We don’t list things for them that might not be scientifically backed. We inspire curiosity.
Any significant challenges that you would like to share…
From a business perspective, there have been many challenges. It’s hard work running a company. From an environmental perspective, what I find really challenging is that people see these issues as abstract- a faraway problem that they don’t need to worry about so much. So, engaging them becomes difficult. People feel overwhelmed by wildlife and environmental problems, since, there seem to be so many of them and they are complex in nature, so, they find it difficult to navigate through them. Also, many people that live in the city may not feel directly impacted by climate change or environmental degradation, and they might not necessarily be interested in supporting environmental protection measures. So yes, that’s a key challenge.
We talk about involving kids into conservation activities, encouraging them to be more gentle, careful and protective towards mother nature, a majority of the role in this is played by equally sensitive parents. Do you also hold counselling sessions for them?
The importance of education at home certainly can’t be understated that’s why a lot of our programs are designed for children for outside school hours. Even our mobile game app is designed in such a manner that kids can play it with their parents. A lot of our users, mothers and fathers who might be playing with their kid(s) write in to us saying it becomes a family activity.
So, no I don’t council parents, but we try to encourage learning outside school hours. School is just one educational forum, but learning takes place all the time. Every moment outside school is an opportunity to learn.
What drives you Natalie? Where do you look for motivation?
It’s hard to keep constantly motivated. This career path can be exhausting, but I think I am driven by the cause. I truly feel passionate about wildlife and the environment and I feel a responsibility to make a difference in my own small way. I am also incredibly passionate about education and working with children. What inspires me the most is working with the kids and seeing the impact programs have on children.
You are a young ‘Forbes 30 under 30’ innovator and game-changer. Does the tag of ‘woman-preneur’ ever got in your way?
It was great to see more women on the list breaking barriers. As a woman entrepreneur – in the start-up space and tech space – I have certainly faced barriers in the form of sexism. I also had to deal with people who did not take me seriously because I am a woman. A lot of people assumed that ‘My Green World’ was not my business, but rather, my husband’s business. What hits your self-esteem is when you constantly have to justify yourself to people and fight for your right to have a voice in that space. I found it so challenging that I almost ended my career because of it, but I am glad I didn’t.
One piece of advice you would like to give all the young girls and women who are reading this now…
I would encourage young women and girls to find a female mentor or urge them be a mentor to another woman. It’s really important to have role-models and people who will stand behind you. Find people that might have similar experiences, particularly of being a woman in a male-dominated space.
There’s never been more opportunities for women and never before have we have had such a globally- connected community of supportive women. I would advise women to reach out, seek help and don’t be afraid or intimidated. There are thousands of female entrepreneurs waiting for young women to join them.