A platform for action
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23 September 2020 Share article

Melati Wijsen
Former Student at Green School Bali, Indonesia
(Zayed Sustainability Prize - Global High School Winner 2017)

In 2013, Melati Wijsen and her sister, Isabel, founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags on their home island of Bali, Indonesia. Six years later the duo’s efforts were rewarded when the Balinese government recognised the negative results of plastic on the local environment and banned not only plastic bags, but straws and Styrofoam as well.

Seeing first-hand the positive impact that their focus could bring and seeking an outlet through which to share their firsthand experiences of creating change, Melati founded YOUTHTOPIA at the end of 2019.

A platform for young change-makers around the world, YOUTHTOPIA is positioned as a global headquarters to empower youth through education, access to resources, and peer-to-peer learning which focuses on creating a positive impact, wherever they are in the world.

The concept stems from Melati’s own experiences with Bye Bye Plastic bags but is founded on her commitment to action, which she credits to her family values, her education at Green School Bali (the 2017 Asia winner of the Global High Schools category of the Zayed Sustainability Prize) and also consistent questioning from thousands of students across the world.

Since the conclusion of her studies, aside from supporting the ban on plastic in Bali and establishing YOUTHTOPIA, Melati has spoken at three TED events, the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, and been recognised by Time Magazine, Forbes and CNN. However, the 19-year-old has not let the spotlight blind her, she remains determined to effect further change, and is encouraging everyone she can to do the same.

1. Where does your spark for action come from?
Growing up in Bali played a huge role in the reason we got active, we grew up in nature and were educated at Green School Bali where students are inspired from the earliest stages of education by changemakers and people who have driven impact throughout history, those were amongst my favourite lessons. The school is also a great supporter of student leadership, we are encouraged to share and develop.

2. From Bye Bye Plastic Bags to YOUTHTOPIA how did that come about?
In Bali we are always so close to nature and the ocean and seeing plastic end up in these places we wondered what we could do about it? Then we acted. We started 50 teams around the world, all run by students and had great successes but something was missing, there was more we wanted to do. Having shared our plastics story with over 150,000 students we always got the same two questions – how can I do what you do? How can I be part of this movement? We knew that our next goal should be to build an answer to those questions.

3. Can you explain the ultimate vision for YOUTHTOPIA and how impactful you believe it can be?
We wanted to create something which encompassed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we laid them out as the framework. Drawing on our experiences from Bye Bye Plastic Bags and thinking of the questions we received from youth all around the world who wanted to be active, we arrived at YOUTHTOPIA, our community-centric platform with learning at its core. Our focus is to work with frontline young changemakers and use their knowledge and their experience to create a program for the rising changemakers. We are for the youth, by youth, and through the youth. Through our free online webinars we have mobilised over 1,000 young changemakers in the last month, we have given them the platform and the resources for them to go and have an impact locally and globally.

4. How important is the role of the Zayed Sustainability Prize in your sectors?
It’s huge and there is so much the Prize can do. I see it being across three main focus areas with the first being the network. The Zayed Sustainability Prize is unique in its global reach and its status so to connect through the Prize supports growth. Similarly, partnerships which bring different organisations together for mutual benefit are hugely important. Lastly, financial support is always crucial for all organisations in our sectors.

5. How has COVID-19 affected your work with Bye Bye Plastic Bags and YOUTHTOPIA?
As part of Bye Bye Plastic Bags we were doing 3-5 engagements a week on the ground, in-person, and when COVID hit, we had to move everything virtual. It was a new challenge but we’ve kept momentum. With YOUTHTOPIA it was to our benefit we already focus on an online community and online education so we have a huge opportunity through our strategy.
6. What do you see as the immediate next steps for both your main endeavours?
Bye Bye Plastic Bags almost has a life of its own now - 50 global teams in 29 countries with a clear objective to raise awareness of plastic pollution. While with YOUTHTOPIA, we are building out our tech platform and doing the seed funding round to secure investments. This will allow us to grow our team on a full time, professional basis.
7. What message do you give to young people who feel a desire to be involved in climate action but are not sure where to channel their energy?
Come to YOUTHTOPIA! That is my answer nowadays but the changemakers we work with can say it way better than I can. If pushed, for people looking for how to start or where to start, I would say – just find one thing. Narrow it down, find something you are passionate about, don’t wait for a business plan, just go for it.
8. Sense of pride in what you’ve done? Do you reflect or are you always looking forward?
Those near me would say I’m more looking in front but I know we have a lot to celebrate and be grateful for. My experiences have definitely not been those of a normal 19-year-old. I’m grateful and I’m proud of what has been done and it’s great to revel with the team and with family, but at the same time, there is still lots to do.