No Bystanders On The Road Towards A Cleaner Planet

As the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan sought to give practical meaning to the phrase “no bystanders”, he shepherded through the norm of “Responsibility to Protect,” which established that states have the obligation to protect their citizens from mass atrocities. Should they fail to do so, according to the doctrine, the international community has both […]

As the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan sought to give practical meaning to the phrase “no bystanders”, he shepherded through the norm of “Responsibility to Protect,” which established that states have the obligation to protect their citizens from mass atrocities. Should they fail to do so, according to the doctrine, the international community has both the right and responsibility to intervene to stop the suffering.

Global Philanthropy Forum at the Pullman Hotel in Redwood City, CA. May 2, 2018. Photo by Ken Cedeno

In his talk that opened the Global Philanthropy Forum of 2018, Kofi Annan said that people who have been left behind do not feel that governments are interested in them, they lose trust and interest in what’s being done, which in turn results in serious safety risks, breeds hopelessness and creates gaps in lives that the likes of the terrorists can easily fill.

So, how can social movements find solutions, stop suffering and build momentum to engage communities, and particularly focus on climate and conservation as one of the major challenges we face? Well, by joining and having fun.

In the breakout session, Kristina Mänd, the Resource Mobilization manager of the Let’s Do It! Foundation, shared our story of a clean and healthy waste free world. This is how it goes:

Clean places have meaningful benefits and keep people engaged and interested even when governments fail. Mismanaged waste does not belong in the nature and open spaces. It must be collected and managed; even better, it should not be produced in the first place. Mismanaged waste and unclean places are damaging to individuals, families, communities, national psyche, countries and to the world and the environment.

Yet, waste is everywhere. We do not see or notice it. Worse, people are used to it. It is called trash blindness. Is there a solution? 10 years ago a group of Estonians thought so and organised a national cleanup that mobilised more than 5% of the population and collected tons and tons of waste that had been lying around in the nature. The example was so inspiring that many countries followed the model and by now more than 20 million volunteers have done that in 113 countries.

Through cleanups, the Let’s Do It! has become a social movement. But how to build the momentum to keep the world clean and healthy? For that, we needed to turn successful actions into anti-fragile systems. Let’s Do It! believes that we need two major achievements for that: first, change people’s behaviour and second, minimise leakages from circular economy.

People need three things to change their behavior: knowledge, skills and attitude. With World Cleanup Day September 15, 2018, major awareness raising, volunteering and waste mapping campaign, we are looking to mobilize millions of volunteers in more than 150 countries. This is a major wake-up call and engages people in action, keeps them interested and motivated – once you pick trash up, you are less likely to litter again.

Now, how do we minimize the leakages? The solution comes from technology, standardized waste data and citizen science. While mapping, we gather data to build the World Waste Platform, which also includes information on what’s being done about waste management in different municipalities and countries in the world. It unites and standardises waste related available data and makes it accessible to everybody. And last, we crowd-source information and gather expert knowledge on how to manage waste and prepare guidelines for communities who are looking to improve their waste management systems or make tiger leaps to avoid the waste in the first place. We call it the Keep It Clean Plan.

Let’s Do It! has successfully united fours key elements – an ideal vision of environment, an engaging action of mobilising millions of people, a modern tool of technology and a best practice approach to collected waste management systems to learn from and use.

Let’s Do It! shows how amazing online activities, when joined with volunteer power and citizen activism, can bring about unprecedented social change in the name of environment, build trust and leave nobody standing by. This is really grand.

The folks who attended the workshop appreciated the accessible, easy and non-discriminative nature of the movement. Moreover, the best part is that every  single little action, like picking up a cigarette butt, makes you be part of a waste free world and gives enormous feeling of self-accomplishment. And did we say that it is fun as well?

The breakout session was May 3, 2018: exactly ten years after the first national cleanup day in Estonia, during the birthday of Estonia 100 and on the day of Kristina’s own birthday. Our responsibility to act is quite a gift to give and get!

*The project to attend the Global Philanthropy Forum is funded by the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs and the the Estonian Civil Society Foundation.