This article is already the fourth one in our The Leaders of Tech4Good series and the second one that deals with the problems of children. Yet, this conversation is like no other — it is heartfelt, genuine, emotional, and crucially important. Today, we talk to Elisabeth Anne Delgado — a founder of Kinderenergy and an environment advocate in the UN.
Who Is Elisabeth Anne Delgado?
Elisabeth Anne Delgado is a founder and director of Kinderenergy. She is a successful environmental and social policy advocate, whose NGO is associated with the United Nations, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and other political, academic, corporate, and nonprofit organizations. An avid traveler, she strives to explore the entire world and to make it a better place.
What Is Kinderenergy?
Kinderenergy is a non-profit organization, which strives to promote children as the most valuable natural resource on Earth. It was founded in 2008 with the aim to inspire US junior and senior high school students to help children from the rural areas of the developing world with the school supplies and sports equipment. The team soon found out, however, that the lack of school supplies was not the most serious problem — these children lacked some vital basics: clean water, sanitation, food, and shoes. Today, the organization works to provide these basic but crucial essentials.
There are so many things you are aiming to solve: eradication of poverty through education, global health, protection of oceans and coastal regions, climate change, pollution, overfishing, biodiversity loss. How do you find time and inner strength to engage in all of these?
We start from a main premise — we believe that children are Earth’s most important natural resource and are a part of the Earth’s biosphere. Imagine, when you work in farming, and in order to keep the soil rich and healthy, you have to alternate the crops that take nutrients from the soil with others that add nutrients to this soil. I see children as living agents who add nutrients, health, and energy to Earth. They don’t just take, as many would argue, they also give back in a superior way, if we let them. I have so much confidence in their potential. I believe, if we as adults had confidence in what they can do, if we did not treat them as “kids, who can’t do anything”, we could really tap into their creativity and passion to help people and planet.
As cultures become more industrialized, the potential of children is often not seen, they become wealthier as the cities become more modern and many children in the Western world have more material goods but fewer responsibilities, they are working less and helping less. I believe that responsibility helps them step outside of themselves and gives them purpose and genuine happiness.
My idea is to tap into their potential to solve problems. We are giving them a chance to help improve the state of the world, to take care of the Earth, its people, plants and animals. By giving them responsibility, we give them a real sense of purpose. Right now in the United States, education is a bit watered-down, people finish high school, and they don’t know what to do, they feel like their education is useless. Our solution is inspiring them participate in the process of sustainable goal implementation.
If we believe that children are a part of Earth’s biosphere, then they also are a part of oceans, coastal regions, forests, they are a part of biodiversity. So, what we are doing is — asking the big questions, “What could children do about oceans?”, “What could children do about climate change?”, “What can they do to participate?”. We have trillions that the world wants to spend every year on fighting climate change, but none of this money is given to promote the role of children as solutions’ providers or their contributions. We have seen many activities of children protesting and standing around with balloons and posters in their hands. Yes, they are using their voices, but what are they actually doing?
There are many activities where children go and stand around with balloons and posters in their hands. Yes, they use their voice, but what are they actually doing?
We believe that it is important to listen to youth but also to children (as the UN defines, children are from 0 to 17 tears old). That age group is huge! How can the children of 9, 11, or 14 years old can be not given a greater role, a responsibility? We do not want them acting as parliamentarians, we do want them to go to school because we need them to learn so that they are better prepared to take care of the problems. The more you know, the more you can help.
And when I am invited to speak to a group of students, my hope is that there will be at least one who is willing to help. Most of those who say, “wow, I am excited to help”, are girls. Maybe the girls are more mature, maybe they are more interested in helping others — I don’t want to open a box of worms here and be accused of being sexist but it’s interesting that the majority who end up designing projects are girls. For some reason, there are more girls interested in collaborating in these kinds of things than boys.
Anyway, I encourage these kids to gather a team of interested people, to choose a problem that they feel is important, to design a solution, and then, to implement this solution. They tend to be little projects that solve big problems. I help them by connecting them with corporations, who can offer some funding as a part of its own corporate social responsibility program. This is not an easy thing to do. What I am looking for is a group of corporations who see value in partnering with us and will connect their CSR dreams with our projects. And together, step-by-step, we can make work together to make life on Earth better for everyone. This is actually what SDG #17, Partnerships, is all about.
The things you do at Kinderenergy are incredible. What inspired you to found the Kidnerenergy project?
I started Kinderenergy with my son and daughter when they were in middle and high school in Northern California. My daughter had a school project, and everyone was doing different activities at school to help build a school in Africa. This was very popular in the United States, they would say “Okay, everybody, let’s get together, and gather money to fund building a school in Africa”. To collect money, they would be running at a school’s gym or at a stadium, and people would give them a dollar for each lap.
So I asked, where is this school? How many kids are in this school? Who is going to be a teacher at this school? What are they going to sit on? Do they have clean water there? My kids were not able to answer any of these questions precisely, nor was her teacher. Before running around the gym, why wouldn’t they clarify better for what reason they were actually running? They could build a school, the building itself, but where would they find teachers, equipment, books, water and bathrooms? When kids were not part of the decision making process they become detached emotionally from the project. If the project were their project, then there would be greater connection to all aspects of the project.
This is when I suggested to my daughter and her classmates that they design their own project based on the needs of the other children. They had to find out who the teacher would be at that school, where the school was geographically, what political situation was going on there, if they had water, what these children were going to eat, or how far the school was from their home. We started thinking, and I realized that this is something that has never been spoken about — how important children are in solving problems big problems. I am a big environmentalist, and I saw that there was no focus on the positive potential of children within the environment. So I decided to do exactly that — to make children the center of the environment. We are proclaiming that their brains and their compassion are the actual resources. It is brains that solve problems and compassion will move the brain to act. If we connect brains with compassion and technology, this is how we solve problems.
It is brains that solve problems and compassion will move the brain to act. If we connect brains with compassion and technology, this is how we solve problems.
We started Kinderenergy, where Kinder equals a child, and Energy equals an intelligent resource. A child is a renewable source of intelligent energy. Today, we are the only non-profit organization in the UN that believes that children are important for the environment. We are also a part of ECOSOC and UNFCCC. Today, we take part in various international conferences speaking on behalf of children, and we give a voice to the children so they can tell the international community what they are doing to help Earth and why they are important. Within the UN ECOSOC, we are a part of the Major Group of Children and Youth (MGCY), but they are all youth — 18 to 30 years old, and no children are involved or encouraged to participate. It is actually tremendously difficult to have children speak at the UN. The children really given no voice or recognition for what they are doing, and this needs to change. I think it is slowly changing. Children from all over the world are doing great things for the planet, and they have to be recognized as real authentic solutions providers and instruments of peace for the planet.
What are your plans and achievements with the Kinderenergy project?
Right now, we are doing a project in Tanzania where there is a particular school with 265 students who have no clean water, soap, a kitchen, food source or decent toilets. We are helping one school but there are many like this in Tanzania. We want to help them all but one by one. Obviously, without water, students will not be able to stay healthy and to continue at school because the water they drink is dirty and filled with bacteria. When they drink that water, they often get very sick and spend many days away from school. That little money that they have, is spent on medicines to kill the water borne diseases and now with this COVID crisis, their terrible situation has been exacerbated. Imagine, all of us have alcohol, masks, soap to protect ourselves, while they do not have even water or proper sanitation? How can we tell them to wash their hands if there is nothing to wash their hands with?
In Africa, depending on a country, from 50 to 70 percent of the population consists of youth. We have to help them find their vocation. Let’s teach them how to work the land and how to make money with that land. By starting small, we can industrialize agricultural production in the African countries and make it more efficient. We did so in Uganda. We started with a couple of chickens because the diet of Ugandan was very bad. We gave them some funding, so they could start growing chickens. Now, they grow those and have eggs. They sell the majority of these eggs while leaving a sufficient amount for the children to eat, and they make money out of it. With this money, they buy more chicks. Now, they have chickens, eggs, and manure, which they can use to fertilize their soil and start planting something. So, we gave them water, some funding, and the idea. They set up a production of chicken and eggs, and now have to start growing the food that will be nutritious for them, for instance, potato and beans. Once they have a food security, their children will start studying and learning to set up their own business. This is how development works.
There are a lot more projects to begin. After the water and sanitation project, we will build a school residence in Tanzania so the girls will not have to walk for hours to get to school. When these girls are walking by themselves, it is dangerous and they often get raped. We have to try to keep them safe and healthy. If they lived at school, they would have their basic needs covered and they would be much safer and would be able to concentrate more on their studies.
We are starting this new Tanzania project with a European youth group. And we plan to involve even more youth groups so that everyone could help with idea generation and with fundraising. It would be easier to get European funding too if there were a couple of different youth groups involved. It could even be a sports group — we can connect sports to development. This is what we did in India, for instance. One of Kinderenergy’s first projects in India involved Adivasi Children playing soccer with no shoes — and they decided to turn that problem into a project. At the end, they were able to send funds for only half of what they had hoped for, about two hundred fifty pairs of shoes and they were a bit down in the mouth for completing only fifty percent of their project goal, but we made them realize how much good they still did for these kids. We asked the teachers to leave these shoes at the school. The children would go to school in their own sandals and play soccer at school in these soccer shoes. What happened? The kids ran to school every day so excited to wear those new soccer shoes again that they did not want to miss a single day of school after that. In the end, sports stimulates education, development, economic progress and, world peace. One of our goals for the school in Tanzania, is to get them basketball hoops. These are little projects, but they make a huge change.
What role does technology play in this?
That’s a good question and a very important one. Most of the students that we deal with have cell phones. They use them for research — to study about problems, about countries, and about solutions. They use phones to communicate with each other and to engage others into their projects. They use phones to disseminate information about their project through social media. So, mobile phone technology is crucial for our entire system to work.
Another idea that we are working on right now is related to Virtual Reality. We are working to create VR software, which will let students see problems that the kids in developing countries experience every day. They would “walk around” that environment where African kids live and understand how dire their situation is without water, housing, or toilets. They will not only see the problems, but they will also be able to use that technology to solve that problem they see. For instance, they can look at the area and think, “what if we put a toilet at this spot?” or “what if a small bridge were built by that river?”. With the help of this technology, they will be able to measure dimensions, to calculate the amount of resources needed, and to engineer solutions for their problems. I also think that such an approach to design and engineering would inspire more children to choose STEM career paths.
This tech idea will be great in so many areas, take Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) for instance. It will let children see a potential natural disaster before it happens. I think it is important they understand this. For instance, such a situation happened in Haiti. The people needed firewood, so they were chopping down trees. But they were chopping so many trees on hill that the disaster that the hill was at a terrible risk of sliding. There were no roots to hold that dirt together any more. If there had been a village below that hill, there could have been a catastrophe. So we showed our kids the type of disaster that was about to happen and inspired them to find a solution. The solution was quite simple — to plant trees.
How can others help you with your project?
The best thing about our organization is that a hundred percent of the funds go to project implementation — we are doing our work for free. There is a donation page for Kinderenergy where one can donate any sum they want, and we appreciate any support.
Another way to help Kinderenergy is to participate. If there is a school or a youth group, which wants to take up a project — that is great. We are happy to partner up with any youth group from any country.
I am sure that there are times whey you feel tired, disappointed, or lost. What motivates you to keep going?
My motivation is my desire to help kids reach their potential. This is my passion — I am really passionate about what I am doing. Probably, not being paid — makes it even better. I don’t think there is enough money that would make it worthwhile for me to do this for so long. Also, it is something that we started, and we know that there are so many kids that need help. We believe that if kids do not receive an education, they will not reach their potential, move out of poverty, stimulate economic prosperity, impulse development, promote compassion, make Earth a better place for all and secure world peace. Education puts wind in a child’s sail.
Of course, sometimes, I’m tired and frustrated when I present projects that do not get funding. But I remind myself that we are doing it for the kids and that it is not about me, it is all about them. When I think about this, I keep going. I feel a certain degree of responsibility to help them improve their lives. The kids in developing countries really need our help but kids on the other side of the globe, in wealthier countries, they also need help finding their purpose, so I connect the two groups. I try to ignite their empathy. I tell students, as soon as you give yourself to someone else freely without expecting anything in return — it gives you tremendous satisfaction and self esteem. The purpose of life is to make others happy, and in the process, you find happiness yourself. It does not take much to make others happy.
As soon as you give yourself to someone else freely without expecting anything in return — it fills you. The purpose of life is to make others happy, and in the process of it, you find happiness yourself.
What ethical values do you believe are the most important in today’s world?
Honesty. There is a tremendous amount of corruption in the world. It’s hard to solve problems when you are dealing with dishonest people. But, most of the problems we see happening in the world today are caused by an absence of ethical values. Sure, there may be some historical reasons as well, but corruption and a lack of transparency are still big problems. I am a big believer in the virtues: charity, honesty, and fortitude. I think that if virtues were given more importance and people strived to reach a higher level of personal virtue; it will be much better for them, society and the world.
What do you think is the future of the Tech4Good movement? Do you think that the global community is ready for it?
I think so. Now is the perfect time! Everyone has technology. Even in Africa, while they do not have water, they have a cell phone. They use the cell phone not only to communicate but also to transfer money to banks or to receive money. The amount of data on those phones is immense, and Artificial Intelligence will change the way we do development also. AI will tell us precisely where funding is needed, for what age groups and it will tell us what is or is not working. The amount of data out there that needs to be understood and measured is incredible. We are just at the beginning, I think.
What advice would you give those entrepreneurs who plan to enter the Tech4Good movement?
They have to really know what they want and to be really passionate about it. I think that it is passion that will change the world for the better — passion and compassion, the two of them together. You have to be passionate to be compassionate. If you don’t have passion, you can’t even get up in the morning. Even if you love a soccer team — that’s great, you have a passion for this soccer team. The worst is when a person has a passion for nothing.
So, if people have passion to solve problems or to help somebody, they will do well. Despite the setbacks, the problems, the lack of money, they will be successful. You have to understand, are you doing this for people or are you doing this to feel important? If it is the latter — no. If it is the former, you will succeed.
You have to understand, are you doing this for people or are you doing this to feel important? If it is the latter — no. If it is the former, you will succeed.
Everyone should also remember that it is one step at a time. We are on a long journey, and the most important step is the first one — the most important and certainly the most difficult one.
To Wrap Up
Elisabeth Anne Delgado is certain that the children from the developed countries need as much help as the children from the developing world. She says that when she teaches young students to see and solve problems others have, she is helping them find purpose, happiness and build skills for the future. Driven by passion and compassion, the Kinderenergy team is just the beginning of the global Tech4Good movement. Do you think you are ready to join them?
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