A passion, compulsion or conviction?

Alastair with Amy and Ella Meek – co-founders of Kids Against Plastic

Amy and Ella Meek founded Kids Against Plastic three years ago. Now aged 16 and 14, they have a TED talk under their belt, numerous keynote speeches behind them, a book deal and a regular slot on Sky Kids – FYI – along with their successful campaign of litter picking, and schools action programmes and teams.

I have been mentoring them for the past year and I’ve been struck by the surety of their focus, the eloquence of their arguments and the determination of their activism. This is a far cry from the usual lack of conviction I see in many people, no matter what their age. I wanted to ask them about the beginning of Kids Against Plastic. What got them started? Was it passion, compulsion or conviction? 


I remember a combination of factors over a period of time. We were being home-schooled and travelling around Europe. Learning about the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals was a significant moment for us. 


And then there were these two Indonesian girls – Melati and Isabel Wijsen – who had created the movement ‘Bye Bye Plastic Bags’. We watched their TED talk. They blew us away and helped us realise we could make a change like they had.”


We just felt we had to do something, however small. But Melati and Isabel made us believe that we could do something. So we started picking up litter.


The walks around where we live in Nottinghamshire had the usual plastic rubbish strewn along them so we set out to clean them up. And then we heard about how 100,000 mammals would die through plastic pollution so we decided to collect 100,000 pieces of plastic litter as an immediate response. I’m passionate about wildlife so this made sense to me. I also remember watching the series Blue Planet II which raised a lot of awareness with the media and the public. It had a huge effect on us.


When we started out we wanted to eradicate bottled water from UK supermarkets. That was our goal. We still have that as a vision but now we understand much more the complexity of that. I remember feeling angry when we understood that plastic bottles that were said to be recyclable actually weren’t being recycled at all. The system was broken. Our whole ‘Plastic Clever’ campaign came out of this need to help more people, particularly young people understand what’s going on and what they can do to change things.

As they get more well-known, the girls are in demand, their voices sought out. Already, there is the choice of where to speak, which meeting to attend. Government, big business, third sector, festivals are all leaning in. Recently, we’ve secured two keynotes speeches for them with Danone Water. 

Both girls have spoken about finding their passion. I’m a great believer in being in the right place at the right time. I don’t think this is just down to luck. I think you make your own luck by being alert, curious, aware, interested, empathic. In short by paying attention and noticing what’s going on around you. And Amy and Ella have all these qualities. 


If we can inspire more young people to become responsible consumers and demand change in their schools and communities that would be cool.


And I don’t think this is just about plastic. It might be about sustainable fashion. If we can inspire young people to take action in whatever area interests them that would be great. Just take action.

What does it take to take action? First, you need to notice what’s going on. Second, it has to speak to you, get you angry, frustrated, feel compelled to do something in response. Third, what’s the difference you want to see happen? This is an act of imagination – envisioning something that doesn’t yet exist. Out of this progression comes a passion, compulsion (we must do something) and finally conviction that what you’re doing will make a difference.

Listening to Amy and Ella I’m reminded of a phrase I used when I started the Catalyst programme at Unilever – 

“I didn’t know what I couldn’t do.” 

I simply couldn’t see the barriers, the cul-de-sacs and dead ends. I was driven by an idea of how things might be. Amy and Ella are driven by a huge idea and that focus will give them the momentum they need to overcome whatever distractions are flung their way.

Amy and Ella Meek were one of the 2018 Roundtable Global Youth Award Winners.

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