Melati Wijsen is a founding force behind YOUTHTOPIA, a platform for change led by and designed for young people. Her initial change-making initiative – Bye Bye Plastic Bags, which she started with her sister at just 12 years old – resulted in a ban on single use plastic bags in Bali thanks to the support of many like-minded, locally and nationally. We asked her to look back on her change-making journey.
Ok Melati, let’s look back at the changes you have been involved in. We’ll start with the question: what were you doing at 12 years old?
As I write this and look back at nearly half of my life, I am grateful for the bravery, determination and clarity of my 12-year-old self. There were two major life happenings that led me on this path to become a full time changemaker. The first was that, because I grew up on Bali, I learned at an early age the beauty of the natural world and it was not rocket science to see that plastic pollution was causing mass destruction of Mother Nature. Secondly, having parents from two totally different cultures and backgrounds (my mum is Dutch and my father is Indonesian) I learned at an early age to keep an open mind about the many possibilities that life can offer. Basically, we grew up in a household that combined two worlds and created a feeling that anything is possible.
So in 2013, at 12 years old, I started an organisation with a vision to make Bali plastic bag free. We called the movement Bye Bye Plastic Bags. The mission was in the name, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags quickly grew to being the largest youth-led organisation in the country. After many years of persistence and commitment, TED talks, UN general assembly appearances, meetings with government and collaborations with many like-minded people, Bali has finally implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. Today Bye Bye Plastic Bags has grown into a global youth movement with over 60 teams that are all led by other young people.
From 12 to 21 I learned a lot about life outside of the traditional classroom. Activism was my school, and I spent more time in other students’ classrooms than in my own. In New York, Tokyo, or in the Maluku Islands – it didn’t matter where I was, I would always get the same question: “Melati, how can I create change too?”
I strongly believe that every single young person can be a changemaker, but maybe not every young person knows where and how to start.
Today I am building an organisation called YOUTHTOPIA because I wish there had been a platform like this when I started my changemaking journey at the age of 12 years old.
YOUTHTOPIA is a learning space for all youths who want to create change but don’t know where to start. It is a movement where we can find community and build the necessary momentum to accelerate change. Basically, I am building YOUTHTOPIA for all the 12-year-olds today in the world.
Ironically, students were not the only ones asking questions about change. CEO’s and corporate leaders were asking the very same question. “How do we create change?” It’s been music to my ears and the challenge I have been waiting for. To accelerate change, we need stronger leadership from the private sector. So we’ve created a program of reverse mentoring with a transformational framework for corporations to understand the priorities of Gen Z. We do not have the luxury of time to wait. The time for change is now and we will only achieve this if we work together.