By Sonia Toledo, Founder, Dignity of Children
Climate change is on everyone’s mind these days, and developing 21st century skills in kids has never been more important. Helping children learn how to find creative solutions to problems is key to preparing them for successful careers and fulfilling lives, and empowering them to feel capable of contributing to our planet and society.
After hosting the wildly successful Marketplace of the Future 2019, Amer Jandali—environmentalist, activist, entrepreneur, inventor, DJ, Innovator-in-Residence at the Center for Social Innovation New York City, hardcore optimist, and much more—chatted with me about the importance of creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving when it comes to creating a sustainable future. And, most importantly, how change begins with staying curious and believing in each person’s capacity to make a difference.
Read below to find out more about Amer, Future Meets Present, and steps youth can take towards a healthier planet.
What is Marketplace of the Future?
Amer: It’s basically a new take on the 1939 World’s Fair, which was the first time that consumers saw commercial television. And, the first time people saw elevated highways, and air conditioning, and the fluorescent light bulb, and all these things that are normal now. They saw it for the first time back then.
Marketplace of the Future is a yearly event that shows solutions and innovations that are going to be normal for the future.
And it all started with a plastic bag…
The starting point for me was 3:30 in the morning, after a night of DJing in a club. I was a DJ for five years, then I watched a documentary about plastic bags. It was called Bag It. I was watching it and thinking, “Why have I never thought about this before?” And that just got the whole ball rolling.
So, what’s his vision?
A zero-waste world, totally. One in which all molecules maintain circularity.
Everything that we’ve ever consumed still exists somewhere. Think back to your 10th birthday party (if you can think that far back). You had your cake and your presents and your soda and your cups and everything. Well, if they were plastic or Styrofoam cups, those cups are still somewhere.
And his estimated timeline for a zero-waste world?
A lifetime, maybe? I honestly don’t think it will take that long. I think humans do amazing things under pressure, that’s one. Two: the solutions are available to us. And three: it’s the natural way of things. There’s no such thing as waste in nature. It just requires innovation from the top-down and bottom-up level. That’s what I’m learning about how social change works.
Here’s the great news–
All the solutions we need are already here. Everything we need to solve all the world’s problems exist. We have solutions that can be scaled. We’ve proven renewable energy that can power countries for weeks on end. That’s not the hard part. All of these solutions exist already, and all we have to do is vote for them. And you vote for them by choosing them. So, your choices matter. Your choices are the only things that matter.
How can we go about utilizing creative problem-solving to uncover these solutions?
Before creativity, use curiosity. I think that for youth, curiosity will lead the way to thinking about well–Where’s this reusable bottle being manufactured? How are they making it? Can I find a manufacturer that’s using recycled material to make my reusable bottle? Are there companies that are doing more with their business model? Are there companies that are taking their profits and planting trees with that money? How far can my vote go? I think curiosity can answer those questions, and the creativity will follow.
Go through one day and look closely at all the things that you touch in the day, and then think what could potentially be different from your toothbrush, to your toothpaste, to your soap in the shower, to your backpack, to your clothing to the things that you’re eating, where all those things are coming from, where are they going.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but I think there will be one thing that will touch your heart closer than anything else. For me, it just happened to be plastic bags.
How can you inspire children to take action and start problem-solving for our future earth? Can you spark ideas using a documentary, peer education, discussion about current events, or school program?
Use Dignity of Children’s project-based learning curriculum on Sustainability to lead your kids through identifying a problem, a process of sustained inquiry, authenticity, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, all the way to a presentation of a public product. Then, exhibit your class’s project—perhaps at next year’s Marketplace of the Future!