Children as change agents

“Don’t be a litter bug.” Was one of my favorite things to say to other people when I was little. My state ran this incessant Public Service Announcements (PSA) that included this cute bug littering and an even cuter bug telling him to essentially pick up after yourself. I said this once to someone when I moved to London and they looked at me like I was crazy. That is when I realized first, how localized my experience was, and second, how that phrase had stayed with me for years, actually decades at this point. What had it? It was a cartoon and this PSA came on every Saturday morning during the cartoon block. I was young and impressionable, luckily I was exposed to positive messages, i.e. “Seat belt safety” and “Only you can prevent forest fires” — strange though that they showed this in Florida where we don’t have forests, but we do have plenty of fires.

Upon recognizing this pattern in myself, I realized that there is great power in going after young children, but their real power is that they are not only changing their own behavior, but also that of their parents. Whether it was reminding my parents daily to take a “sea shower” during our frequent droughts or begging them to let me join in on yet another beach cleanup, they were along for the ride.

And while the other topics we considered are applicable to children as well and incredible areas that some of our altMBA colleagues tacked, plastic felt like the one children could have the most direct effect on in their lives and in the lives of their family and friends. That is how we come to the idea of reducing the plastic consumption of children in three main areas:
• How they bring their fruit snacks to school
• The kind of drink containers that they use
• How they bring home their groceries from the super market

We include three personas in our analysis because while the campaign focuses on the children, the teachers and the parents are important elements in creating real change. From the perspective of the teachers, we wanted young, idealistic teacher that saw their role as having a direct impact on the type of people these children become. As for the parents, they will also be indirect recipients of the message, so we also needed to understand what the receptiveness to the message would be. Also, because as we planned to put the posters up in supermarkets, at play areas and in schools, the parents would also be seeing this campaign.

We did also contemplate a stronger sense of gamification in the campaign, however, given that the kids are so young, while we did want to use peer pressure to help change behavior, we did not want there to be an element of shaming or gloating. To this extent we wanted to take it out of the one to one and put it at the classroom level. I remember doing dozens of fundraisers as a child that were targeted at competing against other schools or other classrooms, because of the level of abstraction we could take out the element of too much of a competitive spirit. That said, from an impact perspective, while it will be important to use the teachers as the trackers, I also think there is another way to measure impact. From the beginning I would partner with grocery stores in the area to begin tracking their plastic bags sales and see if there is a significant effect on the quantity sold/used in the supermarkets.

What if this approach to the campaign did not work? An important question that I had not considered. I guess that is a common failing of projects like this, not already having a pivot strategy in place or at least be really for the possibility/eventuality. This is probably my biggest challenge right now, imagining the what if of failure. However, I would not consider it a failure if there was little uptake, I would just see it as an opportunity to change the approach. I would possibly take a social media approach to it and have an app that integrates with say Snapchat to count the points for each post including #plasticalternatives. I would also look to social icons for the age group, maybe Samir & Viktor, a popular duo with young Swedes, and get them involved in a positive way to attract more attention to the campaign.

I ran away to Portugal to start a food tour and wedding celebranting business after a decade in IFIs. I adore writing, my dog, naps, and reinventing myself.