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Kids dancing sustainability

More than five years ago Karin Nettenbreijers left the bank to devote all her time to making the world a better place. She made a brief return on Wednesday, 10 February at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, organising an Energy Bootcamp for kids: a series of games to teach the youngest players about ‘sustainability’. In this blog she writes about the transition into social entrepreneurship and her new partnership with the bank.

Children need to investigate, do, feel and experience. They learn most by making mistakes. Karin Nettenbreijers Karin Nettenbreijers Social entrepreneur, BewustWijzer

Organic step to social entrepreneurship

‘When someone leaves a well-paying job to do something about which they are passionate, this is generally described as a “radical” change in direction. I did this too, but for me the transition was an organic one. “Sustainability” was already a very important issue to me when I worked for ABN AMRO, MeesPierson and Fortis. I firmly believed that our economy needed to change fundamentally, if only because our resources will become exhausted if we continue like this.

‘I saw that others were enthusiastic too, but in those days this was a marginal discussion: sustainability was not core business back then. Yet the need to make the world a better and brighter place kept nagging at me. When my children were born this feeling become stronger. So I decided to look for a way to make a direct impact on creating a more sustainable society.’

Teach them while they are young

‘It emerged that the headmaster of my children’s primary school was looking for a way to embed sustainability in his teaching method. So far his choices had been limited to individual projects, and many of them were incompatible with the school’s curriculums. He asked for my input to help create a structural solution. Mulling it over, we hit on the idea of developing a method of our own for his school, one that repeatedly presents the kids with challenges on the subjects of “people”, “planet” and “prosperity”. We decided to add a fourth P: “play”: children need to investigate, do, feel and experience. They learn most by making mistakes.’

Sustainability at seven schools

‘We are proud of the result: so far two primary schools and five secondary schools in Rotterdam are using our BewustWijzer (Eco Conscious Learning) method. An applied approach is used for traditional subjects such as arithmetic and language, and the children draw inspiration from nature to solve problems. For the time being we will not venture much further afield, since we offer more than just the teaching materials: we also personally help teachers to implement the method. Of course we hope to go national at some point in the future, even though sales are not our main focus. We will not be happy until we can shut down shop, once it has become the norm to think about both the environment and social responsibility.’

Love for nature versus telephone

‘The initial responses from the children are interesting: sustainability comes considerably more natural to the younger kids than to adolescents. Small children are much closer to nature. Ask them if they want to help mankind, animals and the planet when they grow up, and you get an immediate “yes”. Teenagers are more concerned about having the right phone. Nevertheless, the kids do in fact give positive feedback, and an added benefit is that the schools themselves are becoming more sustainable thanks to our method. Their energy bills are down, teachers have stopped taking disposable cutlery on school camps and more space is being added to the bicycle sheds to encourage more kids to cycle to school. These developments are all linked to awareness.’

Energy bootcamp for young tennis players

‘Curiously, BewustWijzer has brought me back in touch with banking again. Much has changed over the years, and it was an amazing feeling when ABN AMRO asked me to organise a kids event at the World Tennis Tournament – and in my hometown of Rotterdam.

‘We realised that even a sporting event can be an opportunity for children to learn. So we developed the Energy Bootcamp: an obstacle course where the WTT’s youngest visitors experienced, through games, what they can do to help the climate. The route took in a range of different activities: an interactive test that mapped out the kids’ climate footprints, “smoothie bikes” on which they pedalled to press fresh “orphan fruit”, bicycles showed how much energy a regular lamp costs compared with an LED lamp, and an energy-generating dance floor.’

And the winner is.... the gamers' pedal couch

‘The result was astonishing. Our goal was to reach at least five hundred children, and we had no trouble passing that target. On the dance floor, about 750 kids generated almost 100,000 joules of energy. More than five hundred kids mapped out their climate footprints, and 245 of them shared their ideas, dreams and stories about a brighter world. Occasionally one of the kids would open our eyes: yes, the iPads that we used also cost energy. Only one of them could be the best though: Jort from Zevenbergen designed a couch with pedals for generating your own energy for your TV or PlayStation. This won him the first prize: at the final on Sunday he was awarded a signed Monfils T-shirt.

We are delighted with the high turnout, the enthusiastic responses and the amount of valuable information that the children shared with us. It feels as if we are one step closer to our goal: to construct the sustainability dialogue with the next generation, to help make the world an even better place going forward.’

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