Petr, how do a couple of guys from the Czech Republic end up establishing an NGO on Bali, Indonesia?
Ten years ago I had a half-year gap between graduating from Charles University and MBA studies in South Korea. I wanted to learn to surf and came to Bali. Over time, coming to Bali regularly, I got more self-confident about the waves and started to explore Indonesia’s other islands. I discovered the amazing biodiversity of the archipelago and fell in love with Indonesian nature. Nevertheless, every day we witness how Indonesia’s nature is being confronted with a developing economy driven by a huge mass of people, namely 250 million inhabitants without environmental awareness. There is no environmental education for its 85 million children in public schools, neither is environmental awareness transferred to them by adults, family members, media etc.
What made you and your co-founder(s) decide to start green-books.org?
While on a surfing expedition to Sumba Island we visited an orphanage and realized that the children in these rural areas have a lack of environmental knowledge - they don’t even have access to fun reading. We wanted to spread environmental awareness through reading for pleasure, but found there were no book stores or children’s books at all in the capital city of Waingapu. So we flew to Jakarta where a lot of books on animals, plants, and the environment are available, then brought about 20 kg of those books back to Sumba. That’s how the mission of green-books.org got started. Later we established an official non-profit organization in Prague.
So could you elaborate a bit more on what the initiative is all about?
We are a non-profit organisation on a mission to promote eco-literacy (education for sustainable living) to children in Indonesia. Since 2013, we have initiated more than 60 Eco-Libraries throughout the country. By providing Indonesian children books about animals, plants, and the environment, we wish to get the children to be curious about Nature, to overcome their fear of the unknown, and to grow in their love for the environment. This way they will be aware of their surroundings and will protect Mother Nature. We're also adapting Eco-Activities and games and introducing them at the Eco-Libraries to inspire children to lead sustainable lifestyles. By educating children about the environment they will become eco-literate, which is an important value for humans in order to thrive on this planet.
Who selects the literature for the children? And what are the key criteria in this selection?
We have local volunteers who source books and distribute them to the Eco-Libraries. The locations for our Eco-Libraries are either already established institutions (schools, kids’ clubs, public libraries, mosques, churches, etc.) or we initiate new community Eco-Libraries. The books are primarily in the Indonesian language; their up-to-date content is focused on nature, natural sciences, and ecology; and importantly, they are fun to read. For our portfolio we have identified about 200 such books in the Indonesian book market. We choose books according to the age of the readers and the environmental issues in the specific areas.
How many children currently benefit from Green Books? What growth do you expect in the years ahead?
Since 2013 we have initiated more than 60 Eco-Libraries throughout the whole country, from Aceh to West Papua. The number of readers ranges from 30 to several hundred for each Eco-Library. Some of the Eco-Libraries are mobile - powered by horse, motorbike or boat – so their reach is even wider. Currently 50 more Eco-Libraries are being planned and are waiting to be funded.
Concerning the financing of your projects, on the website we read that you work according the 100% model? What does this mean?
We gave a bold promise to the general public, and especially to ourselves, that 100% of the public donations would go directly to funding eco-literacy projects. We have found other ways to cover our operational costs. We have been depending on our own funds and private donors to cover everything from travel expenses to website administration to promo materials and office supplies. However, in order to sustain and grow our organization we need to search for corporate sponsorships. Therefore, our next step in 2016 is to network and to find ways to attract such sponsors.
It seems you are mostly focusing on Indonesian youth for now. Do you guys ever consider taking the initiative international?
Indonesia is a vast archipelago, consisting of more than 17,000 islands. It abounds in unique natural treasures - active volcanoes, rainforests, coral reefs, glaciers, and mineral resources, areas with amazing biodiversity both in sea and on land; actually some sources credit Indonesia with being the most species-rich country on earth. So it makes sense to start our eco-initiative here. Nevertheless, the ecosystem of the planet is so closely interconnected that every human and especially young people should be aware of environmental issues and sustainable ways of life. Therefore, we definitely want to take green-books.org beyond Indonesia’s borders in the future.
Do you have some tips for young people who are also interested in setting up eco-initiatives?