Ashoka Nordic sat down to speak to Yoana Svetoslavova, a 19 year old Changemaker who launched the organization SOS UB, Save Oslo’s Seas Ungdoms Bedrift. In this article, we discover how and why Yoana started her changemaker journey as well as insightful tips for other young people who want to create change and adults who want to support them.
• What challenge in the society are you addressing, and why?
When we were in our last year at school, deciding what we should focus on for our student company (as part of entrepreneurial subject choice) we had many long discussions looking at different options, and decided the most important in our opinion were two things:
1) That nature is being polluted and needs our help before it is too late and,
2) That young people need meeting places where they can find activities that give mutually beneficial value to society AND themselves.
That is how we landed on the unique idea of SOS – a mobile pop-up café where young people can gather in different areas of Oslo. Three things happen at these cafés:
Food – so that young people can primarily enjoy themselves, have good chats and chill.
Talks and lectures – that inform about the environment and indicate what we can actually do about it.
Activities – concrete tools that they can use on an everyday basis to solve environmental challenges. These activities are designed to be impactful without them realizing it – we have had smoothie making bikes, Kahoot quizzes so they remember what they heard in the talks, and our food is all from ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away.
By popping up in places where young people already go to relax, we have probably reached about 400 young people in the past year. They have fun and do good for society at the same time.
· Who is your role model and what impact have they played in your life?
I am generally very impressed by people who manage to see a problem, and when they do that, they take a step in a direction to do something about it. My parents were really important in motivating me, showing me what is right and wrong, and encouraging me to not give up when things went wrong.
· What challenges have you faced in leading your idea? What are your key takeaways from these?
Getting out of my comfort zone has been the biggest thing – daring to do more than I used to, talking to so many new people to be able to do what I wanted to do. The girls in the SOS team all have minority backgrounds and were pretty shy – no one had ever challenged us to show ourselves out there, but this teamwork meant we had to practice doing things together, and by being thrown in at the deep end, we managed.
My key takeaway was to always think of the goal and remember that once you have done something difficult, it will be easier next time. I am also very glad to have got to know my team: we now talk about everything and anything and know what to do when we have to tackle different situations when we come up against them.
Another key takeaway is the importance of a network: we have developed a really broad range of networks in different areas of our work: one network around Sukkerbiten (an area of Oslo harbour), others in local neighborhoods with Tøyen Unlimited and Forandringshuset, another network connected to waste food, and another around bikes – people who help fix ours when it breaks down – and yet another with politicians and decision-makers: like Viktor Gjengaar, Agnes Viljugrein and our vice-Mayor Kamzy Gunaratnam.
· What support has been important for you in your Changemaking journey?
The support from my parents has been the strength that helped me to move forward. Also, my teacher and my friends were very important to me. Our mentors and our network collaborators have played a big role in motivating us.
Former pupils from our school – Hersleb – like Doruntina Neziri and Shad Hussein – have been able to give us tips and advice. They went through a similar journey before: they too saw problems, focused on them, and found good solutions.
· Who is a Changemaker for you, and why?
Someone who dares, who first and foremost looks around themselves; an observant person, who cares and then does something about it to make it better.
Someone who, if there is a potential problem, is brave enough – which is not to say they are not scared, there is always some fear – to go out of their comfort zone and do what is needed for themselves, the society, and the environment.
· Share your top 3 tips for other young people who want to create change!
1. Never be scared: even if it looks really frightening out, try it. You never know what it will bring you: it can be easier than you think, and there can be results that you’ll be able to benefit from for the rest of your life.
2. Never pre-judge: when you are going to be an entrepreneur, your network is very important. You should talk to absolutely everyone you have the possibility to speak to. Do not think that you do not need to talk to someone – you never know what kind of possibilities can turn up. You simply never know. My teacher, Kjetill Gunnarson, was great at showing us the recipe for how to show up in society, in a way that would lead to success and make a change. He trained us to get out of our comfort zones. That is the kind of person young people need around them.
3. Never lose motivation or your positivity. Things will not always go well, but suddenly the day will come when everything blossoms around you and you think: ‘Wow, did I manage to do that?’ In the down-times think of your goals, lift yourself up, and keep going towards those goals.
· How is your world different from the world your parents grew up in?
We have so many more possibilities than our parents – everything is open for us, nothing can stop our dreams. You can set any goal you like, and as long as you work hard for it, you can get there. Society gives young people so many opportunities to do what it is that interests them.
Even knowledge is out there if you need to get hold of it: just log on and study from home. And society can even support you with grants and loans in many cases. And individuals like Sarah Prosser (Norway Country Manager) and Kjetill (my teacher), who chose to put in extra time to support young people – mentors are important.
· What would you tell an older adult about the best way to support a young Changemaker?
Listen to what the young person has to say. Because when a young person says something, they have a reason. Perhaps there is something in what they are saying that is stopping them from taking that little step that will start being a Changemaker. Listen and then look for what the young person is saying they need and give advice based on that. Everyone is different, but everyone needs understanding and patience too – because we are not always easy all the time!
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