Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles on Ken’s interview with Sivendra – part 1 provides some background on Sivendra and his work in Pacific, while part 2 focuses on how Sivendra addresses challenges, why he values networking and collaboration so highly, and what some of his future aspirations are.
For a young 29 year old, Sivendra Michael has already achieved a lot. Having personally experienced the effects of climate change, he has been inspired to take action and has since been described as a “superhero – without the cape.” Recently, Ken Fullerton caught up with Sivendra to find out more about what inspires him, his climate change initiatives and what he has achieved.
What inspired his passion to take action?
“Growing up,” says Sivendra, “I witnessed how natural disasters devastated homes of people in my community, claimed innocent lives and left thousands in a helpless state.” He sought to learn more about natural disasters, what causes them, and the effects of climate change through his journey in university which led him to connect with “other like-minded people that shared similar concerns regarding environmental issues.”
“I then grew passionate about sharing narratives about local communities in Fiji and drew inspiration from other climate activists locally that were also concerned about what the future would be like if our current generation does not do anything about it.” Sivendra goes on to acknowledge his roots and recognize the communities that have given him a purpose. “I thank the Turaga ni Koro (village spokesperson) and the people of Votua, Nawaqarua, Yalalevu and Namasau for their loloma (love and trust) and support towards this journey,” he says.
His passion for understanding and solving complex climate change challenges has transferred into his studies. After becoming the first Fijian to graduate with first class honors in Economics at the University of Auckland, Sivendra later received a doctoral studies scholarship to complete a PhD in the Department of Development Studies. In an article featured on the university’s website, he states, “My PhD is very personal. I fear for the future of my communities.” His research focuses on the resilience of small businesses in Fiji’s Ba province.
What climate change initiatives has he been involved in and what have they achieved?
While juggling his studies, and the responsibilities of being a father, Sivendra has managed to design and implement innovative programs that encourage others to learn about and take action on climate change. He acknowledges, “My work as an activist and advocate on SDG 13 – Climate Action, is deeply rooted in my passion for working with young people to defend our island homes.”
His work has seen him become involved in multiple projects and campaigns. Adhering to his motto, which he often shares with young people in his community – “small changes collectively make a significant impact” – has enabled him to design, implement, and support many worthwhile initiatives and campaigns that have positively impacted thousands.
For example, in his Valuing Voices project Sivendra, and his supporters, combine art with activism to promote artivism, “a word embedded in me by the great Moana Maniapoto.” Music videos, documentaries from maritime tours, theatrical performances, and social media campaigns have been used to spread important messages that locals can relate to and understand (often as a result of negative personal experiences with climate change). “It is based on an understanding,” says Sivendra “that diversity of voice leads to better governance for everyone.”
Another important initiative for Sivendra has been his involvement in the British Council’s Active Citizens program. “Words are not enough to express how life-changing this journey has been,” says Sivendra who was selected to lead its rollout in the Pacific, where it is designed around the “core values of building trust and understanding within and between communities by supporting people to take action on issues they are concerned about.” He has played a leading role in rolling the program out to more than 10 Pacific countries and enabling over 9,000 Active Citizens to be trained across the region.
After Active Citizens are trained, they are then able to spread messages about key issues further and design and implement their own local initiatives. Sivendra notes that, “As an adaptive program, Active Citizens can work at scale through a variety of funding models and as a key component of wider initiatives. New partners and funders are being engaged to increase reach across the globe, including civil society organizations, social enterprises, arts institutions, local and national governance structures, and educational institutions.”
What has he helped achieve?
Sivendra likes to point out two significant outcomes that young people have played a small part in achieving through their campaigning and initiatives apart from getting others involved and interested in climate change issues.
In 2017, the Fijian Government announced steps to phase out single use plastics by 2020 as a result of a major ‘Ban the Plastic Campaign’ that was led by young people and later gained the support of civil society organizations. A 10 cents levy on single use plastics was introduced and then increased from 10 cents to 20 cents in 2019 “to discourage consumers from using single use plastics, and to increase awareness for the use of recyclable bags.”
Sivendra and other young Fijians helped lobby the Fiji Government to increase the formerly known Environmental and Climate Adaptation Levy from 6% to 10%. Activism campaigns resulted in the government allowing levy funds to be used to fund environmental safeguarding and protection projects rather than just going into a trust. In 2018, FJD $110.6 million dollars was invested into such projects. Sivendra himself acknowledges that, “This is one of the greatest achievements effecting policy change – through the persistent efforts of young leaders.” He also highly appreciates “government and civil society leaders that continue to include us – the youth – in the decision-making spaces.”
In general, Sivendra believes “Active Citizens are people who feel inspired. They are people who feel motivated and empowered to make a difference. People who have the drive and the know-how to make sure ideas don’t just remain ideas.”