In 2018, then 11-year-old Haaziq Kazi delivered his first TED Talk at TED-Ed Weekend and unveiled his prototype invention: a ship called Ervis that cleans plastic from the surface of the ocean. The homemade prototype he created in his bathtub has become the Ervis Foundation, a coalition of young people mobilizing their fellow youth to help clean our world’s oceans.
We spoke with Haaziq Kazi and Priyanka Prakash, Program Director at Ervis Foundation, about how a bathroom prototype grew into a global movement, and how the Ervis Foundation is using the TED-Ed Student Talk program to encourage young people to create Talks about their ideas, just like Haaziq did.
HAAZIQ KAZI (HK): My very first TED-Ed Talk was about a ship I conceived to clean the ocean of the plastic waste crisis. It started with a documentary I saw on National Geographic around 5 years ago on the impact of the plastic waste crisis on marine life and ecosystems. The enormity of the problem and impact it had horrified me, and I dreamt of making a ship to clean it.
When we throw our plastic waste away, we think it’s gone, except there is no “away.” It stays on Earth and is slowly finding a place all across the world from the Mariana Trench to the human body, and we need to act before it’s too late.
HK: If it wasn’t for my TED-Ed Talk, this journey wouldn’t have started. Period. The TED-Ed Student Talks Program gave me a platform to share my vision of a world where we can dream of a better future for the Earth. The idea of a ship which can clean oceans has morphed into various ideas and forms, but what delivering a TED-Ed Talk has truly done, is made me believe that an idea worth pursuing can lead to change in the world.
Ervis the ship is a moonshot project and I’ve learned the hard way that this is not child’s play. Problems like solving the intricate engineering of design and prototyping a futuristic ship, and then creating a monetization model of waste collection and disposal, are some of the obstacles I’ve come across. Bringing this idea into reality is a painfully slow process which I am working towards. Cleaning the ocean is a long journey and incredibly complex, but one constant of this journey is my unwavering belief that we can and we will reverse the impact of this crisis that my generation has inherited.
Since delivering my TED-Ed Weekend Talk, I have co-founded Ervis Foundation to bring a generational change in the way the youth of today consumes and disposes of plastic in a responsible and sustainable manner.
PRIYANKA PRAKASH (PP): The Ervis Foundation is a social enterprise that is dedicated to bringing a generational change in the way we as a society consume and dispose of plastic, by inspiring and educating the youth through various ocean literacy programs.
Launched in 2019, the Foundation has a three-pronged approach:
1. Hero: which encompasses all our educational initiatives.
3. Hygiene: which includes the moonshot project of Ervis the Ship and an incubation lab that we hope to launch to support the implementation of innovations by youth across the globe.
Our goal is to create young leaders who are instilled with the right tools, capacities and knowledge to lead the much needed change for the sustainable future of our planet. With each passing day the climate crisis is worsening, and we hope to create a chain effect, where one person inspires the next, and together we redefine the future of our planet.
HK: We have consumed more plastic in the last 10 years than in the entire 100 years before. Plastic doesn’t get destroyed, it breaks into smaller particles called microplastics which are not visible to the human eye and that is something we all should worry about. We don’t want our generation to fight a losing battle, so we need to act and care now.
Students can start with themselves, changing their behaviors on a daily basis by refusing and reducing plastic consumption. They can also act as advocates in their homes and advocate to local and national level policy makers, encouraging a culture of sustainable life. The power of the collective cannot be underestimated, and if we rise and are vocal, people will listen to us.
PP: In the last two years we have focused on building a strong foundation for our Hero initiative. We began our journey with the Blue Workshops, with a goal to bring ocean literacy into the school learning environment. Through these workshops, we engaged with students through meaningful activities and discussions, to instill environment sensitivity and inspire them to take action.
With the onset of the pandemic, we launched the Blue Circle program which is primarily a mentorship program, where we select passionate students and engage with them for three months, with support from experts, to give them a detailed insight into the marine crises and the measures they can take to conserve the ecosystem. The program culminates with each of the students developing their own projects or innovations focused on marine conservation. The youth leaders from the Blue Circle program went on to launch the Blue Warriors Club, which is a youth-led and youth-driven club focused on bringing ocean action and literacy into the school learning environment.
HK: We also have our digital initiative called Hub through which students can work towards reducing their plastic footprint. Lastly, we have Hygiene, which is an incubation lab where young people can bring their ideas and inventions to help reduce the plastic crisis and work with mentors to bring the ideas to reality.
PP: I believe that it is very important to give students the right platform to express and voice their ideas. It’s crucial to keep young people inspired and motivated, especially if we want them to take up the responsibility of leading climate action. Haaziq, I believe, is an inspiring example of the potential that young people have in truly driving change. We truly believe that if a student like Haaziq can lead climate action, then millions of youth across the globe can too. Our goal is to educate students with an aim to inspire them to create solutions for conserving our ocean.
We want to offer students a platform to channel their ideas, and incubate innovations and solutions to bring about long-term change. This is where we believe that the Student Talks program can truly motivate young leaders like Haaziq to channel their ideas for climate action in the right direction. In the upcoming edition of the Blue Circle, I am hoping to culminate the three month mentorship program by giving each of the students an opportunity to work on their own Student Talk. This will not just inspire them, but also motivate them to continue taking climate action in the long-run.
HK: Turning an idea into action starts with a profound or even an insane sense of belief, even when the world does not see it the same way. Never be afraid to follow your dreams. When you go about taking action, start with understanding the drivers, enablers, and deterrents to achieve the goal and the impact it will have. Align with the enablers and work around the deterrents. Some days will be fun, others won’t. Don’t quit. Adapt.
Sometimes we might not achieve the goals that we started with, but if the result aligns with solving the problem statement, keep pursuing. We never know what we are capable of until we truly push the boundaries of our own resolve. Like Paulo Coelho said, “And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” Be curious, ask questions. Asking questions gives you answers, and if it doesn’t exist, find the answer.
Haaziq Kazi is 15 years old and is currently studying at The Hotchkiss School, in Lakeville CT. Haaziq is passionate about the oceans and tackling the plastic problem afflicting oceans and marine life. At the age of 11, he was invited to speak at TED-Ed Weekend in New York to share his invention, Ervis the Ship, and has spoken on multiple other forums, including TEDxGateway Mumbai, TEDxJGEC, VJTI College, TEDxICEM, Seed and Chips Summit and Economic Times Global Business Summit, to raise awareness on the danger of plastic pollution. He was invited to speak at the 2020 United Nations session of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), on behalf of the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). Haaziq is also the founder of the Ervis Foundation, which works with the youth of today to change how we interact with plastic, and is currently appointed as the Regional Focal Point for SDG14, Youth Constituency for the Major Group for Children and Youth.
As the Program Director for Ervis Foundation, Priyanka Prakash is works closely on aligning the foundation’s visions with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12 and 14 and is greatly instrumental in running the operations of the foundation. Priyanka cares deeply for marine life and is committed to work with youth to alleviate the problems afflicting ocean life. She has worked on developing curriculums, programs and initiatives that aim at educating and inspiring the youth to take action against the plastic crises. Over the last two years, she has closely engaged with over 1,600 students across India and UAE, educating and spreading awareness about the urgency to save our Earth and to build a plastic-free environment and cleaner oceans for our future generations. She is also currently appointed as the Regional Focal Point for Asia-Pacific, India for Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY) SDG 14 / Oceans Youth Constituency.