A young climate activist and her doll

Supported by local and international organisations, a young girl in Pakistan is developing ways to combat climate change
<p>Emaan Danish Khan is now a familiar face at climate talks in Pakistan, the youngest climate activist in the country [image by: Zofeen T. Ebrahim]</p>

Emaan Danish Khan is now a familiar face at climate talks in Pakistan, the youngest climate activist in the country [image by: Zofeen T. Ebrahim]

“Of all the things what saddens me the most is the level of plastic I see in the sea and on our beaches,” the eight-year old climate activist Emaan Danish Khan told “All this plastic is killing marine life,” she said, adding she wished she had a magic wand to put things right on the planet.

Probably the youngest social entrepreneur in Pakistan, if not across the globe, she is rallying the Pakistani youth by creating awareness about climate change and how to save the planet using the age old method of story-telling. If the world can eliminate plastic from the planet, that could be a good start, she said.

A little nervous at the beginning, looking to her mother for nods of reassurance, Emaan enthusiastically explained her plan of tackling the menace of cleaning the earth.

Her project, Peekaboo, once complete, has a mascot, a rag doll by the name of Fizza (Fizza, a girls’ name, in Urdu language, means environment) suggested by her father. “Fizza is nine years old, loves nature and wants to save the planet,” explained Emaan. Her mother Zunaira Khan, her biggest supporter, added, “She is a little girl with a big heart!”

The doll will come with changeable clothes and a storybook, with stories written and illustrated by children aged between 8 and 15. It will have various super heroes, who help Fizza protect the environment, fight global warming and the menacing effects of climate change that are causing death, disease and destruction.

“Of the 60 entries that came, 25 have been selected by an independent panel of judges – comprising environmentalists, writers and teachers – for the storybook (and which is also getting a stamp of approval from the WWF Pakistan and Ministry of Climate Change),” explained Zunaira, adding, “The revenue from the project will be used to create climate awareness talks and plays at school in the first phase in Sindh and then throughout Pakistan.” They hope to be able to publish the books through crowd-funding.

Some of the subjects touched upon in the 25 stories include plastic, ocean pollution, smog, flooding, deforestation and glacial melt. “I was pleasantly surprised by how imaginatively these issues were taken on by children,” said Zunaira

It all started early this year when Emaan decided to apply for a ClimateLaunchpad (CLP), the world’s largest green business ideas competition. Facilitated in Pakistan by Stimulus, the competition helps germinate ideas to “fix climate change one start-up at a time” according to the website’s tagline. Emaan was among the 25 short-listed from 100 applicants who attended a 2-day boot camp and were mentored. However she did not make it to the top three finalists for the international competition.

CLP global started back in 2014 and this year Pakistan joined in too. “Although age is not a criterion, Emaan is our youngest mentee,” said Hira Wajahat, a consultant with Stimulus and Pakistan National Lead for ClimateLaunchpad. “Our team decided to take her in because her pitch was really good. While there were many who came up with ways of reducing plastic and turning it into a business, we marvelled by her initial idea of ‘upcycling’ old toys and planting trees from the money she would earn from selling the toys,” said the CLP head, adding, “Although her initial idea has changed a great deal, it fitted into our criteria of a positive climate action and business revenue generation.”

“When she came to us she was doing a number of things. Our programme was for creative social enterprises, and she was trying to develop functional items of wood scraps and old toys. While developing her business model, we suggested she concentrate on one thing,” said Shaista Ayesha, who heads the product development at SEED Ventures, which provides capital to start-up companies (like Stimulus) and small businesses. Ayesha also heads RISE, the incubation programme for creative social enterprises where Emaan is being mentored. “She was honest, and for her age, very passionate about a cause,” is what struck the RISE team, who decided to take work with her and her project.

The project is funded by the British Council, under the latter’s Developing Inclusive Creative Economies (DICE) programme. Focusing on girls, women and the disabled, this pilot project is encouraging them to explore how “creativity, generosity, unconscious bias” nurture our “curiosity, creativity, communities, enterprises, policies, ideas and the environments” in which we live while at the same time, contribute towards eradicating barriers to economic opportunity for all. It is currently being run in Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK.

As part of fine-tuning the project, Emaan interviewed some 30 potential customers/users of her product to get feedback, who, in turn, guided her to include blog, a Facebook page as well as start a YouTube channel to strike a continuous conversation around issues of climate change and environmental degradation. Finding the “YouTube space rather saturated” her parents decided to concentrate on helping her promote her cause using a Facebook page. With 2.2k followers, they help Emaan upload video logs (vlogs) twice a month, or even more, depending on what there is to say. Her mother also shares her daughter’s doings on Instagram under EmaansTalk.

The young entrepreneur’s mentor, Syed Zuhair Abbas, who specialises in teaching product design at Karachi University, worked extensively with her on the design of her doll. Zunaira has involved women from her neighbourhood to make dolls that are traditional, climate friendly (made from cotton fabric and biodegradable material) that include Fizza, her parents and her younger sister.

“She is the youngest one in our batch. When we selected her, we loved what she was doing and we believed that we should give her a chance because SEED believes in planting and cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset from a young age,” said Ayesha.

Emaan surprises you further with her “age is just a number” and that “age should not be a deterrent in achieving your dreams”. She blames all adults “except for my parents” for causing so much damage to the planet. Adorably she says she never uses plastic and then the truth comes out when she whispers sheepishly, “Sometimes I forget to carry my cloth bag”. She tries to stay away from junk food, wants to be a vegetarian but does not succeed as her favourite dish remains biryani.

Today, the young activist with a winsome smile is seen at most climate events taking place in Karachi, with Fizza tucked under her arms, as she talks passionately about saving the planet. She has found collaborators with the WWF Pakistan and even the Ministry of Climate Change. “I hate what is happening to the planet. If we need to put things right, it will have to be a collective effort and on a war footing before it is too late!”