The Earth Prize, 2023
An important new initiative for schools
Former international school student Angela McCarthy tells the story of the $200,000 Earth Prize for schools and how your school can get involved in the 2023 edition.
It’s Friday lunchtime. The weekend beckons, but something is happening in the streets outside the Geneva office of hedge fund manager and extreme runner Peter McGarry that is attracting his attention. The noise grows as thousands of students march past in support of environmental awareness and climate action. Later he sees his own daughter at the front of the march on the cover of our local newspaper.
These kids were, of course, right. Things have to change – and adults were just not realizing how urgently this change is needed.
This was all happening when I was approaching something of a crossroads in my career myself. Throughout my professional life, it has taken time to find my path and while I have engaged with many successful projects over the years, there was always something missing. I knew that I wanted to work with young people, but opportunities to do so had been hard to come by. I always felt like the proverbial “square peg in a round hole” which contributed to a sense of unease. And then you have your “aha moment” in your forties when you think, “Oh, I already have a framework in my life.”
The gift of an international education
I had been a student at Aiglon College in Switzerland, where I had experienced a values-based education which served as my guide. It’s amazing when you realize you were given a gift at school that you had not fully appreciated. I knew I needed to take the values I had thrived on at school and direct them towards an initiative that provided a platform where young people could connect, be heard, and make a difference.
The spark that ignited a movement
The inflection point came when Peter McGarry told me about what he had witnessed outside his office. Could we take all this passion, frustration, enthusiasm and concern for the environment that he saw in the streets and galvanize it into constructive action? And that is how The Earth Foundation came to life to inspire, educate, mentor, and empower students, schools, researchers and young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas willing to tackle environmental challenges.
Peter offered me the chance to become the founding CEO. I was ready to take the opportunity with both hands. The square peg was no longer in a round hole!
The Earth Prize
Our chosen way forward was to create a competition for young people and in 2021 we launched the inaugural The Earth Prize, an annual, global environmental sustainability competition worth $200,000 for 13-to-19-year-old students. The prize recognises practical ideas with the most potential to solve specific environmental problems. We quickly realized that schools and teachers needed support to inspire their students. That’s when we decided to create our exclusive learning content. We reached out to Professor Philippe Gilet from EPFL (Lausanne), and a film production company based in the UK, Firefly Films. Together we embarked on an adventure to create inspiring, educational and fun videos to support participating schools. We produced seventeen chapters covering key environmental sustainability concepts and featuring successful young environmental entrepreneurs from around the world we call our “Changemakers”. The feedback we received from teachers and students was encouraging and indicative of the deep need for this type of content in current educational curricula worldwide. These films made all the difference to so many schools.
Mentors and judges
We also recruited 30 volunteer mentors from universities to answer questions and provide online guidance to the competing students. Finally, we formed a world-class Adjudicating Panel of independent experts to handle the challenging task of selecting the 10 finalist teams and, eventually, the winners and runners-up. Everything was now in place!
A truly global competition
By the time registration closed at the end of November 2021, thousands of students had become involved from over 500 schools across 114 countries and territories. We believed there would be interesting solutions, but nothing prepared us for how many brilliant ones were about to come our way.
There was so many amazing ideas among the submissions and the eventual winners were three girls from Summit Education in Vietnam with a design for biodegradable sanitary pads made out of dried dragon fruit peel.
Here are the 10 finalists of The Earth Prize, 2022 edition:
After the competition, my team and I made sure to gather feedback from teachers, students, and others to assess the true value of the experience. 188 feedback calls later, it was clear to us that we were onto something big. And we were excited.
A long-lasting impact: the Earth Prize Alumni
One of the first things I had in mind when we started turning Peter McGarry’s vision into reality was to create an Alumni body which would help The Earth Prize initiative achieve a long-lasting impact beyond the annual competitions. The Alumni group consists of exceptional students who have competed for the prize and was designed to offer members a platform for networking and inspiration where they can meet fellow passionate and talented youth throughout the world and receive support through access to masterclasses, internships, social events, and mentoring. The Earth Prize Alumni concept was directly inspired by my own experience of Aiglon College’s alumni association and its power to connect us across continents and generations.
The Earth Prize 2023
We are now preparing to launch the second edition of The Earth Prize. Registrations will open on September 1st, 2022. Any student and teacher around the world can register for free and obtain access to our learning content and mentors. In many ways, The Earth Foundation believes that international schools have an important role to play in inspiring today’s youth to be aware of environmental issues and, importantly, to take well-researched and targeted action towards solving them.
For more information about entering The Earth Prize 2023, see https://www.theearthprize.org/schools
And here’s the direct link for registration: https://www.theearthprize.org/registration
We look forward to having many more international schools from around the world register for the second edition of the competition!
Angela McCarthy is the CEO of The Earth Foundation, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization working to inspire, educate, mentor, and empower students and young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to tackle environmental problems.