We're thrilled to welcome Wyne to the team. As an experienced program leader with a diverse set of experiences in community-based organizations, international organizations, and the government, Wyne is well-positioned to lead our upcoming accelerator program. In addition to supporting 10 Billion Strong in Myanmar, Wyne is working as a National Technical Expert for Building Climate Resilience of Urban Systems through Ecosystems-based Adaptation (EbA) in the Asia-Pacific Region - Myanmar together with UNEP and Myanmar's Environmental Conservation Department. As part of getting to know her and to share her expertise, 10 Billion Strong founder Patrick Arnold interviewed her.* Please read on to get to know more about Wyne.
Patrick: You have a lot of great experience in the social sector. Where does your inspiration come from? How did you become interested in environmental issues?
Wyne: During my past activities throughout my work and university years, I have learned that within our ecosystem, humans and animals are dependent on one another. The state of our environment is very important and impacts human life. I am specifically concerned about plastic pollution because sadly in my home city single-use plastics are still widely available and used. The consequence of convenience is visible on every street. As well as being an eyesore, this plastic often finds its way into rivers, and eventually the sea, where it causes significant issues for marine wildlife. I am determined to raise awareness of how easy it is to reduce plastic use, and highlight the impact of people’s actions. When I'm not thinking about new ideas or solutions, I enjoy volunteer work, reading books, delivering public awareness training, or counseling youth. I have a wide variety of interests from policy making, to cooking, to discovering new music, and am constantly questioning the nature of the universe around me.
Patrick: What do you think are the biggest environmental issues facing Myanmar right now?
Wyne: In my hometown, Yangon, the challenge that we all are facing today is that many people are not even aware of the necessity of throwing plastic waste into bins. With that issue in mind, I started Thant Myanmar, an anti-plastic pollution organization, together with a group of dynamic people who are keen to work for environmental impact, especially in waste management. I advocated to the government and different stakeholders to form a policy regarding single-use plastic, and provided awareness talks on TV, in schools and universities, as well as on the stage as a speaker about plastic pollution. Whenever we educate, we have to combine in different ways to both inspire and train communities.
Patrick: You co-founded Thant Myanmar, one of just a few environmental-focused organizations in Myanmar. Was that a difficult thing to do? What recommendations do you have to other people who might want to start something similar?
Wyne: Plastic pollution became a part of my concern when I realized how big of a problem it is. I used to live in a green environment, but the conditions have changed today. The concern of plastic pollution shaped our community and I have been thinking of why that has happened since my youth. Based on my experience being a “Trash Hero” and my research about environmental education, I realized that the key to a big change is promoting environmental education in schools and universities. To make a big change, we need to start with individual small steps.
I observed that changing beliefs is a gradual process and is often accomplished through campaigns. Sometimes, influencing techniques motivate people to change their beliefs and, ultimately, their behaviors.We can stop rubbish entering into the ocean by helping community actions such as participating in beach clean-up activities, raising public awareness. and educating about the 3Rs ( Reduce, Reuse and Recycle). We can also influence environmental issues and drive changes in infrastructure and waste management policies by identifying local solutions. Prevention is better than a cure; waste prevention is better than recycling. To effectively reduce plastic pollution, the government should introduce policies at home that ensure less single-use plastic products being manufactured. This can be done through regulations and bans on single-use plastics and laws that will facilitate redesign of packaging and product delivery systems. On the other hand, we can start replacing disposal plastic products such as plastic straws into stainless straws, plastic bottles into tumblers and plastic bags into reusable bags that will certainly be much more environmentally friendly because our earth must keep us together for our next generation.
Patrick: Emerging leaders might not know where to start to take action or might be intimidated to take the first steps. What advice do you have for young people as they develop into leaders?
Wyne: Impossible should be “I’m possible”. Just start with the first steps for what you believe in.
*The interview was edited and condensed.