Global issues facing humanity often seem too big to tackle. How do you approach the human impacts of climate change or the reality of shrinking resources? How can everyday citizens like you and I get involved, and make a real difference in challenges that are bigger than all of us?
Stepping back for a moment from the overwhelming magnitude of the problems endangering our future, we realize that it all starts with empowering innovation in the most unexpected corners of our communities. Innovation is like a seed waiting to sprout, but it needs water and sun to grow and to tap into its potential.
Well, Conscious Youth Promoting Health and Environmental Resilience (CYPHER) is an organization that’s like the water and the sun to forgotten seeds of innovation that are hidden in the most unexpected places. We sat down with CYPHER, to talk about their vision and mission in the world, and how they are empowering innovative solutions to tackle the big challenges we all face, even if we don’t realize it.
The first thing that became apparent when talking with R. Bong Vergara, Director of CYPHER, is the great passion behind the mission. Beyond tackling climate change, sustainability, and health equity, CYPHER is about empowering a sense of responsibility for social good in our future leaders of the world — our youth.
“We build young people’s sense of self-belief that they can be CleanTech innovators who produce solutions to wicked problems like climate change,” — shared Vergara. “In the era of climate change, human and planetary health go hand-in-hand in promoting wellness. In the Information Age, winning both the making of CleanTech and the shaping of social equity policies go hand-in-hand in empowering our communities.”
CYPHER’s approach is to empower youth in vulnerable communities — which are in many ways the forgotten seeds that need a little sunshine — with STEM resources and tech innovation support. And when exposed to tools, resources, and a little direction can be the change we want to see in the world.
CYPHER’s focus on schools in developing places, rural areas and in low-income inner cities pays off in more ways than one.
Vergara shares an interesting discovery during CYPHER’s annual Sustainable Earth Decathlon (SED), a CleanTech Showcase that highlights high school and college teams of innovators presenting their ideas on sustainable solutions. What he found is that the most successful teams that compete are not the students with computer, science of engineering backgrounds. It’s those students who live in rural towns, who live with water insecurity from drought, food insecurity from heat wave, and energy poverty, the very problems CleanTech is trying to solve.
“They are personally immersed in the problems of a heat wave, for example. It’s not abstract to them. And because they’ve lived it, their human reaction to problem solve naturally kicks in. The are primed for very practical and responsive solutions to the problems that their families and neighborhoods are facing. ” — shares Vergara.
What this really means for CYPHER, and for global communities, is an incredible source of grass-root CleanTech solutions that are practical at the core. These solutions stem directly from the very real and raw problems that are the reality for the innovators behind them. Solutions that are born out of a real need for innovation.
“They are not overly engineered tech innovations. They start with the soul of the practical problem at the core, and what results is a practical solution. Everyone will need a practical solution to food, energy, water, and security.” — continues Vergara.
Our current reality is that modern innovation in information and communication technology stems from major cities like LA and Tokyo, from places with matured clean-tech ecosystems, investor networks, and high-level research that support CleanTech innovation.
“Most of the attention when it comes to clean-tech innovation is focused on the very same places that don’t necessarily need the attention. What keeps getting left behind are the vulnerable communities that we need to be paying attention to, working for, and working with.” — passionately shares Vergara.
In contrast, CYPHER is an unconventional incubator that inspires social change from within. They promote CleanTech innovation from a social work perspective.They empower grassroot communities that have direct experience with things like extreme weather and environmental degradation — tapping into insight that could be harnessed for tech-enabled sustainable solutions.
To us, this is the type of a holistic approach that is capable of building a solid basis for social change. Instead of looking at our problems as unrelated occurrences, why not approach social change as all-encompassing and inclusive?
If you wish to get involved, CYPHER welcomes volunteers to help them mentor and coach students in STEM fields, teach them how to code, and even simple things like mentoring students in self-efficacy and positive self-esteem. Learn more about what they do and make your contribution here.
As Bong wisely says, “Social work is about making something good out of nothing.”