“If I knew what I was getting into when Jay and I started EVE, like a lot of new adventures, I’m sure it would have freaked me out. And it did. But it was the adventure of a lifetime.” Stephanie Sitzberger, co-founder of EVE, speaking after EVE’s youth exchange between Quebec, Toronto and the Crees of James Bay in 1992.
Founded in 1991 and registered in Canada in 1993. The charity was created after several visits to Madagascar and Africa by its founders, who saw the opportunity to connect youth across cultures using new communications technologies as a platform of exchange and shared learning. In these early days, the team saw the power of providing youth in high impact areas with technology and a platform to express their ideas on how to have positive impact.
With the assistance of partners in North America and the Indian Ocean, EVE developed a prototype for cross-cultural exchange using media tools. Initially, these were video cameras. Next, the internet. Today, EVE aims to connect the unconnected using advanced technologies ranging from aerostats with computer vision and AI to digital diagnostics for biological data flow - all designed to augment the capabilities of people living in high impact remote areas.
This model has included EVE events sponsored by prominent Canadian “global thinkers” including Dr. David Suzuki, Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Marine Biologist Dr. Joe MacInnis and Cree Chief Billy Diamond. These events have involved youth from most ethnic backgrounds and regions in Canada and people from across Africa, Asia and the globe. What started small grew rapidly over the years, and since 1991, we have provided opportunities to more than 4000 young people from 30 countries over 25 years.
Over the years, we have worked hard to hone our exchange model to maximize positive impact. The basic recipe has remained the same:
Environment : Nature as a unifying theme;
Vision : Technology as a unifying set of tools;
Exchange : Travel to high impact areas with diverse groups to learn from different perspectives.
As the pace of change increases in the world, we’ve tried not to use words that reflect the times. We’ve tried to keep it simple with these three elements.
As online tools have become more powerful, it has enabled us to gather people from around the world instantly for Vision Exchanges to gather youth and experts from areas being impacted by change. People share their views and try to define threats impacting them. Then they point us in a direction about big ideas they would find useful. We try not to solve problems in a Vision Exchange, but instead gather views on what is causing negative impact and ideas of what would be positive impact.
Often the result of a Vision Exchange is we do not know how we would contribute to positive impact and we do not know how to proceed, or we do not see how to gather the resources to organize a tangible project. But, we try to listen, learn and support. If we see we can organize next steps, here is what we do.
Once we have a clear definition the Current Situation from the local and global perspectives in terms of threats and negative impacts, we then organize an Idea Exchange to focus on generating ideas on the Desired Situation for positive impact. This is a structured conversation for diverse participants to develop ideas to create a bridge from current to desired. Next we try to bring these ideas to life.
Once we have a broad idea of the desired situation ideas, we organize a curated 8-week program in which participants work in cross-cultural teams to design a solution to a specific challenge. These programs culminate in the presentation of their ideas to an expert panel. Internships offer youth participants the opportunity to build skills in the themes of Engineering, Health, Environment, Media and ‘Wild Card’ – that last category ensures that people who might be brilliant but not fit under the other conventional labels are included and celebrated. Our experience has shown that this is particularly important for youth who operate outside the normal, formal global economy. If it is true the world needs to change, then celebrating disruptive creative minds, particularly those living in highly impacted areas are attracted to unleashing unconventional ideas with high potential for positive impact. We have a deep history taking chances on people and ideas who did not fit the norm.