Courtesy of Junior Explorers
Kids are spending more time using tablets and smart phones for learning and entertainment. But hours spent gaming, Tweeting, and playing on Instagram and Facebook, may mean less engagement with nature, potentially making it more difficult for conservation organizations to inspire and influence the next generation of donors and decision makers. Given the state of the world’s environment, that is a troubling thought, raising questions like how will conservation groups bridge the gap between the increasingly digital world and the natural one? And where will the conservation and nature philanthropists of 2050 come from?
A new initiative, called Junior Explorers, takes aim at those questions through an immersive educational gaming platform that inspires kids to learn about nature and get into the habitat of supporting conservation efforts.
“Our program teaches and connects kids to ecosystems and species in a way that they can relate to and that parents feel good about,” Anurag Agarwal, the founder and CEO of Junior Explorers, told mongabay.com.
Junior Explorers is structured around a series of “missions” that take users to different ecosystems around the planet where they learn about wildlife, ecology, and environmental issues. There are also offline components, but what is particularly novel is the project’s “Give Back” function, which requires kids to choose an organization to support using points accumulated during the mission. Each month those points are turned into actual cash that is then donated to organizations doing real conservation work in the field.
“We figured out a way to combine gaming with giving back, building a new generation of philanthropists, something we are very excited about and proud to include,” Agarwal explained. “We allow NGOs to leverage Junior Explorers as an open source platform to fundraise in a new way, reaching a new audience and it also allows parent and consumers to give kids the gift of exploration while supporting conservation.”
Junior Explorers also offers NGOs opportunities to fundraise by getting their supporters to subscribe. [Disclosure: Mongabay.org has signed up for the program].
“Junior Explorers is a social enterprise that is committed to supporting conservation and it is a big part of who we are as a company,” he said. “We fulfill our social mission through our ‘Mission Give Back’ program and donate a percentage of our profits back to organizations who are on the front lines of conservation. Junior Explorers donates $10 per sign up to a partnering NGO giving back a percentage of our profits to conservation.”
Agarwal talked about Junior Explorers and more during a November 2014 interview with Mongabay.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ANURAG AGARWAL
Mongabay.com: What is your background and how to you come to become CEO of Junior Explorers?
Anurag A Agarwal
Anurag A Agarwal: I am a social entrepreneur who discovered a passion for wildlife and nature and decided to create a company around that passion. My background, spending a decade on Wall Street and teaching entrepreneurship at Boston University, helped me identify a problem I cared deeply about and that I wanted to solve . I felt like everyone around me was talking about the planet, but no one was really talking to the generation most impacted: our KIDS. I believe it is important to ignite in kids a passion for the planet protecting it and wanted to do it in a fun, engaging and interactive that let kids be kids while connecting with wildlife and nature. Junior Explorers was born out of this vision and our mission is to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.
Mongabay.com: What inspired your love of nature and wildlife?
Anurag A Agarwal: I have been fortunate to have had explored the world and have spent time in some of the most amazing ecosystems – the mountains of Alaska, the forests of Brazil, the Barrier Reef in Australia, to the glaciers of Patagonia, where I have witnessed and experienced the marvels of nature. I grew up in India, where we have amazing bio diversity, but not many natural resources that are protected or left. I learned through my own travels that you only protect what you love, and you can only love what you experience and understand. I want to recreate a similar experience for others, in particular kids, and inspire them to build their own connection and passion for nature and wildlife.
Mongabay.com: What is Junior Explorers?
Anurag A Agarwal: Junior Explorers is the only kids subscription program that fuses both the online and offline worlds and is perfect for giving the gift of exploration to a child. Each month, Junior Explorers go on exciting missions to explore different ecosystems of our planet. Missions include going to the Arctic in search of a missing polar bear, the Serengeti to observe the great migration, or the Amazon to explore life on the Amazonian river. Every mission starts at home with a mission kit arriving in the mail that includes fun collectibles, activities, and information about that month’s mission. Kids then go online and complete their mission through a rich gamified learning experience that can be accessed on computers, tablets and mobile devices.
Mongabay.com: Kids seem to spend more and more time and younger and younger ages consuming digital content, often at the expense of “real life” experiences. Do you think Junior Explorers can help bridge the gap between the digital world and the natural world?
Anurag A Agarwal: Absolutely! We spent 2 years looking at what kids today are doing, what they love and developed a program that helps bridge exactly the gap you speak of. Kids today are digital, we can’t change that. We decided to build an experience that brings together an offline experience at home and combines it with an online world that is more than just gaming. Our program teaches and connects kids to ecosystems and species in a way that they can relate to and that parents feel good about. It’s all about having fun and learning which will inspire them to travel, explore and eventually care about the planet. We are using technology to tell the story of nature and bring it to life in a way that will engage and inspire kids. We see this as a win-win situation!
Mongabay.com: Junior Explorers includes a novel approach to instill the idea of giving at a very early age. Can you explain how this works?
Anurag A Agarwal: Junior Explorers is a social enterprise that is committed to supporting conservation and it is a big part of who we are as a company. We fulfill our social mission through our ‘Mission Give Back’ program and donate a percentage of our profits back to organizations who are on the front lines of conservation. Junior Explorers donates $10 per sign up to a partnering NGO giving back a percentage of our profits to conservation. We allow NGOs to leverage Junior Explorers as an open source platform to fundraise in a new way, reaching a new audience and it also allows parent and consumers to give kids the gift of exploration while supporting conservation. We have also included kids in the giving back, which I think is the most exciting and rewarding part of our program. We convert the points kids earn in every mission into dollars, and allow them to choose which real world NGO program they want to donate back to. We figured out a way to combine gaming with giving back, building a new generation of philanthropists, something we are very excited about and proud to include.
Mongabay.com: What kind of conservation organizations would you expect to benefit from the program?
Anurag A Agarwal: Junior Explorers is an open source platform and we want to support any conservation focused or educational organization that shares our core values. We have invested significant capital and resources to create a program that allows our not-for-profit partners to connect their communities to the planet, inspire a new generation of eco-champions and raise funds while doing it. What’s special about this program is that it lets consumers feel good about supporting the organization without having to make a charitable contribution. They get a product that they are willing to pay for while being able to support conservation at the same time. We are open to working with all organizations that are region, ecosystem or species specific. We would love to hear from anyone who wants to learn more and participate in Mission Give Back at firstname.lastname@example.org.