Moldovan Environmental Governance Academy (MEGA) is an organization working on nurturing eco-friendly behavior and solving environmental issues through games and gamification. Its main innovation is the MEGA Game – a gamified web platform and smartphone app that gives young people knowledge and power to create a sustainable world with their own minds and hands by playing for impact. We interviewed one of its co-founders, Alexander Ischenko.
How and when did you come up with the concept for MEGA?
The idea was born at a Sustainability Lab in Moldova, which was organized as an initiative of our previous startup. It was in August 2013. The organization was then registered in November 2013. We wanted to transform environmental action and sustainable development into a fun and enjoyable activity.
Did you think of it with other AIESEC alums or did you interest them once you thought about it?
The vision and seed of MEGA was born in my crazy and nature-passionate mind, but then it was the other MEGA Awesome People, Natalia Ursu, Maria Movila, and Elena Scutaru, the co-founders of MEGA, who developed it together with me. Then, other young talents, Ruxanda Vihrest, Johnathan Li, Benedikt Marschuetz, and Uliana Vasilachi, and Pavel Popovciuc, who is the «code megamind» behind what you see as the MEGA Game web platform now, joined us to make it truly MEGA TOGETHER.
What do you think is the fundamental contribution of AIESEC in the way you think of yourself as a leader of change?
AIESEC was the medium to bring the MEGA Awesome People, who are now the MEGA Core Team, together to make the MEGA vision take form and shape. Without these extraordinary, talented, and dedicated people, there would be no MEGA, just an idea of it. I am sure that AIESEC has prepared them, like myself, to become better in what they now do in MEGA. In addition, it is in AIESEC that we all got that «infection» of dedicating our lives to making positive changes, be it in society or the environment or both.
What do you envision as the result of your work?How do you imagine society once your project takes off and impacts hundreds of thousands?
This is actually stated in our MEGA vision: «A sustainable world, where every person lives an eco-friendly life, has open access to practical learning opportunities, constructs own open-source eco-innovations, and thus contributes to sustainable development and creation of positive social and environmental impact in a collaborative, enjoyable, and fun way anywhere in the world.»
Ultimately we envision living in a world and society that balances the economy, social well-being, and the environment in a sustainable way.
What do you think is the major mental block that prevents people from changing their attitude towards the environment?
There are a lot of factors, but one of the main ones is the current pattern of lavish consumption and the accumulation of wealth in an unsustainable way, actively promoted practically everywhere. Therefore, with MEGA Game we target primarily the changing of this behavior towards a more environmentally friendly one. Most people seem to be in a comfort zone, with the assumption that natural resources and planetary boundaries are unlimited.
Do you see a growing awareness among young people, or is it a myth that youngsters are more open to considering nature as a finite resource?
I certainly see a growing concern and action on the part of young people with regard to the environment. The youth have become more educated and aware of the issues around us, including the environmental ones. Of course, I am largely generalizing here, as there are still lots of young people who dream about sky-high wealth and unending consumption, and there are also those for whom getting something to eat every day is the top priority.
Regarding the implementation of your products in different countries, where do you see Moldova comparing it to other central countries? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to impact people’s minds regarding the environment?
In Moldova, it is quite difficult to push forward the focus on environment and sustainability, as there are other political and economic issues that fill people’s minds and to-do lists. That is why we are relying on fun and enjoyment as motivational drivers to promoting sustainable development, educating about it, and changing the behavior. Also, this is why we are not limiting ourselves to Moldova, but extending MEGA Game to other countries. In this way, we will also stimulate international collaboration for better environmental management and governance.
How do you measure your impact?
Currently, we do it in an off-line way through research and analysis. However, in the following phases of MEGA Game development, we aim to introduce environmental impact measurement and evaluation tools within our innovation, so that players can see their progress and impact and showcase it to the global community.
What would you say to a fellow alum who’s interested in working within the sustainability field and is still unsure about it?
Sustainability is a challenging field that is full of uncertainties and obstacles, but it is also a very exciting thing to pursue as sustainable development might be the only way we can survive without ruining nature and killing ourselves in the process. This is also the field that gets increasing attention as mankind realizes not only the consequences of unsustainable actions but also the benefits, including economic and social, of preserving nature. In fact, environment protection and sustainable development are not about saving nature—because it will be able to recover after us—but mainly about protecting ourselves and ensuring the social well-being and prosperous future of all the inhabitants of planet Earth.