The fan activists changing the world: meet Fandom Forward

“Fandom Forward turns fans into heroes. And by that, we mean that we harness the energy of fans towards social good.”

Fandom Forward, once the Harry Potter Alliance, are pioneers of fan activism.

Working to mobilise fans for social good, Fandom Forward has had a myriad of projects for different causes, ranging from supporting immigration and the LGBTQIA+ community, to voting and combating the climate crisis. 

“Our community building has been very organic, and we always try and operate from a place of authenticity,” says Sara Mortensen, the campaigns director at Fandom Forward.

“We were doing this organising and able to build this community because we are fans ourselves. And so we know where the fans are online because we are also part of those communities.”

One of Fandom Forward’s most successful, and iconic, campaigns includes ‘Not in Harry’s Name’. Then the Harry Potter Alliance, Fandom Forward campaigned for Warner Bros. Studio to use exclusively Fair Trade and Universal Trade Zone (UTZ) certified chocolate in the Harry Potter films.

This also applied to the chocolate used to make products, like the iconic chocolate frog, at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

After four years of working for change, the campaign was successful, with Warner Bros. agreeing to the change in 2014, and things have only gone up from there.

With chapters in multiple different countries, what was once just a group of people sharing a passion for Harry Potter has become a global phenomenon, causing ripples of positive change.

“That’s really what Fandom Forward is all about; harnessing the energy of fans to make those connections between the stories that they love, and what’s happening in the real world,” says Sara. “And then take it one step further and do something about it – do some type of activism, organising social good, to make the world a little bit better.”

Fandom Forward runs its campaigns off a series of core values, including joyful activism, the power of community, and that heroes aren’t born; they are made.

These values follow Fandom Forward through everything that they do, from campaigns to training – the majority of which is run by volunteers. 

“We have at any one time, about 30 to 50 volunteers; our organisation has always been heavily volunteer-led,” explains Sara. “It’s a very collaborative process.”

Not only does Fandom Forward actively work for positive change through its campaigns, of which they have at least one ongoing at all times, but they also train others for the same work.

“The main way that we train people is through our annual leadership conference, which is called the Granger Leadership Academy,” explains Sara.

“We offer workshops on both leadership training and activism … and then we always end the conference with a big Action Day. As a whole community, we either protest or send letters or make phone calls about a particular issue in collaboration with a particular organisation.”

Though they have been prevented from running the conference in person by COVID, before 2020 they would train around 200 brand new activists one weekend per year. 

Recently, they have been running a campaign called ‘Book Defenders’, twofold a campaign and a training opportunity that is an updated version of their old campaign ‘Accio Books’.

All about learning how to fight book bans in your community, Book Defenders led to 1,200 books being donated by fans in 3 different countries, as well as 500 fan activists being trained through Fandom Forward.

Throughout the Accio Books and Book Defenders campaigns, more than 400,000 books have been donated to help build and stock libraries around the world.

To Sara, much of their success is down to the enthusiasm that fandom brings to the table. While people who are passionate about fandom can sometimes be seen as immature, or depicted that way in mainstream media, to Fandom Forward it is their biggest strength.

“I think that immaturity is seen [in us] because we are approaching activism from this joyful, fun enthuistic place. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not serious,” says Sara.

“We’ve had some really big wins. And I think, approaching it from that that place of joy has made the work much more sustainable and accessible to people. It’s much it’s much easier to get involved when you’re seeing that people are having fun while they are doing activism.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnerships for the Goals.


How one man is saving China’s stray dogs

“Doing nothing at all would feel so much worse,” says Sam Evans. “I couldn’t just completely ignore the fact, or pretend that the situation didn’t exist. I’m not someone that can choose what I see, and what I don’t see if I know that the situation exists.”

Sam is a 38-year-old English teacher from Burrow-on-Furness in Cumbria. Today, he works as a teacher and lives in China where he has opened his arms, and sometimes his home, to stray animals. 

Stray cats and dogs are a common sight in China, which has a prolific, but not particularly humane, animal trading business. Cats and dogs are sold in markets, bred on farms in poor conditions, and often escape or are abandoned on the streets.

As of 2019, it was estimated that China had 40 million stray dogs, which is around 20% of the world’s total. 

For Sam, who moved to Suzhou, China from a small port town in England, it wasn’t the language or the food or the culture that was the biggest adjustment, but the ambivalence of the locals towards stray animals.

Within a week of moving to his new home in Suzhou, China, Sam found a kitten who had become trapped behind one of the University buildings. When he realised that people were ignoring the kitten’s cries and walking by, he took it upon himself to rescue the creature – and so it all began.

It wasn’t long after that, that one of his American colleagues, who also has a soft heart when it comes to stray animals, told him about a puppy that she had rescued who was in need of a home – and Sam was unable to say no.

“So then I [had the dog] and I took the kitten home as well after she was all sorted out and healthy,” explains Sam. “I thought, ‘I’ve made a real difference’. And then there’s literally, like, thousands of animals that were in the same situation just in this one city.”

Though Sam wishes he could help all the animals individually, and bring them home, it simply isn’t feasible.

“That was within the first week,” says Sam, of the kitten and puppy that began his rescuing adventure. “And if I carried on at that rate, you know, I’d be living in a zoo now.”

Sam now tries to help the animals he rescues get adopted out into loving homes, like the kitten he found who now has a new family. Sam has taken home three dogs himself; Larry, the original puppy found by his colleague, Jackie and Charlie, who has sadly passed away.

“Every week or so there’s going to be some other animal that you’ve come across, and you realise you just can’t rescue all of them,” explains Sam. “So you kind of get used to making judgments like, alright, this animal is more needy than this one. All right, this animal really seems in pain, I definitely need to help it out.”

Sam now strives to take care of the animals who need it most – those who are injured or sick, or young females who should be spayed, he will take to see the vet. Though he runs fundraisers to help cover the costs of saving these animals, much comes out of his own pocket.

“I don’t feel resentful of people who are honest with themselves, and try to understand what the situation is,” says Sam. “But then decide that they’re not in a position to be able to help because they don’t have the time or they don’t have the money, or [it’s] too heavy emotionally.

“You kind of understand why people just can’t do anything. Because if you’re the one person who does something who takes an action, who picks the dog up, then you become responsible, financially responsible.”

Sam isn’t the only one working tirelessly to protect these animals and curb their numbers, there are others who help out including his neighbour who feeds 30 stray cats morning and night. Sam has also connected with a shelter nearby and he and some other volunteers take regular coach trips out to find and help strays.

“In terms of the overall numbers, it’s like a drop in the ocean,” admits Sam. “But for the lives of those individual animals … it makes all the difference for those one or two or three animals that I can help. So yeah, it’s exhausting. And it’s expensive. But it would be a lot worse to do nothing.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Life on Land.


The UK’s first feminist city – and the woman behind it

“Like all good stories, it started with a book in lockdown,” explains Councillor Holly Bruce, of Scotland’s Green Party.

Holly is a councillor for Glasgow City Council, one who is taking the UK by storm as she puts a feminist lens on one thing you thought it would never matter for; city planning.

The book in question was Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World by Leslie Kern, and it would go on to inspire Holly to confront some of the problems that are physically built into our cities.

In the book, Leslie Kern discusses the ways cities and towns are most often planned by cis, straight, white, able-bodied men who don’t see many of the issues that might be present for others. While the term ‘feminist urbanism’, often attached to this brand of inclusive city planning, suggests a female-centric approach, it isn’t as simple as that.

The book tackles issues for not just women, but people of marginalised genders and sexualities, people of colour, people with disabilities and much more. Tackling cities from this perspective includes considerations such as how pavements aren’t designed with wheelchairs or pushchairs in mind, or how a lack of adequate lighting, particularly in winter months, restricts women, people of colour, and LGBTQIA+ people from moving freely at night.

The book inspired Holly to act and, when the opportunity rose to join a leadership programme in Glasgow for young women under 30, she jumped at the chance.

“What I’ve started is more of a policy shift and a structural shift and will change how we decide how our cities are built or adapted,” explains Holly, of the steps that will follow the decision. “And the cultural change is a whole other conversation.”

Though the motion was unanimously backed by Glasgow City Council, movement will be slow to start; beginning with shifts in data collection and policies, before real physical, structural changes are able to be implemented.

“It’s about how we design our spaces, but it’s also just including women every step of the way,” adds Holly, who is determined to include the women of Glasgow in her decision-making. Rather than making the decisions based on what she believes marginalised people need, Holly’s approach includes letting people decide what is important to them. 

Though the project has only just begun, the foreseeable future will be spent polling the people of Glasgow to learn more about what they want, and need, from their city. 

“It’s a very good question, but I don’t know the answer to this, because the whole point in the motion is, is to consult with women, all different types of women,” said Holly, when asked what her ideal ‘feminist Glasgow’ will look like.

“Because I am obviously able-bodied. And if I don’t understand the needs of disabled and Black and ethnic minority groups, I don’t speak for them. So the whole point is, whenever we’re making planning decisions, that we adequately consult and look at the data.”

Part of the Green party, one of Holly’s main priorities is, of course, making the city more eco-friendly, but also the impact that that will have on the mental and physical wellbeing of everyone living in Glasgow. Studies have shown that walking around in nature, even just in your local park, is super important for your health – but for many marginalised people, as soon as winter hits and sunset comes earlier in the day, a solitary stroll in your local park is no longer an option.

“There’s also a lot projects that I’m looking at but one of the one of the things I really want to see is making our parks more accessible,” explains Holly, who struggles with this issue herself. “So specific lighting solutions … making the parks more open and accessible in the evenings, I think would be amazing. 

“Also, another issue is public toilets. That came up during the pandemic when a lot of the shops were shut, but even before that people on low incomes can’t just go to a cafe buy coffee and go to the toilet.”

At the heart of this new venture, lies safety and equity. By putting minorities at the forefront of city planning, Councillor Holly Bruce is doing her best to make sure that Glasgow is a city that is safe and accessible for everyone, regardless of who they are.

Picture credit: Lesley McKinlay

This article aligns with the UN SDG Gender Equality.


She started volunteering age 6. She’s still going at 13

Age is just a number when it comes to putting good out in the world and making a difference. Sometimes it can be as small as a five-year-old picking up trash around their favorite playground or helping their parents organize their recyclables.

But some kids just want to do more, and that was the case with Ava Gresser.

Ava, like many kids, wanted to help make a small difference around her, and with the support of her family began volunteering with the Honeycomb Project, a Chicago-area non-profit at the age of 6. 

“I live in Chicago, and we have the infamous Dan Ryan expressway and there’s a whole bunch of litter that’s on the sides of them in the grass area,” Ava tells Smiley News. “I asked my mom, why there was so much litter on the sides of the highway and the home and if there was anything we could do. So that was a great question.

“A lot of organizations, they really weren’t open to kids volunteering with them but the Honeycomb Project was open to that. I’ve been with them since.”

Ava is 13 now and has been with Honeycomb for seven years. Charity work and volunteering have become something of a tradition in her immediate family with her mother and to a lesser degree father and brother. 

“One time I was with my mom at a woman’s shelter and we were making food for them,” Ava says. “Seeing all the women there and seeing them with their children and seeing them by themselves just really made me open my eyes and make it know that I should be grateful for everything that I have and spend the time as much time with my family as I can.”

Her mother, Helen Dixon, has been a big influence in the work she does, supporting her early journey, and with her other family members actively participating in volunteering efforts. 

“As a mom I’m really really proud of just the person that she is and will continue to evolve to be,” Helen tells Smiley News. “I know that’s the direct influence and impact of the Honeycomb Project and just grooming leadership skills right and, and taking ownership for not just seeing a problem but being a part of the solution and problem-solving.

“Especially when that young, I mean, just to kind of see them, take that kind of level of ownership has been great.”

Her brother Alec, who’s eight years old has also been following in his sister’s footsteps, taking part in Honeycomb community projects.

“He started volunteering when he was like two or three years old because of me,” Ava says. “It was really, my brother who loved going to the projects. He loves, baking cookies, and he likes helping senior citizens and whenever we talk about senior citizens making cookies, or going to clean up the beach, he’s always volunteering to go.”

Today Ava is a field correspondent for the Honeycomb Project following an Instagram account she made during the pandemic called AdvocatingWithAva.

In general, she’s thankful for Honeycomb and how it’s shaped her volunteer experience and is looking forward to the future of her advocacy.

“I feel like the Honeycomb Project has made volunteering so much more fun,” Ava says. “And it’s made it fun for kids where they want to get up and they want to go help the community. So I feel like I would stay doing this to high school, maybe even college.”

Find out more and support the Honeycomb Project.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


“Helping children smile again remains my priority”

What matters most to you in the world?

“Love, peace, family and friendship, time and learning,” Francien Giraudi tells us.

In 1997, Francien, who was born in London but has lived in Monaco for 45 years, set up Les enfants de Frankie – ‘Frankie’s Children’ – to help support sick, disabled or disadvantaged children in Monaco and France. 

The association has now helped more than 180,000 children. “I have been a full-time volunteer, president and founder for 25 years,” says Francien. “In 2008, the Association obtained recognition from the United Nations by becoming a Member of the Economic and Social Council.

“And in 2018, I decided to help sick and disabled children in England, with the creation of the “Frankie Foundation for Children” in London.”

Francien says this adventure began as a result of her own experience and her many stays in children’s hospitals. “When young, my child had to be hospitalised several times,” she explains, “first in France, in Holland, then in the United States. Each time, I stayed by the bedside, living at the rhythm and sharing the hospital daily life.

“This is how I discovered the world of hospitalised children, their aseptic white rooms, no joy and fun, with the medical austerity to which the children are forced ‘for their own good’.”

She continues: “For several months, I was able to sleep in the same room as my child, on a mattress on the floor. This hospital was as big as a city and all day long there were volunteers, in and out, who came to entertain the children with their comforting smiles.

“In the huge hall, a real theatre had been set up, with a small stage, a curtain, and chairs for the young audience. Every afternoon, a performance was given, and it was a ritual around the clock.”

When Francien left the hospital on her final stay… but soon felt the need to go back. “I was convinced I had to finish something off,” she says.

“I went back dressed as a clown. I felt that something important was happening. The costume suddenly gave me great strength. It changed my life, and I finally found my vocation.

One moment that has made her incredibly proud over the past 24 years has been the “Noël de Frankie” which she describes as a “magical day” in Monaco offered every year to 2,000 sick and needy children. 

Each child receives from Frankie (clown mascot of the Association), after having attended a tailor-made show, a Christmas present and “all the happiness and hugs and love they deserve”.

“Helping children smile again remains my priority, it is important to continue the association helping as many children as possible…they are our future,” adds Francien.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


12-year-old raises $1k a year for charity through art

Going into middle school, most kids look forward to growing up: having a little bit more independence, perhaps, and spending time doing hobbies.

But 12-year-old Arsh Pal wants to use this time to support charities by making art, selling it, and donating all the proceeds. 

It all started when he was eight years old, trying to find something he enjoyed. He came across drawing and painting. “I was exploring new things to do such as piano or karate,” Arsh tells Smiley News. “But when I did art, I just started getting better. For my 8th birthday, my mom and dad got me canvases and brushes and paint.”

Early on, he gave away small paintings to friends and family. But eventually, his elementary school’s principal let Arsh display his paintings for sale, some of which were bought by teachers.

“For my first customer, it was a small painting sold for 15 or 20 bucks and then I got new opportunities to sell my paintings,” Arsh says. “I’ve sold them at libraries and restaurants, and whoever wants to buy it can. I’ve also done art shows and art galleries, and live auctions.”

His first goal was to raise $1,000 for charity, something that people told him would be nearly impossible given his age. Not only has he raised $1,000 but far surpassed that raising over $16,000 to date. 

Some of the charities that he’s taken interest in are St. Jude’s Research Hospital, The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Compass to Care Therapy Center, and Easterseals. He donated $10,000 to Easterseels in particular thanks to an art auction that he took part in there. 

His goal now is to do at least $1,000 every year but would love to do more if it comes out that way.

“I would be happy if I kept it to myself, but it makes me even happier helping somebody with that money,” Arsh says. “And really helping somebody doesn’t have to be with just money it can be being kind.”

As Arsh got better, he started teaching small art classes at a nursing home where his mom, Divya Pal, is an occupational therapist.

“They really enjoyed it since they’re always wanting me back,” Arsh says. “My younger brother helps me out with all that, too.”

He’s not totally sure what his future holds but he definitely wants his art to be a part of it. “My future goal is to provide free art lessons for kids,” he adds, “because through art, anybody can express their feelings and emotions.”

His mom, Divya, couldn’t be happier with what her son is doing.

“Arsh has been an inspiring person to many people,” Divya tells Smiley News. “We have lots of stories where people had an interest in art and then never pursued it but now they have started doing it back again to help support someone. A lot of people are inspired to do good, kind deeds.” 

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The restaurant staffed entirely by homeless people

“This is not about a PR exercise. It’s not about a chef or two other people that are doing it for [their] ego. It’s about genuinely wanting to help people and genuinely wanting to change people’s lives.”

Chef Adam Simmonds, a double Michelin star-winning chef, joined together with Soup Kitchen London to make a huge difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness.

Working with Alex Brown, the director of Soup Kitchen London, and Michael Brown, one of the trustees, the three decided to set up Home Kitchen.

Home Kitchen, a restaurant with a difference, will be staffed entirely by people experiencing homelessness. The restaurant aims to employ 16 people for its 13-week run, where it will be based at what used to be a Frankie & Benny’s in London Victoria Station.

The staff will be paid a London living wage and provided with a three-week crash course that runs them through the necessary skills to work in hospitality. This includes employment tips, and training in cooking and people skills so that, by the end of the 13 weeks, every staff member has the skills they need to walk into another hospitality job.

Not only that, but all staff members will leave Home Kitchen with a City and Guilds professional qualification, and some will get a job that begins immediately after Home Kitchen closes.

During the pandemic, Soup Kitchen London found itself feeding 160 people a day with a very limited number of staff and volunteers. When the head chef at Soup Kitchen London had to take time off because of burnout caused by the pandemic, Alex turned to Adam for help.

“You’re bringing joy to people [with] a hot meal,” says Adam. “The fact that you can bring something to somebody that’s struggling – there’s nothing more rewarding than that. It doesn’t take much to do something nice for somebody.”

Having spent time working in a soup kitchen before, Adam fell right into step with the work at Soup Kitchen London. It was here, during the crisis of the pandemic, and shuttering of the hospitality industry and the loss of work that came with it, that he had the idea for Home Kitchen.

Open about his own near miss with homelessness, Adam is hugely empathetic towards those who are sleeping rough, or in temporary housing. “Without the support of my family I could have been on the streets myself and that’s the harsh reality of it,” Adam says, candidly.

“There’s nothing more rewarding [as] a chef to be able to pass on your knowledge. Yes, these guys won’t have had anywhere near the training [I have], but to give somebody an opportunity, where society has given [me] one that almost is just, that’s so rewarding, in my opinion.”

The aim of Home Kitchen is not only to help people experiencing homelessness into trained employment, but also to help bring workers into the hospitality industry. There are currently 400,000 job vacancies in hospitality, caused by the pandemic, but nobody to fill them.

The chefs hope that one day there could be restaurants all over the country following their lead.

“Because of [your] situation, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have dreams and aspirations,” says Adam, seriously. “First and foremost it’s about belief, and giving these guys and girls, the belief that they can go on and do stuff even though they face adversity.”

You can donate to Home Kitchen’s Crowdfunder here.


Woman on a mission to provide food for struggling families

Food scarcity is a widely known phenomenon across the United States. Between the cost of living and vast food deserts across the country, around 33.8 million people, about 1 in 10, lived in food-insecure households, according to the USDA

Organizations like Feeding America exist to aid these people and communities that struggle with food security. Military families, however, are often underrepresented and an unexpected statistic in the struggle for food security.

According to the Military Family Advisory Network, around 1 in 8 military families deal with food insecurity not only matching but surpassing the national average. This is something that Monica Bassett wants to address. Monica has been a military spouse for nearly a decade, which has given her a yearning to help fellow military families. 

Asked about what some military families experience, she tells Smiley News: “A family was living in an empty home only getting exactly what they needed for their family, but they were still tapped out.

“They were going through their neighbor’s trash at night to try to salvage whatever food they could to feed their family, or they had fed their kids and she and her husband had not eaten and that’s what they were salvaging for and that’s when I finally just put my foot down. I told my husband, ‘I don’t care if we have to go buy all the food, we’re doing something.’”

And do something she did. Her first project started soon after right out of her garage, where through her family’s own additions plus an outpouring of donations and support she started making care baskets. The baskets contained everyday products like food and other necessities. 

“I had neighbors wheeling wagons full of food,” Monica says. “So I paid for some but it really was the community coming together. Once I got buy-in from a greater community, it really was everyone pitching in where they could.”

Eventually, the program became so big that by the time her family was being moved to another base she decided to move leadership to another person. She wasn’t done though, at her next base, she decided to take things even further by making a food pantry available to all people on base.

One of the main things she wanted to do with this pantry was to eliminate the potential shame or stigma people may feel by asking for help.

“It is hard to say you need help,” Monica says. And it is really hard in the military to raise your hand and say that you can’t feed your family. There are a few things that in the military get factored in with pantries and why they don’t use them or why soldiers don’t raise their hand that they need assistance and that stigma, and the fear of repercussions and the fear of embarrassment.”

“I really want to respect the dignity and the anonymity of a family and support them. So it’s not going to be a walk into a facility, it’s everything is a take-your-order online, and it’s going to be drive and pickup around.”

The pantry will also handle emergency orders with delivery available for those cases. 

And during holiday season, Monica gears up for the specific needs of people including things like recipes for people to help stretch Thanksgiving leftovers long after the holiday passes. 

“It’s really important for us to bring awareness that military families are really struggling,” Monica adds.

“A lot of people don’t see that. I’ve been speaking a lot at different clubs here and it has never crossed their mind that military families need assistance because they think it’s all well and done. ‘You’ve got housing, you got health care, you get paid well.’

“And no, it’s just it has been a silent crisis for decades, that has now imploded with so many deployments with the cost of living with the cost of housing.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Zero Hunger.


CircleIt helps you be there for loved ones for decades – through letters

An increasingly common practice as people get older is to write notes or prepare gifts for loved ones for future events.

This is something that Art Shaikh experienced firsthand, as he was given the responsibility to deliver these messages and gifts to relatives and other loved ones at his father’s request after his passing. 

Art’s father had given him a box filled with family movies, hand-written cards, and old photographs, and even years after his passing, he continued to be there for people. This inspired Art, and he wanted to make the same thing his father did a lot easier and more accessible to everyone, and in came CircleIt. 

Art’s goal was never to be an entrepreneur. “I had no intentions of starting a company. I had a very good career working for a big software company out of San Francisco,” Art tells Smiley News. “what I was doing there got me introduced working with people of many different companies. So I learned a lot about customer experience.”

This experience would eventually help what he was doing with CircleIt: a service that helps you send cards and gifts to loved ones for any future date or life milestone.

“I’m not doing this to make a paycheck,” Art says. “What joy my family feels when I deliver those things to my loved ones. My mission, if I can bring that joy to the rest of the people and see what that means. Many people may have not lost a loved one but when they do and when they get some of those stuff, the joy that brings to them and it’s worth basically betting everything in your life over that.”

In the beginning, they didn’t see much traction, only having about 300 users in the first 10 days about a quarter million in the first year and just two years later they’re projecting over around 5.2 million users. 

“It’s still uncharted territory,” Art says. “What I’m building, people have thought about. The idea of doing things for loved ones in the future is nothing new, but the way it has been done hasn’t changed in over 100 years.

“If you want to be there for a loved one. If even the kid is there, CircleIt guarantees when the kid gets older or when his 16th birthday is there, or when he’s graduating we are going to deliver those things for you.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


A sustainable solution for plastic bottles

We’re having to become creative in the fight against pollution. As the world becomes more polluted, it’s not as simple as cleaning up after ourselves and recycling most of our plastic. 

So in finding inspiration wherever we can, Manuela Zoninsein found hers in shared bike stations strewn about the city. This inspiration eventually became her innovative company: Kadeya.

“I used to walk to work every day and go by the city bike stations,” Manuela tells Smiley News. “And I thought, ‘well, we can do this for bikes, what would it take to do it for bottles,’ and basically just started saying that to everyone who would listen to me.”

Kadeya, put in the simplest terms, is a vending machine for water bottles. In goes a couple bucks, and out comes a glass water bottle, but the actual system is a lot more complex than that.

In reality, a Kadeya system is what they call a “closed loop beverage system” that aims to keep trash and recycling to an absolute minimum. To do this, they ask that the water bottles are returned to the machine where inside the machine they are thoroughly sanitized and then refilled with water to be used again. 

Each bottle even has laser engraved markings so Kadeya operators can track the movement and usage of individual bottles. 

“If you had asked me five years ago whether I would be building a closed-loop, beverage vending system, I would not have believed you,” Manuela says.

“I was just focused on eliminating single-use waste. That’s the problem. I’m working to solve that scale. And I think entrepreneurs become obsessed with a problem and then iterate toward the solution. And it turns out that this next-gen vending, closed-loop vending system, is what I think can solve the single-use problem.”

Manuela always wanted to do something to help the planet. She was raised by a Marxist economist father who worked under the revolutionary Allende and a feminist anthropologist mother who spent time with Martin Luther King Jr. and helped teach the first generation of Brazilian feminists.

And it was in places like Brazil and later China that she saw what pollution could do to once, mostly spotless, landscapes. 

“Dinner table conversations were about inequality and systemic problems,” Manuela says. “So I grew up with a systemic view of the world and understanding that we have individual agency but also recognizing that the structures in which we live can drive certain outcomes and can make other outcomes much harder.” 

To date, most of her Kadeya projects have been at jobs or worksites to get a good feel for how often people use them. She hopes to eventually spread to convenience stores and the like to make things as available as possible.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Responsible Consumption and Production.