Hannah Alper is just a teenage change-maker who believes in the difference one person, one action, and one moment can make when it comes to working to build a better world. At the age of nine, she began blogging about environment issues and the small acts that she was doing to create positive change. Since then she’s become a social activist, motivational speaker and ambassador for the Canadian charity WE, founded by Craig and Marc Kielburger.
To further her inspirational vision, Hannah interviewed humanitarians and celebrities from all around the world and collected their messages in Momentus: Small acts, Big Change—to motivate budding activists to find their spark, and provide the tools needed to foster change locally and globally.
We asked Hannah about her work, her book, and how it can help you understand your capacity and responsibility to make a difference.
Role models have been a huge part of my journey, and what I’ve realized is that they can be anywhere. Your role models don’t necessarily have to be people who have accomplished monumental things—like Martin Luther King Jr, Terry Fox or Princess Diana. When I define role models, it’s really about people that inspire you. They’re people who are kind and compassionate, who are motivated to take action and who speak up. I have met so many young people who are passionate about the issues that matter to them and are working hard to make a difference. They’re role models to me, too.
My parents were my first role models and they are definitely some of my biggest ones. My parents are huge inspirations to me because they have lead by example. They never told me that I was too young to understand something or too young to do something. They’ve taught me to be strong and to fight for what I believe in. It’s really because of their support, that I am where am and do what I do. They believe in me 110%.
When I talk about “changing the world,” it could literally be the world, but it could also be the place that matters to you—your home, your school, your office, your community. It all starts with finding your issue—that thing that bugs you, that thing that makes you say “that’s not right.” Your issue could be something you see everyday like bullying, gender inequality or homelessness, or it could be something that you know is happening farther away like lack of access to clean water or education.
I often joke that I’m not great at math, but this is something that I know for sure: More people plus more acts equals more change. Another formula I learned from Marc and Craig Kielburger when I attended my first WE Day in 2012: issue + gift = change. This formula is the tool. You start by identifying your issue, then you look at what your gift is. Your gift is a talent, skill or resource that you can put toward the issue. When you’ve identified those two things—your issue and your gift—you put them together and can create change. All of the people that I interviewed for my book and have identified their issue and gift and how they created change.
I went to my first WE Day in 2012 when I was invited to cover it on my blog and it changed everything for me. I remember walking into the stadium and seeing thousands of young people there who were like me. One of the most special things about WE Day is that you can’t buy a ticket, you earn it. Every student at WE Day had earned their way there by doing one local and one global action. I was in Grade 4 at the time, and it’s fair to say that my friends at school weren’t thinking about the same things that I was. So when I saw all of those students that were thinking about the world’s challenges and doing something about them, I felt like I was in the right place. Since then, I’ve been on tour with WE Day across North America twice as a speaker and I’m about to do it again. There is an energy that comes from being part of a community like WE, it’s motivating and inspiring.
It’s the conversations that I’ve been able to have with my role models that have helped me grow. Learning about their challenges and how they overcame them has helped me. I believe that you can learn so much from the experiences of others.
When interviewing people for my book, one of the things that I loved hearing from everyone was their “Words to live by.” For example, Corinne Hindes, when she was just 11 years old she created Warm Winters with her best friend. They give clothes from ski resorts’ lost-and-found boxes to the homeless. I love her words to live by: “You don’t have to change the world in a day, but you can change somebody’s world in a day.”
Your community needs you. Every action, no matter how small you think it is, counts. It all adds up. I believe we all have the capacity and responsibility to create change. I don’t care how old you are, how much money you have or where you live. The ability to create change doesn’t discriminate; it’s in everyone.