Hannah Alper is not like most 14-year-old girls. The Grade 9 student has a long list of impressive accomplishments, the most recent being the release of her first book, Momentus: Small Acts, Big Change, which came out in bookstores on Nov. 1.
Alper is an activist, blogger and motivational speaker, and advocates for issues pertaining to the environment, social justice and bullying. She has travelled around North America as a motivational speaker, working with non-profit organizations like WE Charity and the World Wildlife Fund.
Alper’s book revolves around the idea that “one person, one action, one moment can make a difference.” It includes 19 interviews that she conducted with activists and celebrities who have been role models in her life, and whom she found to be perfect examples of people whose activism has helped make a change in the world.
The book features people like Nobel Peace Prize winner and education activist Malala Yousafzai; actress and anti-bullying activist Lily Collins; and a foreword by Craig and Marc Kielburger, co-founders of the WE organization. All of the activists and change-makers included in the book are very different, however, the common denominator among them all is that they use their gifts in order to help raise awareness about an issue they are passionate about.
Alper’s journey began at the age of nine, when she attended the Digital Family Summit with her “very tech-savvy” parents, and happened to wander into a blog workshop. She decided to start a blog about the environment, teaching people ways to become eco-friendly and spread awareness about climate change. Alper felt inspired to begin her own advocating platform after seeing a video of Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who at the age of 12 spoke about environmental issues at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
“I started researching the issues that animals face and what the environment faces, and I noticed how interconnected they were,” said Alper. “I was being introduced to things like deforestation, and I knew that I wanted to do something about it and help the animals. I was thinking that maybe, if more people become more aware, they can do something as tangible as picking up litter.”
After starting her blog, Alper stumbled upon the Kielburger brothers, who have since become her mentors. Craig Kielburger was a 12-year-old living in Thornhill, Ont., when he saw an article about child labour and was so enthralled that he founded Free the Children. It was later renamed the WE Charity and is now a worldwide youth empowerment movement and development charity.
“I was so inspired by what WE does because it was all about young people and kids helping kids. It made me realize that I wasn’t alone, that I was not the only person who was (trying to effect change). I found my community, and that spark ignited me,” said Alper.
She explained this was when she began speaking more about youth empowerment, and believes that all people could make a difference, regardless of their age, how much money they have or where they live. What inspired Alper the most was that this was an organization started by a 12-year-old with a passion, and it has grown into a “huge phenomenon” and one of the largest charities in Canada.
“I’m really honoured to be working with WE, and helping people have the same realization that I had: that you’re never too young to make a difference, that there are people just like them. And that’s evident by the tens of thousands of people who are in the stadiums at WE Day,” said Alper.
For Alper, activism simply means taking action on an issue that one is passionate about. As she has gotten older, she has branched out from the environment issue, and though this is still something that she advocates for, she now finds herself speaking out about things relating to education, poverty and bullying, among many other things.
“It’s all about finding your issue, something that causes that spark inside of you, and then finding your gift, or your talent, and putting those two things together to make a difference,” said Alper, who believes her gift is communication.
She also is a very strong believer in the power of the Internet, and that it is something that should be used for good, instead of for things like cyberbullying. It is a tool that can allow people to not only “amplify (their) voices for good,” but also let people find organizations and resources that help them find issues they are passionate about. “Social media for social good is one of the best things that has happened in our generation, and we can use it to reach people that live around the world,” said Alper.
“No matter what, you can make your change happen, and you can make a difference. There’s no obstacle that is strong enough to shut you out from creating change; there’s just not.”