Hannah alper gave her first TED Talk at age ten. if you search online for the video, “How to Find Your Spark,” you’ll see a diminutive Alper, blazer-clad, precociously confident. Her simple black t-shirt is emblazoned with Gandhi’s famous mantra: “Be the change.” Ten-year-old Alper hits all the right notes. But there is something slightly saccharine about the oration, more in the vein of Annie singing “Tomorrow” on Broadway than MLK’s speech booming out over the Washington Mall. I had to wonder how many of these words were her own, more the work of a well-versed actor rather than a bonafide youth activist. But any skepticism I might have been harboring evaporated as soon as I meet the now 15-year-old Alper. This girl is the real deal. She is a TED Talk personified.
Alper began her work as an activist at just nine years old. She explains, “I started a blog, but I had absolutely no idea what I wanted it to be about. My parents told me, ‘Hannah, you can’t write about your life, and you can’t write about how much you love Justin Bieber.’ I loved animals, and I still do. Seeing and learning about the issues animals face, it really devastated me, but I turned that devastation into motivation to do something.”
That blog (callmehannah.ca) has led to gigs ranging from a position as the official eco-blogger of the JUNO Awards to motivational speaking arrangements with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and WE Charity, as well as a spot as the only teenager on Bloomberg’s “Ones to Watch” 2018 List. The issues Alper lends her support to are as wide- ranging as they are crucial—from championing clean water access to advocating for honey bees to fighting bullying. But in a sense, her primary cause is activism itself—empowering young people to take a stand, and inspiring others to take action.
Being as young as she is, Alper meets a fair bit of skepticism from people who doubt her abilities. But she wastes no time on those who would seek to trivialize her work because of her age. “I remember when I was younger, people used to be like, “Oh! You’re so cute, making a difference!” she recalls. “Yeah, it’s ‘cute,’ but it’s also something that needs to be done. Who else is going to do it if not me and my generation?”
Alper’s new book, Momentus: Small Acts, Big Change encourages young people to be civically active. “You have the power and capacity to change the world,” she says, when I ask her about the message. “No matter how young you are, how old you are, how much money you have, where you live, how popular you are, how cool you are—you can and you should try to make a difference. Anyone can do it. It’s the little things that add up to create big change, and we can all do it together.” For Alper, Momentus is essentially a “how-to” book for changing the world.
Undoubtedly, one of Alper’s own gifts in advancing her cause has been communication. Alper is an activist for the social media age. “I believe that social media is the most powerful tool that you can use to make a difference. With the touch of a button you have the opportunity to spread your message and your passions,” she tells me. “We live in such an amazing time and in an amazing world where we have this opportunity and this tool and there are so many people that are using it for good. We can share our voice and amplify it to people. We can find our community on social media and find those like-minded peers that are also changing the world.”
Alper’s optimism is infectious, and her message of empowerment and action has reached young people across the world, spreading from her native Canada to Kenya, Los Angeles, and, later this year, Hawaii. A lauded “eco-warrior,” Alper is partnering with National Geographic for an upcoming community service trip focusing on sustainability and conservation on the Big Island. “I really feel like I’m going to come back with tangible solutions that I can talk about to other people, and hopefully implement somewhere in my community and my country and in the world.” Most of us would have been content to sip mai-tais.
I end the interview with the standard “what’s up next?” question. In true Alperian fashion, the young activist rolls on at a breathless pace: “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, and see where that path takes me. I’m going to keep learning, and keep writing, and keep speaking, and keep educating people.” Maybe one of those people will turn out to be the next Alper. A legacy at 15—not too shabby.
Written by Kathleen Juarez
Photographed by Jacqueline Ashton
Styled by Joelle Litt
Hair & Makeup: Maira Candela
Styling Assistant: Amy Mackenzie