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183: And Then a HERO Comes Along

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About this episode

Welcome to another episode of Outrage + Optimism, where we examine issues at the forefront of the climate crisis, interview change-makers, and transform our anger into productive dialogue about building a sustainable future.

Who are our heroes? How do we select them? In addition to parents, families, partners, friends, comic book characters, or others on your list, you might want to add today’s guests. In this episode, co-host Christiana Figueres speaks with climate activists Mauricio Porras and Anuna De Wever about HERO一a climate tech startup on a mission to empower people to accelerate change in the world.

Co-founder Porras and advisory board member De Wever share the inspiring story behind this extraordinary organization and platform一which enables subscribers to provide critical financial support to those on the frontlines of climate action. Links on how to subscribe are below!

As climate activists, they are all too familiar with how draining such work can be. Most activists, in fact, must hold down other jobs to support themselves. This often becomes exhausting, and untenable一which can negatively impact the campaign’s momentum.

Find out how HERO creatively addresses this very real need for financial support while sharing highlights of activist journeys and connecting climate “mobilizers” (their term) with broader communities worldwide. It’s an uplifting conversation that touches on tech, finance, innovation, communication, climate, and some of the true heroes of the climate movement.

You won’t want to miss it!  As the holiday season approaches please consider supporting the activist community by subscribing to a policy circle of your choice.


To learn more about our planet’s climate emergency and how you can transform outrage into optimistic action subscribe to the podcast here.


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Full Transcript

Christiana: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. This is Christiana Figueres without Tom or Paul. But in conversation with two fantastic people, Mauricio Porras and Anuna De Wever from HERO. Thanks for being here. So everyone, we thought just because it is the end of the year, we would give you a truly inspirational initiative here that is supporting so much climate work around the world. We are going or I rather am going to have an interview with Mauricio Porras, founder of HERO and Anuna De Wever on their advisory board, who will explain about this very interesting, innovative startup whose mission it is to empower people around the world to accelerate climate activity in any country, in any state, in any community of truly inspiring and very groundbreaking initiative. We thought it would be wonderful to bring this to you at the end of the year because so many of us are thinking, Hmm, what end of the year support could I offer? And this is clearly one that merits your consideration. So I don't think this requires too much of a of an intro. The explanation from Mauricio and Anuna is compelling. Please enjoy and celebrate the work here of Mauricio and Anuna.

Christiana: [00:02:52] Ok, so to all our listeners, don't worry, the whole conversation is not going to be in Spanish. But here's here's the deal. Mauricio happens to be from Costa Rica, although he's sitting sitting in very, very cold Amsterdam right now. And so I just couldn't resist the temptation of having a very quick Costa Rican Hello. And you heard from him how the secret salute that all Costa Ricans have for each other, which is Pura Vida. So if you ever think that you're going to come to Costa Rica, you better learn Pura Vida, because without that, we don't let you through the airport. Anyway, Mauricio and Anuna, thank you so, so much for joining us here on Outrage + Optimism. It is delightful to have you both here to discuss something that I think is very close, certainly to our hearts, to Tom, Paul and myself, but I would dare say very close to the heart of of all our listeners. And that is how do we support action on climate change and not just theoretically, but how do we support especially those people who are taking it upon their shoulders to be in the front lines and continue to push forward every time with more urgency and with more agency? But before we get to the unique way in which you are doing this, I would love to know the story. And I think, Mauricio, that goes to you the story of how you all met, how you had this idea to found HERO. What is the story behind this?

Mauricio Porras: [00:04:38] Yeah, so, well, there's a lot of stories interconnected on how Hero was born. I could take three full podcasts to tell the whole story, but basically, yeah. Yeah. It's it's a full almost. You know, we should write a book about it. But basically back in Costa Rica, I was seeing the rise of the youth movement, the youth climate movement that started with Greta and started seeing all the youth rising to demand a better future and to hold politicians accountable. And I started back in 2020, what we call the HERO podcast, and actually started interviewing, you know, all these youth activists and mobilizers who were, you know, creating change. And through these conversations, you know, I realized that they have one of the most important jobs of our time. But the common denominator is that they're not being paid for it. And that really, you know, when I started thinking like, how is it possible that these amazing people are working for the common good and they're not being recognized for their work? So I started having more and more conversations around the topic and.

Christiana: [00:05:56] Mauricio, so sorry to interrupt you, but just just so that we can follow this. The logic. Yeah. It is not just that they're not being paid for it, it means that they need to support themselves, as we say in Costa Rica, they need to buy their rice and beans, which means they need to make their livelihood off of something completely different, some other jobs, some other work. And then they need to find time to do the important work that they do, which means it eats up their weekends, their evenings, their dawn. So so basically they're having two full time jobs and being paid for one. Is that an accurate description?

Mauricio Porras: [00:06:38] That's totally accurate and that through those conversations. So I started noticing that many of the youth mobilizers were experiencing a lot of burnout because of that. So obviously it's expected when you have two, three jobs at the same time and you're investing a lot of time and energy. And through that podcast, it was the time when I connected with Anuna, which obviously was one of and is still one of the leaders of of the climate movement. And we had amazing conversations around this topic. And yeah, we met and from there we've been building a great friendship now for over two years to the point that she really believed that it was an important project that the world needed and advised us directly inside the movements on how HERO needed to be built.

Christiana: [00:07:31] What is your part of the story of this? You get this call from someone you've never heard of, and then what happens?

Anuna De Wever Van der Heyden: [00:07:39] Basically. Basically, yeah. And I mean, I was getting a lot of calls at the time, so I was like, who is who is this Mauricio guy? What is his project? And honestly, to be very honest with you, like the first reason why I decided to become a part of this project is just because Mauricio and I hit it off so well, because I felt like in our conversation a lot of the things that he was saying I really resonated with because I was 17 or 18 at the time. I was also in the middle of my climate activism, mobilizing strikes every week, all this chaos going on, just going to conferences and giving speeches and doing panels and trying to get people into platforms and places. And I was burning out as well. And so talking to Mauricio about these things and understanding his project and wanting to actually give resources to these advocates and mobilizers that are on the front lines trying to fight this fight I thought was extremely useful. And I also hadn't really seen any project like that before. So I decided that I wanted to be a part of it. And I'm not actually one of the activists that is being financed. I'm really just trying to think with and work with and think about the values and the vision on how to create those networks, how to create those people, giving them resources to be able to do the work that they do. And because it's such a personal story for me as well and I've been in that place, I really resonate with it. And that's what makes me so passionate about this project.

Christiana: [00:08:58] So both of you have used three words interchangeably, and I wonder whether there is any difference of nuance into it. You use the word climate activist, climate mobilizers and climate. You said one more and advocates. Thank you. So you have used three three words climate activists, climate mobilizers and climate advocates. Is there a difference in those three? Or another way of asking you the question is what is the universe of people that you want and are already supporting? But how? How do you choose them? What are the preconditions? How there's so many? I would say there are millions of people, thank heavens, millions of people who really are now already mobilized. But how do you go out and choose people that you bring into your circle?

Mauricio Porras: [00:10:09] Yeah, so that's a great question. So obviously, as you know, within the whole climate movement, we have a lot of different types of activism and actions you can take and when we started HERO, we were really, you know, analyzing where could we have the most impact and also collaborate within the whole space. Right because this at the end it's a collaborative work that all of the parts do and we said where. Here is where can we find the gap where we can better support the people that are working towards towards climate action? And we discovered that within the youth movement there was a need to move from the campaigns and the actions that were being mega effective. But there was a need to start conversations with decision makers on the negotiation tables and discuss about climate policy. So that's where where we found that the movement could have our support and the support of a global community of citizens, both financially through mentorships and a lot of professionals that are in the climate space. So we defined climate mobilizers as climate campaigners and climate experts that are working towards changing climate policy. Our focus is bringing what we call HERO circles. So those are working groups of a minimum of three to a maximum of ten climate mobilizers focus on a specific climate policy objective and within the platform, getting the support so that they can accelerate those policy changes in each of the regions where they're advocating for.

Anuna De Wever Van der Heyden: [00:11:57] I think this is actually the beauty of the HERO project is because you get to tell your own story. It's such a bottom up movement where you literally just give young people resources and yeah, you have to focus on policy. You need to have a clear target of what do you want out of this campaign? What are you fighting for, but how you're going to do it with who you're going to do it, how you're going to make it happen. That's your story. And I feel like there's so much space within the HERO project to create that for yourself and to convince other people of why you think that's the best methodology we can say. So I really love that because I feel like as an activist, we often also get put into boxes of like, you're supposed to be this or that this is the good way of doing activism. This is a bad way of doing activism. And HERO really opens up that space and just gives that space to young people to determine that for themselves. So being able to tell our own story, I feel like that's really empowering.

Christiana: [00:12:48] And does that mean that that the group of people that you support work at policy level, at local, national and or international level, or do you have a preference there of all those levels? Because actually there's so many levels, right? There's family level, community level, city level, province level, state level, national level, global level. Do they choose the level at which they work and can they work at any level?

Mauricio Porras: [00:13:15] Yeah. So as Anuna greatly described, that's the beauty, you know, of, of the platform which allows mobilizers to actually choose the levels in which they want to work and where they feel that they can have the most impact on. So we have a diversity of circles. So for example, we're working with Elizabeth Wathuti on loss and damage. So she built a circle of ten mobilizers in more than six countries in Africa. So you could see it's more like an African based circle. We're also working with the UK Climate Justice Circle on more UK based policy change to to stop new oil and gas expansion in the UK. So as Anuna said very well, it's basically we empower these mobilizers so that they can tell the story and choose where they can have the most impact, whether it's on a local level, community level, or even on a global scale.

Christiana: [00:14:18] And so there's one thing that is very interesting about the stories that you've just told. I put it to you that the people that you've just named are actually women.

Mauricio Porras: [00:14:28] Correct.

Christiana: [00:14:28] And the name of your initiative is HERO. So that was the first thing that hit me when I learned about you. I thought, like, HERO. Really? Why is it not SHE-RO? Or hero and heroine, or because it is a little bit odd. Mauricio and Anuna, you call it a HERO. But I'm almost willing to bet that most of the wonderful people you're supporting are women. Because from my observation, most are women.

Mauricio Porras: [00:15:01] That's absolutely correct. So yeah, most of the movement is composed by women, and there is a reason behind the hero concept. So we take all of.

Christiana: [00:15:12] Good! That's what I want. 

Mauricio Porras: [00:15:13] We we take all of this very seriously, and that's why we partner with the mobilizers to to really make sure that we're building inclusive movements and inclusive communities. So we found out that the word HERO became neutral, gender neutral some years back, and that allowed us.

Christiana: [00:15:34] That's news! I love that! 

Mauricio Porras: [00:15:37] Yeah.

Christiana: [00:15:37] Okay.

Mauricio Porras: [00:15:38] Great.

Christiana: [00:15:39] Hero is a gender neutral word. That's brilliant.

Mauricio Porras: [00:15:43] Yeah, that's an exclusive on the podcast.

Christiana: [00:15:46] How does that get decided, Mauricio.

Mauricio Porras: [00:15:49] Well, I mean by the, you know, the different academies, the language academies. But we did our research obviously before, before choosing the name, and we found that it was new to us too. But at the end we wanted to build a concept where everyone is welcome. So obviously most of the movement is composed by women, but also we have a lot of people that don't identify necessarily with a gender or another. So we wanted to make sure that we had a strong word with a strong meaning for citizens and that community. So that allowed us to build a more inclusive, more inclusive movement. And the other reason behind Hero is that obviously when you first listen to the word, you listen, you know, you imagine, you know, Superman or or different heroes that you would see in movies. But we want to bring the word back down to the people and to give it a more human meaning. And the and the reason is that we believe strongly that everyone can become a hero if they choose to take action and work for the common good. So we are basically, you know, retelling the story. Load More

Christiana: [00:17:00] Totally agree with that. Yeah. Yes, brilliant. Totally agree with that. So can we go into that a little bit further? How does this model that you have, how does it differ from traditional financial support for activists that would be more traditional? I would say, you know, from either traditional or new climate change funders that put money into a pot. How is your your support model different from the more traditional ones?

Mauricio Porras: [00:17:36] Yeah, so there's different levels that we also given a lot of thought to with the help of Anuna and of course other mobilizers is the first is the fact that we wanted to create direct connections from citizens to this mobilizers. So the first, let's say layer of innovation is the fact that when you support HERO Circle, you're supporting people, and when you contribute in the HERO platform, you actually know where your money's going to. So that is the first layer that we really wanted to be intentional about so that people could connect with different people. And we believe that that's how community and grassroots movements really connect with the stories that Anuna was mentioning before. The second layer is the fact that we wanted to move from the donations model to organizations to a more active approach on supporting directly these people through through what we call subscription. So basically HERO is a subscription based model just as you would subscribe, let's say to Netflix, Spotify or Patreon in the US, you subscribe to these circles and with that support on a monthly basis, you allow this mobilizers to have a basic stable income on a monthly basis.

Christiana: [00:19:00] Interesting. So and do you subscribe at different levels? Can you choose and I'm asking you all these questions about this because my intent here actually is to interest many of our listeners to become your your subscribers. So explain that to us how if someone you know and I'm sure there will be many listeners who are interested, so how how do I how do we move from the interest to actually supporting you?

Mauricio Porras: [00:19:31] Yeah, great question. So basically we built a platform at HeroesCircle.App. So if you go into the platform.

Mauricio Porras: [00:19:43] So you go to HeroesCircle.app and we really worked hard to make it that in three clicks you could immediately support the circles of mobilizers. So basically we have three tiers. So starting at €10, a second tier of €20 and a third tier that starts at €50, but you can choose to support more if you want. And basically what you get in return, it's an exclusive live behind the scenes access to their journey, and then you receive exclusive content from updates, videos and live streams that allow you to connect in a more direct way with them. And there's another feature that we really like, which is called Moments. So basically, working with Anuna, we came up with the fact that mobilizers work by creating different moments along the way, whether it was a speech, a meeting with a decision maker. So what we're working really hard to do is to bridge that gap and connect those moments also with the citizens. So if you support and become a subscriber of a circle and that circle accomplishes the next moment that they have in mind.

Christiana: [00:20:54] And you choose the circle, do you choose as a subscriber, do you choose which circle to support?

Christiana: [00:20:59] OK, cool. 

Mauricio Porras: [00:21:00] Choose from a from different categories from fossil fuels to loss and damage indigenous rights and so on. And once you subscribe and that circle accomplishes the next moment, then that moment is also attributed to you in your HERO profile. So as a citizen, you can also be part of those next decisive moments for our planet, and it stops becoming just one thing that just mobilises are working towards that you suit, your support is now part of the story and that moment comes back to you. Bridging that gap between both sides, it's key.

Anuna De Wever Van der Heyden: [00:21:39] Yeah, well, actually, I just wanted to add to you already because I feel like what you were saying is very crucial because this project really highlights the journey of activism. And I feel like a lot of people have an idea of what is an activist, what is a mobiliser. It's a young person shouting on the streets or giving a confrontational speech at a conference. But it's much more than that. There's so much grassroots movements and building and networking and working behind the scenes that goes into actually building these campaigns and putting these policy objectives and getting into these rooms like it is so much work. And I think a lot of people are not aware of that. And I think it's important to show that commitment that an entire generation and it's not just my generation, there are so many people of different ages that are working so hard in their free time, often to make these things happen, and it's being taken for granted a lot. And I think the HERO project is really going to highlight the fact that we should not take it for granted that it is a massive commitment, that is a massive journey, but also it's going to show that there is a network, a global network of people that you can connect to. And this is something for me often when I go to spaces and I try to mobilize people and connect with people, they're like, where do I go? Who do I talk to? How do I start? All of this feels so overwhelming. I still have so many things to learn. I don't know how to start, and I feel like the HERO Project really shows this global network of people ready to collaborate with you. If you want to join us. And you do, you have to because we need you.

Christiana: [00:23:06] So. So if I'm a newbie to this right, but I feel the fire inside of myself. I feel I have the fire in the belly, but I'm a newbie. I have no idea where to start. Then how do I connect with you and how do I get supported in addition to the finance? How do I get supported to know what my work is?

Mauricio Porras: [00:23:27] Yeah. So we have a process to onboard different HERO circles. So that could even, let's say, either be through an endorsement of another mobiliser who is already part of your movement, maybe through an NGO that is endorsing you. Also, you know that you maybe have been working with with this NGO in the past on different campaigns or basically we also have a program that we are launching to onboard different hero circle so they can apply to Hero. And we have developed a program where we help them identify their policy objective, get the group on board, create their story, and we also then connect them to a network of global mentors in the climate space that can help them through different topics like, you know, climate policy law or basically storytelling and influence to make sure that you have all the right tools you need to advocate for change in your region or your country.

Christiana: [00:24:29] Wow. So I am bowled over. I am so impressed about the depth of your analysis of where the need is and how to address the need. And I am so impressed that all of this you've developed all of this in two years. Basically, you have a startup here in a startup field which is popular climate movement. You are a startup in a startup field where we actually shouldn't be at startup process. We should be at almost completion of the task, the big task. But sadly, we're still a startup. But your startup within a startup field amazing. So where, where do all these ideas come from? Where other models out there that have been inspirational to you or has all of this evolved truly out of the need that you have identified?

Mauricio Porras: [00:25:26] Yeah, So basically it has been it was born from, you know, from having this one on one conversations with the mobilizers on the ground. And basically our mission is to just translate those needs and that support system that is very much needed within the movements and translate that with the solutions that we can find now in tech, finance, innovation, communications. So basically use the tools that are already there for everyone to use, but help the movements. And this mobilizers, you know, built a tool that it's their tool. Our role here is very behind the scenes. It's basically listening to what they want, what they need, and supporting them in any way we can. And I'm very honored and blessed to be supported by my two also co founders, Silvana and Mohammed, which I can tell you later on about. There's another one who knows this story, but another crazy story on why we are in Amsterdam. But I'm you know, I'm really I'm really blessed to be supported by by groups of amazing people with amazing energy and stubborn optimism. Yeah. You know, to actually to actually change things and don't settle for for the things, you know, sometimes it feels and Anuna can can definitely say this but sometimes it feels that 1.5 in seven years it's not something achievable. But when I'm on the ground having conversations with all these incredible mobilizers, I'm not, I have no doubt and I'm mega sure that there is hope and that there is the action that that goes along with that hope to make change happen. So I'm really, really this is not about three founders or advisors or even the mobilizers. It's about a community that has chosen to to reshape the future and work together to move from a more individual level to a more collective level, where that community will change the way that things are being happening at the moment.

Christiana: [00:27:50] Fantastic. Amen to that. Or as my daughters, correct me Awomen to that super. Sadly, we have to close because I would love to be in conversation with you further and actually would love to meet you personally. I'm sure the opportunity will be there for us as we close the podcast. If you've listened to any of our episodes, you know that we have a question that we're now going to ask both of you. Our podcast is called Outrage + Optimism. Oh, wait a second, Mauricio, Do you still have your HERO podcast? Yeah, yeah. Ok, ok. So here's a shout out to the HERO podcast and we'll definitely put that in the show notes for everyone. Fantastic. But as we close this episode of this podcast that is called Outrage + Optimism, we do ask all our guests, what are you still outraged about? And that list is a very long list. But give me your top. Give me your top. You know, reality that is still outrageous to you, still completely unacceptable. And then what is your top reason for optimism? Who wants to start?

Mauricio Porras: [00:29:01] Anuna, wanna go first?

Anuna De Wever Van der Heyden: [00:29:05] I was just going to say, Christiana, this is such a long list. We need to have five podcasts on this. But I honestly think that the the basis of what I am outraged about and my whole motivation behind my activism is climate injustice. And it's always been that it's the whole human rights, injustice, inequality, angle to the climate crisis. And every single time I see a politician or a policymaker talk shit, pardon my French about about the climate policies that we know are not going anywhere, I'm so outraged. And I think that's the anger. I think that's good anger. I don't I think that that is what is keeping me going, honestly. And it's it's I think it fuels me honestly, because then you work with people like Marissa and you work with other heroes and you understand that everybody is outraged about this. But the good thing is because everybody is there is there are so many people ready for a new reality. And when that kicks in and when we actually we're going to create that, people are going to be ready to step into that and and that and that. You know, that is my optimism. Then at the end of the day, we are creating a new reality and that's where we're going.

Christiana: [00:30:13] Super! Mauricio?

Mauricio Porras: [00:30:15] Yeah, well, on top of that, which I couldn't agree more, for me, you know, outrage comes from the fact that this mobilizers are working day and night tirelessly to change the system and to work for the common good, and their contributions to society are still not yet recognized. And what keeps me, you know, motivated and gives me hope is the fact that we're actually shifting that and changing that along with you and amazing groups of people that believe that, you know, when something needs to be changed. Hope, optimism and action are actually the the perfect recipe to change the the way things are going. So that really seeing this amazing mobilizers working as hard as this, as they're working to change things makes me really, really hopeful. And they deserve our full support. So go to the HeroesCircle.App platform and support them today. You won't regret it. And I think not supporting them is actually the one thing that humanity can't afford.

Christiana: [00:31:30] Well put. Well put. Bueno. Mauricio and Anuna, thank you so, so much. I am very confident that many of our listeners, co-hosts included, will be will be supporting you. And we will put it all in the show notes to make it easy for everyone. But thank you very much. Thank you. I mean, yes, thank you for coming on the podcast. But much more importantly than that, thank you for having have listened to that fire in your belly. Thank you for having been sensitive enough to realize that there was a huge need there and to have put your heads together to figure out how do we stand up in a very creative way to answer that need and creative and much more sustainable than the one one donation that comes in once a year or once every two years. So a brilliant move of yours because it is that dependability that those young people and not so young people need in order to continue to pursue their very important, very important work. So thank you very, very much for that. Thank you for joining us. We're going to put this out at the end of the year and invite everyone to to support HERO and through HERO to support so many heroes around the world. Thanks very much to both of you. So, folks, I hope you agree that was a compelling case for supporting climate mobilizers around the world.

Christiana: [00:33:18] So our hope is that if some or all or many of you are thinking about what you would like to support, who you would like to support toward the end of the year, that you will definitely give HERO a very, very serious consideration. I have actually already gone to the Web page, and I can tell you there are not that many circles yet on the web page, which means all of us who support HERO will be able to help further launch this startup that is, as they say, doing and or supporting the most important work around the world. So please, if you if you can find it within your envelope to support, we very much invite you to support HERO now at the end of the year and throughout next year. And with that, we wish you a very wonderful end of a very busy critical year in the path toward ensuring that we can get to speed and scale on the issues that are so close to our heart. Because as we have heard throughout this year, this really is about pulling the future into the present or, as we just said recently, challenging the present in order to make the future possible. Bye.


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