Natalie Kyriacou has won two rare plaudits this year. The first was her name listed in the prestigious ‘Forbes’ magazine’s selection of 300 people under age 30 in the Asian region “who are re-inventing their industries and driving change across this diverse region”, and now that she has turned 30, she picked up a Queen’s Birthday Honour at the weekend.
“This isn’t a typical month. It has been quite overwhelming really,” Kyriacou says of the rush of recognition.
Her Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) was for ”services to wildlife and environmental conservation education”, particularly for her start-up, My Green World (MGW), which she founded five years ago after studying journalism and a Masters in international relations at Melbourne University.
The company, based in Melbourne, markets a for profit app for children aged 9 to 15 about environment and animal conservation called ‘World of the Wild‘ which supports 18 wildlife initiatives. The other, not for profit, arm of the company produces digital conservation programs distributed in schools.
Did she see a gap in the market or was My Green World motivated by altruism?
“I’d like to say altruism, but maybe I was naive,” says the daughter of a Greek Cypriot father and a mother from a UK background.
Her interest in wildlife and environmental conservatism grew from her experiences at the RSPCA when still at university, working with animals in Borneo and with an Australian travel company that instituted a global ban on elephant rides. In addition, she is the Australian director for the Sri Lanka based animal welfare NGO, the Dogstar Foundation.
‘The World of the Wild’ app now has about 30,000 users. It’s free, but users pay a small fee as they progress to its various features.
Kyriacou says the app is paying its way to provide her with a modest wage and to finance the education programs designed and compiled by a team of about 20 casuals and part-timers.
“Kids can download it and takes them into a virtual world where they can rescue different species, help clean up oil spills, deal with poachers and they can compete against other users,” she says.
As its blurb describes it: “You must build your own sanctuary and rescue animals from the brink of terror, cruelty and extinction. Young orangutans have been orphaned; turtles, dolphins, cheetahs and elephants are waiting for you to save them!”
The ‘Forbes’ and Queen’s birthday accolades, will, she hopes, bring more attention to MGW’s programs and the animal and conservation charities it partners with.
Her OAM will be presented to her at a ceremony in Melbourne later this year. She says she has no idea who nominated her for the honour about a year ago, and she only had the news confirmed to her a few days before the public announcement.
Kyriacou says she grew up in a “big Greek Orthodox family” but has only visited Greece once. She is planning a family trip including her yia-yia next year. Her paternal grandparents are from the tiny village of Karmi in North Cyprus.