A powerhouse entrepreneur wants to turn Montreal into a clean city

How Kelly Lovell is coaching youth to take part in her initiative

My Clean City was introduced to a national audience almost immediately and is edging its way to Montreal.

At 22-years-old, Kelly Lovell isn’t busy walking into bars, she’s walking into boardrooms. Don’t be fooled by the curls, cute floral dresses and hair bows because her resume would make some executive profiles pale in comparison.

“I definitely get looks,” says Lovell. “It’s incredible to see the level of respect drop in some professionals’ eyes when they realize I am the CEO they are supposed to meet.”

As the youngest winner of the 2013 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award, Lovell has a roster of achievements, which includes her current CEO position for a national initiative called My Clean City, a leadership program built to encourage youth to get involved in building sustainable communities in Canada.

Born and raised in Waterloo, Ont., Lovell just completed two years at Western University with pre-acceptance into the Richard Ivey School of Business. However her loyalties lie in her mission to create, implement, and participate in projects that foster youth participation and leadership development.

“I had previously been doing individual consulting work where I was consistently being asked to assist NGOs in engaging youth,” explains Lovell. “I realized that many organizations struggled to bridge the gap.”

In the summer of 2012, after being named Canada’s Top 20 under 20, Lovell was inspired to create The Kelly Effect, a company that assists and teaches grassroot organizations to build sustainable initiatives by specializing in community engagement. She describes it as “creating a butterfly effect of change with a Kelly pizazz.”

Yet Lovell hasn’t always had that so-called “pizazz.”

“I used to be like many of my disengaged peers and viewed volunteerism in a negative light,” she admits. “I never picked opportunities that matched my interests, rather I chose those that would knock off the most volunteer hours.”

My Clean City was born in light of Lovell’s unfulfilling volunteer experiences.

“[It] was created to dissolve this negative stigma of volunteerism and break the cycle of younger people volunteering without having a meaningful experience,” she says.

During the 2013 annual international leadership summit, One Young World, one of the top six world issues debated was the environment and sustainability, which was voted as one of the most important among the youth. Lovell decided to run with it.

In recent years, environmental awareness has not just been embraced by treehuggers and celebrities. There have been eco-documentaries, carbon emission studies, greening initiatives and Earth Day activities all dedicated to one of the world’s biggest tasks at hand: moving from a wasteful way of life to a more sustainable one.

According to a 2007 Households and the Environment Survey by Statistics Canada, being eco-friendly is trending. In the past decade, Canadian households have increasingly engaged in activities that are both energy saving and environmentally conscious.

Acknowledging the ‘new’ volunteer generation, My Clean City speaks to the youth demographic on their level.

“We provide a unified portal to access community programs over a social media powered interface,” explains Lovell.

Engaging the youth can be a challenge, which is why My Clean City introduces a volunteer experience full of rewards, both literally and figuratively.

“We use a merit-based model that recognizes youth for their actions by rewarding them with CleanCreds©, which are based on both effort and impact. Those with the highest cumulative total at the end of our program will be awarded scholarships, mentorships and other daily rewards.”

Anyone with a business sense will advise that you need to first build a pilot and then go through the motions of a local model, then scale to provincial and then a national level. However, Lovell admits that she is one to “ride the bike before it is even built.”

“A common mistake of many entrepreneurs is they get so fixated on their idea and spend all their effort trying to make that idea work, even if it doesn’t fit the market’s needs.”

Lovell didn’t want to waste her time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

“I was able to let the idea mould itself into the market’s demand.”

My Clean City was introduced to a national audience almost immediately and is edging its way to Montreal. Lovell admits that building a national, large-scale program without funding is an incredible feat, especially when trying to build partnerships to grow the program and garner credibility as a startup without financial backing. Therefore, the next step was to engage with leading brand companies, and Lovell had a vision.

“Kelly was the one to reach out to us,” says H&M public relations manager, Emily Scarlett. H&M was the first fashion company to launch a global initiative called Garment Collecting, where customers are encouraged to bring in unwanted clothes of any brand and in any condition to help turn old textiles into new, recycled, ones.

“The My Clean City Campaign and H&M’s Garment Collecting Initiative were a natural fit,” Scarlett says. “Both campaigns aim at a more sustainable future so we were eager to link up and work together.”

H&M has decided to combine the campaigns.

“Participants sign up to take part in the program and get an account online. Then when they bring in a bag of clothing, the store will scan a QR code which translates to CleanCreds on their account,” explains Scarlett. “At the end of the program people will redeem their clean cred for different things. H&M gifts cards being one option.”

Staples has also joined forces with My Clean City.

“Both Staples and H&M are youth-relevant brands that believe in our generation,” says Lovell. “Their commitment and dedication to inspiring environmental change while simultaneously supporting young leaders is what My Clean City is all about.”

Lovell believes that the youth “play a critical role in prompting change” and she is a testament to that.

“What started off as an idea to create a national program transformed into a full fledged startup and organization that has a heart and breath of its own. It is incredible what following your passion can produce.”

Lovell currently lives in Toronto. She is poised for a variety of philanthropic and leadership opportunities. She says her most memorable moment was speaking at TEDxYouth last year.

“I want to be able to share this experience with my peers.”

It’s not only about encouraging others to increase their green footprint; for Lovell, it is about leaving her mark on the world but also — and more importantly —  with the people she meets.

People can get easily distracted from Lovell’s ambition because she enjoys watching comedies, likes to dance, bake, shop and really embrace her girliness.

“Being young has its advantages in connecting and understanding our target demographic but when it comes to the business world, ‘youth’ typically translates to inexperience or a lack of qualification,” says Lovell.

Despite this, “you always miss 100 per cent of the shots you never take” is the advice she still remembers from her fifth grade school teacher. It’s what drives her straight into the offices of large corporations, to stick out her hand, open her mouth and proudly introduce herself.

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