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Engaging the Planet Protector Alliance with Vanessa LeBourdais of DreamRider Productions

“We’re teaching them that even though they’re alone, they’re part of something. They’re part of the Planet Protector Alliance—that goes all around the world, and everybody is needed. Your own superhero power, you may not know what it is yet, is needed.”

Vanessa LeBourdais, Co-Founder of DreamRider Productions

In this episode

Join Vanessa LeBourdais of SheEO Venture DreamRider Productions, and SheEO founder Vicki Saunders, as they chat about Vanessa’s work to shift the culture of the world to one of kindness and interconnection with the environment. DreamRider Productions is home to Planet Protector Academy, an inclusive, meaningful, and full-throttle experience for children that instills positive environmental values in their hearts – and in their actions. 

They also discuss:

  • Vanessa’s move to the west coast and what sparked her journey as a “lifetime environmentalist”
  • DreamRider’s growth from their beginnings as a project with the City of Vancouver
  • Integrating emotions, feeling, and fun to activate children as change agents
  • Scaling the business internationally and challenges through COVID
  • Stories of impact from children who have experienced the Planet Protector Academy
  • The next steps for DreamRider and growing their team with the support of SheEO

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

Take action and engage with DreamRider Productions + Planet Protector Academy:

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Vanessa LeBourdais 0:00
One of the things that we learned was that our programs don’t just have an environmental impact, our programs were making kids happy and calm. And so that’s something that we measured during COVID. Because we’re teaching them—even though they’re alone, that they’re part of something. They’re part of the Planet Protector Alliance that goes all around the world, and everybody is needed, your own superhero power, but you may not know what it is yet, is needed.

Hannah Cree 0:23
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast, where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is the founder of SheEO, Vicki Saunders. Welcome to SheEO.World.

Vicki Saunders 0:42
Welcome, Vanessa. I’m so excited to talk to you today.

Vanessa LeBourdais 0:45
I’m really excited to be here, Vicki, thank you for having me.

Vicki Saunders 0:48
So tell us about what you’re working on. Why you’re doing it, why it’s needed?

Vanessa LeBourdais 0:55
Well, I’m working on—really what I’m working on is shifting the culture of the world to have kindness and interconnection with the planet. That’s my ultimate goal. The way that I’m doing that is through engaging kids as changemakers, who change their families and grow up with this deep value of interconnectedness, kindness, and so forth. And the way that I’m doing that is through interactive digital media that reaches kids through schools. I started this, I kind of need to go back to my early 20s when I moved from Toronto to—by intuition—I ended up in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island that I’ve never even heard of before I got there, and then discovered it was a beautiful wilderness. And I lived in a place with the rain forest as my backyard with cougars, and eagles, and things. And one day, my landlady without warning, clear cut the rain forest and turn it into a parking lot. And when I watched the stumps burn, that is the moment that I had where I was transformed into a lifetime environmentalist. And I joined the about 10 or so other young people in their 20s, who also didn’t really know what we were doing. But were determined to fight the multinational corporations that were clear cutting the region, the bio region. And that’s when I started writing songs because I was musical theater performer. And so naturally, we needed songs to make this good. And about two years later, we were joined by about 8000 people, and it became a UN Biosphere Reserve. And my songs became the songs of the movement as well, I was an organizer, and as well, but that’s where my environmental and arts connection first began. And I went to Vancouver to become a musical theater performer again, which kind of struck me as weird. But again, it was following my intuition. So I trusted it. And met my partner who was also performer, we ended up working with the City of Vancouver, who had an engineer who’d gone to theater school, and they wanted to create a play for kids. So that is really the beginning of DreamRider. We made a play for kids on water conservation. And that grew by word of mouth until we were working with municipalities all over the region. So 13 different municipalities and 50,000 kids a year. And about 10 years ago. So this is a long story, told in short form, about 10 years ago, I was realizing that we were having such an impact on kids that we heard all the time, about how from parents that their kids were changing their families, oh, my kids saw your show. And now we’re all conserving water, my kids saw your show, now we’re composting. And that was just the beginning of digital media. And you know, where people started having cameras in their hands. And so I thought, why don’t we see if this will work in a video. And it, well, kids really enjoyed the videos, they were looking in their bodies like zombies. So we were like, how can—that’s not going to do anything, they’re not going to run out of this room and change anything when they look like that. So how can we create a scalable digital experience instead, so we designed an experience first, and then we had it led by digital media. So now we have these superhero characters, Esmeralda Planet Protector and her sidekick Goober, who go after super villains like The Evaporator. And then as well to turns to the camera and says to the kids, “Welcome to the Planet Protector Academy. You’re all apprentices. And this is real life.” And so each week, kids go home on missions, and it really works. It’s worked across the country, and internationally. And so this is my method of using my arts and my passion to hopefully one day change the culture of the world, or how to.

Vicki Saunders 4:35
Yeah, we’re I’m like just tingling all over because this is all the stuff I want to do and have been doing too.

Vanessa LeBourdais 4:41
I know.

Vicki Saunders 4:42
Give me an example of one of the weekly or is a weekly or like monthly—

Vanessa LeBourdais 4:47
Yes, weekly.

Vicki Saunders 4:48
Yeah, so one of the weekly tasks that occur and what happens, what’s the call to action?

Vanessa LeBourdais 4:54
Oh, well, a simple task is for example, convincing your parents to drive less. So to walk to school, for example. And we we actually work backwards from there, and we think like, what does a kid need to know? But how do they also need to feel? Like, you know, in order to actually want to do that, how do you need to feel, and I think that’s one of the places that we differentiate is that we’re really based in emotions and feeling and experience and fun, and we want to make it as fun as possible. And then what happens then is like, 90% of the kids go home, with their missions, feeling like planet protectors, and actually are bugging their parents to change really, if we want to speak about it. Truthfully, they’re bugging their parents using the power of kids bugging their parents. But so over 90% of kids do actually try and depending on the mission between 50 and 70% of kids succeed in changing the families and often for long term.

Vicki Saunders 5:47
Yeah. Love it. Love it. Okay, so many questions. So you started this, you’re doing this in Canada, you’re doing it outside of Canada? What’s the scope at the moment?

Vanessa LeBourdais 5:57
At the moment, primarily in Canada, because of COVID. Just before COVID, we’d started working in India, and kind of randomly through it through a connection that we had, who brought it to some schools, and it works so incredibly, so well, it was so exciting that the kids were like after 45 minutes, seeing visions of a green India and dedicating themselves to be planet protectors. And so we were working on building the India market, and then COVID hit. So then India went into turmoil. And so did we, so our focus bit back to just surviving nationally, in our work nationally for COVID. And then, but during COVID, when we were doing the first thing that we did was when all the schools shut down across Canada and all of our programs did, we switched quite quickly, within about 10 days to doing live zoom broadcasts with our actors talking live to kids in lockdown. Yeah. And that went all over the world to like, I think 12 different countries from like Qatar to Taiwan to South Africa. That was a really cool experience to see. Wow, it works in all those countries as well.

Vicki Saunders 7:00
Yeah. And how did you find them? How did they find you?

Vanessa LeBourdais 7:03
I have no idea. Honestly, like—

Vicki Saunders 7:06
Yeah, word of mouth.

Vanessa LeBourdais 7:07
Word of mouth. Some, you know, internet marketing we did. You know, at the time, we at the time, we thought when COVID hit and everything was, everyone’s trying to figure out how to go online. We’re like, Hey, we’re the experts. We’ve been doing this for 10 years. But of course, everybody else was saying they were online too, with and so we had to suddenly like, oh, how do we actually differentiate ourselves as being the online people. Previously, sort of the attitude was a little bit like, Well, why are you doing online? When kids should be outside? Like, well, kids are also in the classroom. And this is where we’re reaching them. And now it’s like, oh, how do we show people that? Actually, it took us a while to get through the noise of that time, right?

Vicki Saunders 7:44
Yeah. And so what’s what is, what have you learned during this crazy time? Like, what is working for you online? How are you making that real?

Vanessa LeBourdais 7:54
Yeah, well, I mean, one of the things that we learned, which we’d always suspect always suspected, was that our programs don’t just have an environmental impact or impact on how teachers teach or how they feel comfortable about teaching environmental topics, or getting kids engaged in learning. We all we knew all those things. What’s something that we did learn was that our programs were making kids happy, and calm. And so that’s something that we measured during COVID. And it was really exciting to actually see that, like, 80% of kids felt calmer, because we’re teaching them the superhero calming breath, and we’re talking to them about how they feel about the pandemic. And we’re telling them, even though they’re alone, that they’re part of something, they’re part of the Planet Protector Alliance, that goes all around the world, and everybody is needed your own superhero power, but you may not know what it is yet, is needed, and no superpower is too small. And other things we’ve learned are our performers can perform into a complete void, because they’re so good, because and you know, because of child safety, we couldn’t see any of the kids in the in the Home Edition, when we’re just talking to one kid on Zoom, they would chat to the actors, we knew. But then in this last spring, we realized we weren’t reaching a lot of kids in lockdown, but there weren’t very many programs, helping schools just deal with the pandemic as a school, like what are they doing for school spirit? Nothing, everybody’s chopped up into into little pieces and separated. So we learned that was actually a big market and appetite for programs like ours, that could be interactive, engaging, embodied, and online. Since then, we’ve really learned that our USP really makes us shine in the space you know, like that we’re fun and that we’re embodied. Those two things together. But also just that we’re giving kids something in the middle of the pandemic and climate chaos what everybody’s feeling even young kids, you know, how important this idea of we’re together we you know, we’re all needed then there’s hope we have a vision for the future.

Vicki Saunders 9:55
I so love this. I’m writing a ton of notes as you’re talking partly because I just like, interchange planet protector with Activator.

Vanessa LeBourdais 10:04
Right?

Vicki Saunders 10:05
And I just keep going fun, engaging, interactive, embodied, definitely embodied and feeling like you’re belonging and making a difference together working on a collective project. We have a collective project,

Vanessa LeBourdais 10:15
Right? Yeah. There you go. Exactly. Yeah. You know, I’m doing the young kids, you’re doing the Activators.

Vicki Saunders 10:20
It’s everything. And I started with young kids, younger kids with kids energy, a company that I had back in the day, so I’m just like, yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes, yes.

Vanessa LeBourdais 10:28
I started trying to convince adults back in the 90s. And nobody would change anything recycling, what are you talking about? So when I found out Oh, I actually don’t have to talk to kids and convince them?

Vicki Saunders 10:38
Right? Less layers of the onion to peel for sure. It’s also this kindness. And interconnectedness is it’s the relationships that we’re building as Activators and community and radical generosity. So it’s literally like we’re parallel sisters in parallel universes. So, nice to meet you.

Vanessa LeBourdais 10:54
Likewise, likewise.

Vicki Saunders 10:57
So, okay, I just, okay, we have all this. There’s just so much leadership needed, such as the permission space for all these incredible young planet protectors to come together. And I love this, like, no superpower’s too small. No gift is too small to bring. We need everybody. Do you have like a couple favorite stories you can share of what’s happened as people get engaged in your programming?

Unknown Speaker 11:20
Oh, yeah. I mean, one of my very, very favorite stories is somebody I met when she was 26. And we met at a conference where she was speaking, her name is Tesicca Truong. And she saw a play of ours when she was six years old. She sang the song back to me. And she said, you inspired me, like her whole life. And she started she started when she was in high school, with an anti bottled water campaign that spread across from her school across Vancouver. She was started two nonprofits, environmental nonprofits. Last year, she ran for office, for BC legislature on a climate platform. She’s advising the BC government on climate issues, like, oh, like this amazing superstar. And another story actually is just my daughter’s in university, second year university at Simon Fraser. And she’s meeting all her classmates. And she said, she told them what we do and, and they apparently all said, your parents were my childhood. Yeah, we have lots of stories of impact for kids.

Vicki Saunders 12:35
Long term work, and just helping us all recognize we have power, we can make a difference.

Vanessa LeBourdais 12:40
And the reason we reach this group, this age group is because they’re old enough to have agency in the world. So younger kids that were in it didn’t say what our age group is, like 6 to 11, about. Younger kids don’t have very much agency out in the world. And they’re just learning basic, basic skills. So they’re old enough to have agency and young enough to still believe that they could be superheroes. So that’s, that’s our group.

Vicki Saunders 13:05
So good. So you’re now doing this, globally, sharing this globally, getting lots of recognition, what’s the what is the plan? Where are you going next?

Vanessa LeBourdais 13:13
Next we are really focused on scaling. Because we have this tool, we have programs on water, waste climate, and emergency preparedness. Actually, they work in India, they work in Africa, you don’t mean not not all communities more in the community in with kids who need to conserve water, for example, where our messages and forgets we’re already conserving water because they’re carrying it, right, so. But we have this tool that can go anywhere. So our focus right now really is on expanding that market. And we are just in the middle of two of hiring three positions, actually, thanks to SheEO and also some federal funding, we got one for international sales into chains of private schools in the Middle East in India, and the other to expand our Canadian market and the US market. The other piece that we’re doing, which is sort of new and interesting is that we are developing an employee engagement model of this. And we actually are in the middle of signing a contract with our first major global company. Very exciting, major global company. And they’re they’re asking us to help them transform every employee into changemakers. And that is a very, very exciting mandate to come into a global company with. So we’re seeing about same same approach with the kids in in the company, the kids of the employees, driving change in the company. So that’s kind of an exciting opportunity that we’re exploring as well.

Vicki Saunders 14:50
That’s amazing. Everyone needs this, like we all want to be part of creating change and so many people just feel so disconnected from it. So rev model for that—is it per person thing, subscription?

Vanessa LeBourdais 15:01
Yeah, it’ll be per person. Right now we’re just developing designing it in partnership. So we’re not at that stage yet. We’re developing the pricing model, but we definitely will be per person. Right now it’s going to be a live event because we always design in context. And then we’ll have an asynchronous digital version. Eventually that will be per person. Yeah.

Vicki Saunders 15:21
Do you have an online community for—well, the young ones are young, right? So they’re not—

Vanessa LeBourdais 15:25
That’s this inherent problem with social media is that all our kids are under 13? You have to be 13.

Vicki Saunders 15:30
Yeah, hard.

Vanessa LeBourdais 15:30
So we haven’t done a lot, although, like so much opportunity. And then the other pieces, Internet safety for children.

Vicki Saunders 15:36
Yeah, no, that’s a hard one. Yeah. So do you plan to do more? I mean, it looks like we’re, I guess some people are back in schools, but like, the live thing is still hard. Right? So are you doing more live this year? Or is any more digital?

Vanessa LeBourdais 15:49
We’re still doing, it’s our main thing, actually, is to do live assemblies. The live assemblies have been our big, our big thing. And then teachers can do the digital classroom afterwards, if they have the space in their brains. And their class or you know, it depends on where teachers are at. Right. But our main thing right now is the live assemblies.

Vicki Saunders 16:10
Great. And so what are the—what can we help you with? Is there anything? So if those who are listening to this and hearing this and want to get their kids engaged? So can they go to your website and suggest to their school to get involved? Like, what are the calls to action?

Vanessa LeBourdais 16:22
They absolutely can. Spreading the word about Planet Protectors, our website is planetprotectoracademy.com, is great, telling teachers about it is great. Our current model is one where we, you know, have funding from a certain municipality. And then we’ve had it before where only the schools in that municipality, get the program. And now we’re just like that’s silly. Just let people use it. So yes.

Vicki Saunders 16:46
We just want to drive people to your site, or so you’re excited about this employee engagement thing, which is fantastic. Any other things coming up in the vision that you’re excited about that you can actually share?

Vanessa LeBourdais 16:56
Yes. Well, we’ve had interest in doing a television show for some time now. And I’ve just had reached out from two production companies last week, interested in talking about a TV show. So that’s very exciting to me, as children’s TV shows are generally marketing for toys. So it would be really lovely to have a TV show that’s essentially marketing for our Changemaker program, but it’s in itself, we still would want the same idea that a kid watching feels like they’re attending, you know, Jedi school, as I call it, or Hogwarts, and doing the missions and stuff.

Vicki Saunders 17:29
Absolutely. I love it. Well, I’m so grateful for your leadership and for the longevity, that you’re following your intuition and for following your intuition to find the right people to play with, and to engage. And so thank you very much for all you’re doing. We’re thrilled to be supporting you and really, really excited about the traction you’re getting.

Vanessa LeBourdais 17:50
Thank you so much, Vicki. It’s really incredible to be part of this network. I—my first in-person event was a SheEO event. And it was my first in person SheEO event. And it was just such a beautiful combination of those two things, a beautiful event. wonderful people incredible conversation, and I’m so excited to be part of the network.

Vicki Saunders 18:11
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

Vanessa LeBourdais 18:13
Thanks, Vicki.

Hannah Cree 18:18
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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