On April 4, 2018, student activists with Grin Green International, a social enterprise founded by Geoff Baker ’17, marched through Bangkok’s busiest streets accompanied by a bag monster. Composed of 750 plastic bags, roughly the amount an average Thai uses every three months, the marchers used their creation to raise awareness about Thailand’s growing single-use plastic problem. That rally transformed Baker’s high school students into activism superstars.
In creating Grin Green International, Baker made a simple but passionate plea to his students.
“If any of you would like to change the world, reform the environment, and be a part of something that has never been done before, see me in the back and sign up for what I hope will evolve into something way bigger than a high school club,” Baker says.
As a comparative politics and history teacher in Thailand, Baker, a TCNJ off-site graduate program graduate, believes that students should not only learn about key subjects in the classroom but also be able to apply the lessons in their daily lives. He had 15 students sign up that day, ranging from grades 9-12. They were responsible for developing the organization’s name, logo, and mission and vision statements tied to their main goal: reducing single-use plastics in Thailand. The group changed from a club to activist movement during that Earth Day protest in 2018.
“The attention we got following our march was surreal,” Baker says. “Not only did we help spark a movement of student-led awareness regarding climate issues in Bangkok, but our students used that experience to inspire and educate other potential young leaders.”
Since the march, Baker’s students have been interviewed by the Thai media, participated in workshops at other schools, and have given speeches at the United Nations. GGI has also expanded to include four partner schools throughout Thailand.
GGI continues to make its case today. It has led protests about Thailand’s air quality, raised money to help with the Australian wildfires, hosted beach clean-ups to remove trash and debris from the sand and sea, and sell environmentally friendly and reusable merchandise, including bamboo and metal straws.
“With the addition of our e-commerce platform, Grin Green International evolved from an NGO to a social enterprise as we have started to generate revenue while advocating for plastic and environmental reform,” Baker says. “The story of what our student-staff has been able to accomplish is a testament to the power of student potential.”
— David Pavlak