Updated: Jul 7, 2022
As a Class of 2019 Millennium Fellow, Kami founded Elio, a company that's now on the mission to bridge the communication gap between academia and decision-makers in companies and governments through a climate data research platform. He spoke with us about his climate work, childhood, the Millennium Fellowship and being named one of twenty 776 Fellows.
Thank you for making time to connect Kami. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Kami and why does he care about the things he cares about?
"My name is Kami Krista and my educational background is in Bio-Engineering, but I have spent over a decade in climate, which is a roundabout way of saying I started this work very young. When I was 8 I wrote a letter to the President of Brazil explaining why it was wrong to destroy the Amazon, and this seemingly naive action kickstarted a 15-year journey in climate activism. My early childhood interest in nature developed into a deep passion for the climate. In primary school, I created a small organization to educate my peers about the dangers of global warming, and at 11 I did a TEDx talk on sustainable transportation, sharing my thoughts on what a future without pollution could look like.
In my teen years, a deep intellectual curiosity took me to academia, and I spent years doing research while studying bioengineering at Harvard. I was feeling a little jaded with the state of climate action and wasn't particularly interested in working on small-scale changes anymore. I wanted to figure out what the key levers were that if pulled could lead to widespread systemic change in the way we approach climate action. Then in 2018, I read IPCC’s 1.5-degree report, and it brought me 2 sobering conclusions: First that we are all going to die. Second, even in the face of this existential threat, humanity is still unable to answer the most important question, ‘what's our plan?' We say ‘we'll be carbon neutral by 2050’, and ‘we'll drastically reduce global emissions,' but without a plan these goals are useless.
According to the International Energy Agency, close to 50% of the emissions that need to be reduced by 2050 depend upon technology that is still under significant development. It's clear therefore that we need to bridge the gap between what's going on in research and development and what’s happening in climate action."
Why are you so passionate about climate and as young people what part do we have to play in averting whatever disaster might be waiting for us in the near future?
"To truly articulate my love for the planet and its climate, I must go back to the beginning. When you grow up in a 'developed' western country, Austria in my case, it is easy to be disconnected from the natural world and natural spaces because everything is modern and urbanised. As a child, however, I had a uniquely intimate relationship with nature. It may sound odd, but I connected with trees and plants in interesting ways, and I understood that intrinsically they were just as valuable as humans - there is no hierarchical structure of value in the ordering of nature. This is partly why I wrote that letter to the President of Brazil. Even now, I believe climate change is just a symptom of all the various disharmonious relationships we have with our planet. Climate action for me has always been inherently non-anthropogenic. It is less about purely human survival for me, and more about the moral obligation we have towards all living things, particularly those that bear no responsibility for climate change - yet severely suffer its consequences. It’s about saying ‘let's live better with this world, both with other people, as well as with other living things.
It is less about human survival, and more about the moral obligation we have towards all living things, particularly those that bear no responsibility for climate change - yet severely suffer its consequences.
It’s also recognizing that though we messed up significantly, things don’t need to be all doom and gloom. If we get the next few years right, we could have more liveable cities across the world, countries could be energy sovereign, we could avoid resource-related wars, and ensure we create a world with climate justice for all."
Tell us a little bit about Elio. How did it start, what work are you leading in, and why is this work important?
"As I stated earlier, in 2018 I realised that we did not have a good enough climate plan. Think about the moon landing. We had a strategy, put in years of meticulous planning, there was a mission control and constant data flow. Even though climate action is a more complex and bigger-scale challenge, we are not even nearly as prepared for it. This is the real moonshot, yet we have no mission control. That is the problem I wanted to solve with Elio. I applied to the Millennium Fellowship in 2019, and over that fall and the following spring I conducted over 100 interviews with climate stakeholders, activists, companies, and more to try and structure my thoughts and answer the question ‘what can this mission control look like?’ I realised that the decarbonisation strategies most companies employ are built on an outdated understanding of available innovation pipelines, and that the communication gap between R&D and decision-makers that allocate financial Capital is the biggest for companies that operate in sectors where it's harder to reduce emissions. This is because they depend heavily on technologies that are still under development. It was then that the image of Elio as a startup aiming to enable companies in technologically complicated industries to develop effective decarbonisation plans, based on state-of-the-art science, crystallised.
The product we’re developing will at the first level be a data foundation and research engine that services companies, enabling them to have a common operating picture of R&D related to specific materials and the problem and solution landscape.
Ultimately the vision is to build out a digital infrastructure that enables every company to have a digitised, granular, evidence-based decarbonisation strategy that updates at the pace of better understanding."
How did becoming a Millennium Fellow benefit you, and how has it shaped your trajectory since graduating?
"The Millennium Fellowship helped shape my trajectory in two ways. First, the community and network I was exposed to were vital in helping me access people I’d otherwise never reach. This allowed us to find our path quicker, and it brought more buy-in early on for what we were creating. The Fellowship also brought a certain level of accountability to my project building. When you’re a college student, it’s easy to push away project ideas because you’re thinking ‘I have this paper', or 'I have an exam to prepare for.’ The Fellowship gives you a certain amount of structure, and you have other members of your cohort also motivating and pushing you forward. Because of this, the wheels started turning relatively quickly for Elio. I brought it to the Harvard Startup Bootcamp accelerator in 2020, and then I decided to take a break from school and dedicate myself to this vision.
The Millennium Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity, even more so for students in underserved communities or at universities where resources aren't as abundant as at Harvard where you're already privileged to have a robust social impact curriculum, and access to professors who’ve developed some of the frameworks and theories of change taught in leadership development."
Lastly, tell us about the 776 Fellowship! Congratulations on being named a 2022 fellow, receiving a $100,000 grant and joining a community of climate champions! How did you find out about 776, what does this opportunity mean for you and what are you most looking forward to?
"I am more than thrilled to be named a 776 Fellow. I found out about the opportunity from MCN’s Sam Vaghar who thought I was a great fit. It was exciting to learn that 776 was backed by Alexis Ohanian who has done important things for the global tech industry so getting to work with and learn from him is more than inspiring. The $100K grant will obviously be very useful for our work, but I'm even more excited about growing with the other 19 brilliant and super impressive fellows. I was absolutely blown away by each one when we met, and I am very excited about the potential synergies - especially as we’re all working in and passionate about climate. The 776 Team is also putting together amazing resources and programming, and since it's the first year I'm also glad that we'll be paying forward by helping develop the curriculum together."
Thank you Kami for sharing your story with the community!
Connect with Kami on LinkedIn.