As a child, all Anastasia Volkova wanted was to fly. She loved cartoons about the Superwoman, and just like her she wanted to be strong, skilful, make an impact in the lives of others, and… fly, of course. But as she grew up she realised she is a human after all and can’t fly on her own… she needs an airplane. So what did she do? Well, she decided to go and learn how to build those airplanes herself! And since then she has never ceased to soar. 

But why are we talking about her?  

Because it’s going to be the 12th of August, this weekend. And that is a special day. It is the celebration of people who are the joy of our present, and the hope of our future. It is the celebration of people like Anastasia who are an inspiration for their generation. It’s the International Youth Day

Celebrated on August 12 every year, the day was designated by the United Nations in 1999 to raise awareness of the hardships facing the young men and women all across the globe and to honour their role as essential partners in change. Since then, a theme is selected every year and the day is marked with celebrations around that theme the world over.

The UN has declared “Safe Spaces for Youth” as the theme for 2018. Safe spaces where young people can come together, freely express themselves, and engage in activities based on their needs and interests. Safe public spaces to be an active part of the community, safe civic spaces to get involved in governance issues, and safe digital spaces to be an integral part of this Digital Age. And for countries and governments to ensure that these spaces are as safe for young people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds as they are for those from within the community.

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Like it has been for Anastasia. Although a native of Ukraine, she has travelled the world over in pursuit of knowledge and has always found enough space for her to be able to expand her wings and realise her dreams. She went to Poland for her Master’s in Aeronautical Engineering before coming to Australia for a PhD at the University of Sydney.

And even before she finishes her PhD in the coming months, this 26-year-old is already the proud co-founder and CEO of FluroSat, an agri-tech start-up that has raised $1.5 million in grants and investments from CSIRO, and other investors. In recognition of her achievement, Anastasia has been presented with the “Women Creating Change Award” by Soroptimist International at the NSW/ACT Young Achiever Awards this year. She was also awarded the prestigious Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship last year for her commitment to advancing the application of aerospace engineering.

Her company, FluroSat, is a data analytics platform that uses multi- and hyper-spectral cameras on-board drones and satellites to capture images of farmland. These images are then analysed to identify areas that are inconsistent with the rest of the field in terms of crop health and performance, nutrient levels, and water and heat stress. This information helps agronomists and farmers take targeted action on problematic areas of the field instead of applying one-size-fits-all solutions for the whole farm. “We provide deep spectral insights into crop and soil health to help farmers implement precision agriculture practices,” says Anastasia.

Not only this helps farmers solve the issues quicker but also saves millions of dollars in terms of wasted water, fertilisers, and pesticides. Using FluroSat’s services, farmers can increase their yields by 10-25%, and save up to 30% fertiliser and 25% water, making the whole farming operation more efficient and sustainable. FluroSat is currently working with farms in five states in Australia and in California, USA.

While aerospace engineering and agriculture seems like an odd-combination, Anastasia’s childhood experiences, with easy access to farms and fresh produce, helped her bridge the gap. “I grew up in Ukraine, where agriculture was a given. I used to go picking fruits with my mother all the time, and plant veggies in our garden. Little did I realise then that this is a privilege the modern world doesn’t have,” says Anastasia. “My love and respect for all the hard work that goes into producing fresh and healthy food inspired me to do something that would be of help for the famers.” 

And now she is working hard to make sure the fruits of her labour grow just right. “This company is the reason I wake up every morning. I want to drive it to international collaborations and strategic partnerships now,” she says. “That would allow us to increase our impact in more and more countries and help more and more farmers manage their crops optimally.” FluroSat has recently returned from a NSW government/AusTrade trip to Israel, the “Startup Nation”.This trip helped the company put the proverbial foot in the door of international markets and start developing the relationships with other innovators in the agtech space.

Looking at all the hats she is juggling at the moment, one might think it is all work and no play for Anastasia. But this is as far from the truth as can be. She is a cycling and yoga enthusiast and likes to take regular breaks from her busy schedule to let her body ease into asanas that keep her balanced and grounded.

As much of an inspiration as she is for the young people, she urges them to trust themselves before anyone else. “Find your role models and learn from them. But remember that ultimately it’s your decisions that would make anything happen. Trust your gut feeling and act on it. And act fast,” says Anastasia. “If things don’t work out, then go back and figure out what went wrong and start over again. Keep trying till it all falls into place finally.”

With projects like teaching high school students to control NASA robots on-board the International Space Station, and leading a 370 team for UEFAunder her wing, Anastasia truly is a role-model for future generations of women STEM professionals. One message she has for young girls around the world is, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do any of what you want to do. Nobody can tell you that you can’t be an aeronautical engineer, or a quantum physicist, or a mathematician, or a surgeon... Just go out and do whatever it takes and realise your dreams.”

Let’s all work together to make this world a “safe space” for our youth to dream. Happy International Youth Day!  

@UN4Youth is the Youth Day page on Facebook

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