I’m Elena and I was born in the tropical archipelago of Indonesia. I’ve since lived and traveled to 50+ countries in 6 continents, and I plan to explore more despite being limited to only 33 visa-free countries (this is what my honors thesis is about!) I am an aspiring gourmet chef and a toilet advocate — I promise it is not meant to be ironic, it just so happens that these are the two things I’m most passionate about.

Kayaking in the North Pole

My love for toilets actually started because I had to go to the toilet 30 times a day with my overactive bladder contraction condition. I learned to urinate in plastic bags, bottles, etc so I empathize with the 2.4 billion people without access to adequate sanitation. I’m honored to be awarded as one of the 22 under 22 most inspiring college women for “spearheading the fight for global sanitation.”

I have authored and illustrated an interactive book on veganism, which also featured my exposé on the pig slaughterhouse industry. I have also produced a documentary that brings to light the ineffectiveness of waste management in emerging markets. I co-founded my first non-profit at eleven, and have pioneered social enterprises since. I have always been interested in challenging inefficient systems and proposing solutions that incorporate technology, design and social impact. I am currently working on a startup: CashTrash, which leverages mobile technology and optimizes logistics and transportation to increase the transparency, value, and efficiency of the waste management system.

The landfill where I spent the summer of 2017 filming a waste documentary

I grew up wanting to be a chef, so I never quite thought about going to college. I first heard about Duke from the media coverage of the Duke porn star controversy, so I would most definitely thank Miriam Weeks if I ever see her. I wasn’t planning to apply to college until the last possible SAT I can take, and I wrote my college essay at a New Year’s Eve party. Now almost four years later, I am majoring in Political Science (Political Economy concentration), minoring in Theater and pursuing the Innovation and Entrepreneurship certificate. I definitely am grateful to be here at Duke.

I chose to pursue the Innovation and Entrepreneurship certificate because I want a good balance between theory, practical work and developing real-life skills. I want to be an environmental entrepreneur, so being in this certificate program and being exposed to entrepreneurial-minded people is definitely helping me towards reaching that goal.

At home

Growing up in Indonesia, I was taught to be less focused on stereotypical success and more focused on what really matters: smiling more and having strong relationships. It gave me the perspective to be grateful for what I have, the enthusiasm to work hard, and the fearlessness of being okay in losing everything. I spend my time experimenting in the kitchen, playing poker, backpacking, knitting, running marathons and working on projects related to toilets, trash, and trees. Ultimately, I just want to do things that set my soul on fire while making other people happy.