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March 25, 2020

Youth Activating Local Climate Solutions with YCI’s Innovate MY Future

Laura Hache,
Climate Action Lead, Youth Challenge International (YCI)

Today’s young people are at the frontlines of climate action mobilization worldwide. Motivated by genuine anxiety for their future and frustrated with delayed action from older generations, youth today are eager to roll up their sleeves and make change happen. 

In collaboration with Evergreen, YCI’s Innovate MY Future program provides a platform for young people in the GTHA region to channel their passion and energy to tackle the climate change in tangible ways and test new approaches to address the crisis at the local level. Since last spring, we have recruited over 100 young people across the GTHA and placed them on 22 place-based teams. These ‘Climate Action Catalysts’ are doing the hard work of engaging in dialogue about these issues in the public realm. YCI then provided training, resources and mentorship to support our Catalysts to design and run climate action projects together in their cities.  

In February, YCI and Evergreen hosted the Climate Action Catalyst Summit at Evergreen Brick Works, which was the first time that all of our 100 Climate Action Catalysts were together in one room to share what they accomplished with their projects, and what they’re planning next.  

It was incredibly inspiring to see the Catalysts connect with each other. We saw that giving young people a platform means laying out the grounding framework and structure, and then taking a big step back to leave a significant amount of creative freedom; and entrusting them with follow-through. Many of our youth volunteers told us that their experience as a Climate Action Catalyst was the first time that they felt that they had “permission” to step to the front of a room to advocate for the change they want to see. By having a team of supporting peers and having YCI engaged to provide mentorship, our Catalysts are given a strong foundation to begin flexing their leadership muscles, and to find their voice as concerned and engaged climate activists.   

At our Summit, we had a diverse panel discussion to hear from a cross section of climate and civic engagement experts and practitioners who shared wise words and advice for our emerging climate leaders. Major themes that were covered in the panels were equal parts practical and personal.  

A big take-away for me from both the panel session and from our keynote speaker was the reminder to our Catalysts to be mindful of how they can honour their authentic and whole-selves through their activism, and I couldn’t agree more.   

“We can’t all be Greta,” advised Dave Meslin, community organizer and activist in Toronto, as he encouraged the volunteers to be cautious of the media’s tendency to want to focus on the individual and “celebrify” change-makers, rather than focus on the issues at hand.  

This sentiment was echoed by Larissa Crawford, founder of Future Ancestors Services, who challenged our Catalysts to do the reflection work to determine what kind of leader they want to be, drawing on their strengths, and listening to what zaps their energy. Not everyone has to be holding a megaphone at the front of a climate strike to be making an impact. Diversity in the climate movement is an unnegotiable pre-requisite. 

Another big take-away from the Summit which was emphasized by our speakers, and by our Catalysts through the Innovate MY Future program: you can’t have climate action without climate justice. The understanding that climate issues cannot be tackled in a vacuum separate from social justice and equity issues is rightly a deep-seeded value amongst our Catalysts.  

Young people today know that our response to the climate crisis is a political and social one, it’s not a purely environmental issue.  The Innovate MY Future program seeks to contribute to climate justice efforts by addressing intergenerational justice also; to amplify the perspectives of diverse youth about decisions being made about the Earth they’re inheriting from previous generations. 

One thing we all can do to include more youth perspectives in our city-building work is take a look around our event rooms and boardroom tables and consider which lived experiences and perspectives are missing. Young people can offer energy, innovative thinking and fresh perspectives unclouded by siloed and “single-sector” thinking. Can you include more young people in your governance structures? If so, we promise you won’t be disappointed with your efforts to do so. 

So, what’s next for YCI and the Innovate MY Future program? We are working on laying the groundwork for our next phase of supporting youth climate action across the GTHA, so visit youthclimateaction.ca to sign up for our newsletter to receive announcements and updates!

The Innovate MY Future Program is generously funded by the Government of Canada under the Canada Service Corps Program.