By Megan Poss
Role of Youth in Driving Sustainable Development
My Path to This Topic
I grew up in the suburbs of Waterloo, Ontario, where my passion for youth-led environmental action was largely manicured (backyard composting!) or distantly abstract (bake sales to ‘save’ the Amazon Rainforest!). It wasn’t until I began my undergraduate studies in the mid 2000’s when campus sustainability initiatives were largely in their infancy that I became more informed and political vis-à-vis the causes I claimed to care about.
A pivotal experience occurred in 2009 when I travelled by train to Washington, D.C. for Power Shift, a massive youth summit focused on climate change policy. I was surrounded by 1000’s of young people while listening to powerful voices from the environmental movement, including Majora Carter and Van Jones. It marked the first time I heard climate change and social justice spoken in the same breath. That experience fundamentally shifted my awareness to the harmful systems that can be perpetuated in the name of environmental progress. It also bolstered my resolve to be part of the movement, knowing there were so many peers who would work alongside me.
That same trip I had the honour of training under renowned community organizer and strategist, Marshall Ganz. That experience coupled with my studies in Labour and Industrial Relations continue to inform how I view solutions to systemic challenges: through lenses of organizing and movement building.
Megan's Reading List
Ilona Dougherty & Dr. Amelia Clarke
Dougherty and Clarke are leading research on youth environmental leadership, and I would be remiss not to include one of their publications. This article is particularly compelling for young people who are fed up with tokenistic inclusion and want their contributions to be taken seriously. Adolescence isn’t simply an intermediary step on the way to adulthood, but a valuable and largely untapped source of innovation.
Mark and Paul Engler
I recommend this book and the research of Erica Chenoweth which much of the content draws on to anyone who doubts the power and importance of nonviolent civil resistance. Social movements have historically been sparked or predominately led by young people, as exemplified by the youth-led school climate strikes that have ignited a global movement. Irrespective of one’s career path or professional position, we are all first and foremost inhabitants of the earth, and over the next decade the earth needs as many of us as possible in the streets demonstrating the urgency for climate action to our elected officials.
Collective action trumps a single charismatic leader when it comes to solving complex problems. Collective work isn’t easy – it requires people who are skilled at bringing different perspectives together and can move conversations forward into action. This book provides an accessible overview of key facilitation tools and frameworks (including generative dialogue, Theory U, and the adaptive cycle to name a few) that can be applied in a variety of contexts.
Marshall Ganz is a master of organizing with a career that spans civil rights, migrant rights, historical political campaigns, and more recently climate justice. Ganz is known for developing a leadership practice known as public narrative that translates values into courageous action in the face of uncertain conditions. There are many publicly available resources on public narrative. I like this video from the California Teachers Association as it has clear supporting graphics and covers the basic tenets, all within a digestible 15 minutes.
Ezra Klein Show, Vox
Although this conversation between Ezra Klein and Varshini Prakash, co-founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Movement, is U.S.-centric, it’s loaded with insightful gems for youth looking to make a difference. Key among them is the need to re-frame old arguments for climate action from a place of scarcity to a compelling vision of abundance – one that highlights the benefits of a cleaner, cooler, and equitable future. Prakash also shares the origin story and theory of change of a social movement that is driving real political outcomes.
There’s no lack of moving speeches from young leaders – a simple web-search of Autumn Peletier, Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, or Jamie Margolin will surface enough content to light the fire of motivation for the next decade. If you have an hour to spare, this event from TED features several luminary experts and movement leaders, including young climate activists. Short on time? Skip to 1:01:57 to hear Xiye Bastida, a 17-year old Mexico-born Indigenous activist, argue for the importance of intergenerational collaboration and why Millennials and Gen Z’s should be moving away from using “okay boomers”.
About the Author
Megan Poss is the Executive Director of Leading Change, a national non-profit uniting and accelerating the collective leadership efforts of youth and young professionals. Her career and organizing efforts have largely centered on youth empowerment and complex social and technical systems. In the decade prior to joining Leading Change she held positions with McGill University’s Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management (MDIIM) leading sustainability and social economy files, the Centre for Energy Advancement through Technological Innovation (CEATI) managing global applied research projects in the electricity sector and Chairing the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Executive Committee. She holds a BCom with a Major in Labour Relations from McGill University and a Masters in Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development (SEED).