To make it easier for youth to get involved and remain involved in climate and sustainable development work and to foster meaningful collaboration with youth.
A world that enables young climate and sustainable development leaders to elevate their voice and maximize their impact.
Youth Climate Collaborative (YCC) is a new youth-led, for-impact organization dedicated to advancing social and intergenerational equity in the climate and sustainable development spaces.
Youth who are initially drawn to these spaces are often discouraged from staying involved due to barriers they face such as:
In addition, youth and environmental entities located near each other are often leading similar initiatives, but find the process of identifying potential partners cumbersome and time consuming.
YCC offers a multilingual digital platform designed to help youth overcome these barriers and to facilitate collaboration with and amongst youth so common goals can be achieved together, in less time and with less resources.
We seek to significantly elevate youth voices in various decision-making arenas, centering the needs of young leaders and future generations. It is time for youth to take matters into their own hands by envisioning a better future for all and having the means to make it a reality.
Pooja Tilvawala – Founder and Director
Pooja was born in Gujarat, India but raised in a diverse suburb of Philadelphia. In 2018, she graduated from American University in Washington, DC with a BS in Economics and a BA in International Studies, specializing in justice, ethics, and human rights, and South Asia. After graduating, Pooja worked as a Project Associate/Ruckelshaus Fellow for the Meridian Institute, committed to collaborative problem-solving on various environmental issues.
Now, she works for the Kennebunkport Climate Initiative as a Youth Network Strategic Consultant. As their first Climate Career winner, Pooja started Youth Climate Collaborative, where she serves as its Founder and Director, involved in everything from web design, to fundraising, to strategic development, and more!
Her experience includes program development, outdoor education, and youth engagement with organizations like Urban Adventure Squad, Jumpstart, and the YWCA of Bucks County. Organizations like these taught her the value of meaningful community engagement and access to opportunity. For fun, Pooja enjoys bhangra dance, kayaking, hiking, and throwing food parties for friends and family.
Louise Stephens – Strategic Advisor
Louise has worked on environmental issues throughout her entire career. She joined the Kennebunkport Climate Initiative team after helping set the conservation strategy at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN. She has conducted sustainability research for Walt Disney World and, before that, was with Manta Consulting and IMPACTS Research & Development where she focused on projects for nonprofit clients. Louise holds an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. For KCI, Louise serves as the Director of Partnerships and Strategy, which includes being a mentor and strategic advisor for YCC.
Louise is excited to be focused on galvanizing youth around climate – the most critical environmental issue of our time.
Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D. – Strategic Advisor
Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education in Sonoma County, California. She lived abroad for five years where she did earthquake relief at a hospital in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in a San Jose district. She also served as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego, Mills College, and Cal State University, East Bay. In each setting, she focused on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. She is the co-author of Identity Safe Classrooms Grades K-5: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. In 2020, she co-authored Identity Safe Classrooms Grades 6-12: Pathways to Belonging and Learning released in 2020 and Belonging and Inclusion in Identity Safe Schools: A Guide for Leaders which will be released in August, 2021. She designs curriculum, publishes articles, coaches schools, and produces films for Teaching Tolerance, Edutopia, Not In Our Town, and other organizations.
Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband, Rito (pictured left), own Makengue, a private rain forest reserve in Nicaragua near the southern border with Costa Rica. They have brought many student groups from American universities for biological research and engagement with local youth, teachers and community members. Becki and Rito live in the SF Bay Area a few blocks from Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. For the last thirty years, together with neighbors and local residents they have managed to stop development of the adjoining hillsides, home to coyotes, deer, foxes and wild birds. They have three adult children and one grandchild.
Liz Adhikari, MSW – Climate Courage Consultant
Liz was born and raised in Seattle. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Social Work from the University of Washington in 2018 and 2019. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially psychological wellbeing. Since receiving her MSW in 2019, Liz has been working in healthcare and resilience research. She works for the Palliative Care and Resilience Research Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she is an emotional resilience coach and group facilitator. At Youth Climate Collaborative, Liz is involved in the creation and facilitation of the Climate Courage workshops.
Liz’s hobbies include learning languages, cooking, biking, and spending time with family and friends. Liz is also a community organizer in solidarity with the Duwamish Tribe, on whose land she resides.
Evelyn Vivar – YCC Action Map Intern
Evelyn was born and raised in Jackson Heights, New York. In 2020, she graduated from Wellesley College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and Latin American Studies. She is passionate about food sovereignty, sustainable agriculture, and environmental (in)justice. In 2019, Evelyn completed an internship at the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, where she collected dinoflagellate samples to monitor the bioluminescent bay’s brightness. After graduating college, Evelyn interned on Governors Island, where she researched disease control methods to maintain a healthy landscape.
At Youth Climate Collaborative, Evelyn is part of the Action Map team, using her research, interpersonal, and communication skills to create an interactive map that connects youth with environmental organizations, events, and mentors. By doing so, she hopes to reduce youth barriers in accessing decision-making spaces and help her generation address the world’s most pressing environmental issues.
During her free time, Evelyn enjoys hiking, practicing yoga, and re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. She is very excited to travel when it is safe to do so again!
David Leshchiner – YCC Action Map Intern
David is the son of post-Soviet immigrants who grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago. He is currently a sophomore at American University majoring in International Studies & Data Science. At the university, he is a fellow of the Syracuse Institute, an undergraduate think tank, and an editor of foreign affairs at the American Agora. Outside of the university, David is using his Russian fluency to help a linguistics professor write a book about the geopolitics of language in modern Eurasia.
As part of the YCC, David is part of the youth action map team, using his data, research, and language skills to help construct the map. He hopes to use his experience at the YCC to pursue future opportunities in the climate space.
In his spare time, David likes to workout, play racket sports (in particular squash), hike, ski, listen to podcasts, and rave about various sci-fi and animation programs.
Donna Zeng – Youth Allies Initiative Intern
Donna is a first-generation Chinese American who grew up in San Francisco, California. Her passion for generating meaningful change and working with local communities led her to obtain her BA in communication. In 2020, she graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During college, she was involved in Adventures Club, providing educational experiences through wilderness trips and the Student Sustainability Coalition, through which she helped connect students from across California to collaborate on sustainability goals. She also started a 36-hour hackathon with her friends to inspire and connect youth from all over the world to tackle health, civic engagement and social issues using software engineering. She is currently dedicating her time to further sustainability goals, fight for social justice, and help build resilient, diverse, and thriving communities.
Donna speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, and is currently learning Spanish. She loves to experience different cultures to widen her worldview, explore nature and wildlife, and eat delicious food. During her free time, she is most likely found camping, playing music, cooking, or dancing. For YCC, Donna is a Youth Allies Intern.
Ben Roscoe – Youth Allies Initiative Intern
Ben was born in Puyallup, WA and spent a majority of his childhood in Burlington, MA before returning to Washington at the age of 8. He is currently a 2nd year student at the University of Washington working to graduate with a BS in Economics, a BA in Political Science, and a Minor in Mathematics. At UW, Ben is the yell leader for the student section, member of the marching band, and founder of the Lettuce Eating Club.
In YCC Ben works as a Youth Allies Initiative Intern to help develop a research paper on how best to get youth voices incorporated into decision making spaces. In addition, Ben is helping create an eco-comedy club to introduce youth to new tools to engage in and communicate about usually difficult topics.
Outside of UW and YCC, Ben enjoys snowboarding and spikeball. Ben also plays water polo and enjoys playing his saxophone.
Sohum Shah – Web Developer
Sohum was born in the UK and in 2018, he graduated from the London School of Economics with a BSc in Economics, specializing in mathematics, statistics, and econometrics. Whilst at university, he was an active member of the International Development Society and the Effective Altruism Society. In regards to climate change, he is particularly interested in how human dietary behaviors and sustainable food consumption can help alleviate climate-related issues. For YCC, Sohum is the lead web developer and is responsible for design, development, and maintenance of the website.
Hiromi Mizu – Eco-Action Mapper
Hiromi is serving an AmeriCorps term through Maine Campus Compact (MCC) and their program Maine Emergency AmeriCorps Program (MEAP), focusing on energy conservation and community outreach with low-income Maine communities. He hopes to bring the AmeriCorps message of tackling community problems and raising its wonderful people up.
He has spent his life moving back and forth between the Northeast United States and Europe. He graduated from the University of Roehampton with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and began gaining experience in community science programs in biological sciences. He has experience in teaching in some of Europe’s Uralic language countries, as well as privately conducting research in Brazil’s Amazon and its Atlantic forest.
Through his placement at AmeriCorps, he has been a partner with Youth Climate Collaborative (YCC) as their Eco-Action Mapper for Maine. He feels truly honored and excited to be a part of the team, bringing youth voices and organizations from Maine to the YCC platform, and ensuring Maine reins new climate warriors.
During his free time, Hiromi loves to be completely immersed in nature. He loves to identify plants and animals and go on long walks. He also loves to cook, take photographs, and make ceramics.
Keshia DeFreece Lawrence – Youth Allies Initiative Alumna
Keshia was born in Rhode Island USA, but her indigenous tribal land is Mahwah New Jersey and she is a member of the Ramapough Lenape Nation. In 2017, Keshia graduated from the American University of Rome with her BA in International Relations and Global Politics, specializing in political theory and the European Union. Following her BA, Keshia continued her studies in Costa Rica at the United Nations Mandated University for Peace, and completed her MA in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes. In 2019, Keshia worked as a citizen scientist in the Subarctic of Canada at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and completed her Master’s Thesis, “The Arctic Circle: Climate Change, International Law and Indigenous Heritage”. Since, Keshia has published and presented her findings in the United States and internationally. Presently, Keshia is an outdoor educator, Fulbright Student Grant Candidate (2021-2022), Ramapough Lenape Sweet Water Prayer Site Board Member, and a Youth Climate Collaborative Youth Allies Intern.
The journey of this organization began in September 2019 when I, Pooja Tilvawala, the Founder and Director of Youth Climate Collaborative (YCC), attended the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in New York City. While there, I attended a brainstorming session on financing climate work, led by Youth Climate Lab. This session featured guest speakers from the World Bank, the German government, and others, however none of these individuals had experience in funding youth-led work. This is one instance that made me realize how little people were thinking about youth empowerment. Frustrated by this reality, I asked myself what barriers youth face in trying to get involved and stay involved in the environmental space, and began to brainstorm solutions to this in February 2020, after a conversation and nudge from a professor at American University, my alma mater. Outside of work hours during my full-time job at the Meridian Institute, I poured my passion and ideas into a plan to educate, empower, and activate youth in this space. Months later, in August 2020, as I was researching environmental organizations on LinkedIn, a job position at the Kennebunkport Climate Initiative (KCI) appeared on my screen. At the time, little did I know that that moment would completely change my life for the better.
KCI is a non-partisan, solutions-based organization striving to develop a cohesive youth voice that influences decision-makers to embrace climate solutions. They aim to educate, empower, and activate 10 million youth to reach this goal by 2025.
In the summer of 2020, KCI was seeking to engage a recent college graduate, and mover and shaker in the climate space, to serve in a one-year position as their first Climate Career Winner! The application required applicants to submit their plan to educate, empower, and activate youth in the climate space. Sound familiar? It was the perfect job and the perfect moment. I edited the plan I had been working on for months and submitted it. Out of 200 applicants, KCI chose me to be their first Climate Career Winner, affirming my plan, vision, and ability to lead this kind of project. Since mid-November 2020, I have had the privilege and honor of a lifetime to work on my plan full time, with mentorship from the small, but mighty team at KCI. I have since had the means to bring my dream, which was once a two-dimensional draft on paper, to life, all because KCI believed in me and took a chance on me. My draft has now evolved into this organization, Youth Climate Collaborative, and I am beyond excited to learn and grow as YCC contributes to creating a world that enables young environmental leaders to elevate their voice and maximize their impact. With your involvement, together, and united, just imagine what we can achieve!
Onwards and Upwards,
The following four principles, from around the world, guide YCC’s philosophy and programming.
“Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu” or “I am because we are. We are all one.”
Ubuntu is a South African philosophy meaning, a person is a person through other persons. This philosophy is about collectiveness, recognizing that each individual’s actions impact others and society. Barack Obama shares that ubuntu explains that “we are bound together by a common humanity and that each person has inherent dignity and worth.”
Nelson Mandela once said: “A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects.” Desmond Tutu encourages us: “Remember the magic of who you are. Live to your highest potential and see the potential in others to celebrate the wonder of our diversity and most importantly, to grow and be who you are. This is our common legacy.” This reminds us that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others.
Ubuntu makes us ask ourselves – how can I be truly happy when others are suffering?
From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us that if we hear only a single story about another person, place, or thing, we risk a critical misunderstanding. This is the danger of a single story.
“Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,” or “I am human. Nothing human can be alien to me.” — Terence (Publius Terentius Afer), Heauton Timorumenos, Act 1, scene 1, line 77
This wisdom shared by Terence, a former slave in Rome, has multiple meanings. (1) We are capable of all the good and bad of another. (2) We should try to understand others’ ideas, lifestyles, motives and behaviors, even when different from our own. (3) We can learn from the successes and failures of others. In the case of a criminal, for example, internalizing this phrase allows us to think about what it is in us that helps us recognize and choose right over wrong and what it is in the criminal which inhibits that person from doing the same. This phrase reminds us that while each of us is unique, at our core, we are all human and as such, capable of anything human.
Maya Angelou elaborates: “If you can internalize even a portion of that, you will never be able to say of a criminal act, I could not do that. No matter how heinous the crime, if a human being did it, you have to say I have in me all the components that are in [that person]. I intend to use my energies constructively as opposed to destructively. If you can do that about the negative, just think what you could do about the positive. If a human being dreams a great dream or dares to love somebody. If a human being dares to be Martin King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X. If a human being dares to be bigger than the condition to which [that person] was born, it means so can you. And so, you can try to stretch. Stretch. Stretch yourself. You can internalize ‘homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,’ or I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.”
Since the mid-20th century, the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, the concept of “world repair,” has become synonymous with modern social action and the pursuit of social justice. This concept of world repair is based on the notion that this world itself needs reworking to function as it should. The most modern and broadly understood notion of tikkun olam is that of “repairing the world” through human actions. It implies that each person has a hand in working towards the betterment of his or her own existence as well as the lives of future generations. It reminds us to take ownership of our world, which humanity has the responsibility to care for, and without which, injustice and other evils will persist. In terms of philanthropy, it means helping those in need, no matter in what capacity.
The YCC Story begins with believing. The Kennebunkport Climate Initiative (KCI), took a chance on our Founder, Pooja Tilvawala, when they chose her as their first Climate Career Winner in October 2020. Thanks to their sponsorship and support, YCC was born. KCI is based in a small coastal Maine town on the forefront of climate change (the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans). They are a non-partisan, solutions-based organization that believes youth are key to solving the climate challenge. Their goal is to develop a cohesive youth voice that influences decision-makers to embrace climate solutions and their aim is to educate, empower, and activate 10 million youth to reach this goal by 2025. Be sure to check out their work!