As part of our Youth Action & Environment Strategy, the Lawson Foundation is pleased to announce that four young climate and environmental action leaders have been invited to participate in a one-year pilot fellowship program. The fellowship is supporting young environmental leaders across Canada between the ages of 18 and 25 who want to take the lead on an environmental action project that inspires them.
The project can be of a local, regional or broader scope and must enable the fellowship recipient to work with others and grow as a leader. As such, leadership development is the primary goal of the project work, followed by environmental impact. Success is not a necessary outcome of the projects, but learning and growth are. These goals align with the double bottom line of our Youth Action & Environment Impact Area which are to strengthen youth leadership and civic engagement; and encourage connection to nature and environmental action. All of this is connected to our foundation’s purpose: the healthy development of children and youth.
As part of this pilot, fellowship recipients are provided with:
- Financial support including a $15,000 stipend plus up to $10,000 to cover direct project expenses.
- Skill coaching and training including leadership development, project planning, communications, project budgeting, wellbeing, evaluation, and any other areas of interest to fellowship recipients.
- A network to help the fellowship recipients achieve their own goals and grow as leaders
The selection process was guided and informed by a team of diverse, experienced young environmental leaders from across Canada. These advisors supported the Foundation in considering the overall scope and approach for the fellowship, recruitment and selection criteria, and how to handle the operations of the fellowship, such as training and coaching, wellbeing and mental health, and project planning and support. Advisors also reviewed all incoming fellowship applications and recommended the final candidates.
One of the core recommendations from the fellowship advisors was to support candidates with big, bold, bright ideas for taking action on environmental issues across Canada—young people with creativity, spirit, and zeal—but who have faced systemic social, cultural or economic barriers or a lack of resources to do so. For this pilot cohort, we prioritized applications from candidates who: identify as a member of Inuit, Metis or First Nations communities; come from communities of color; may have low socioeconomic status; have a dis/ability; identify as LGBTQ2+; live in a rural or remote area; or experience a combination of these lived realities.
We are pleased to introduce you to the four members of our inaugural Youth Action & Environment Fellowship class and share a preview of their fellowship projects.
Alexandra Whiteduck believes strongly in the importance of Indigenous voices in creating a sustainable future and has applied to the fellowship to help grow her platform to motivate Indigenous youth to use their voice to create change. She is an Indigenous woman from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg who grew up without clean drinking water and is currently a student at the University of Ottawa in the Faculty of Sciences. She graduated high school at 16 years old with a class of 10 people and had limited access to the STEM courses she needed to pursue post-secondary education. She had to move away from her community to be able to attend university. Her perseverance and commitment is clear: “I have had little to no support outside of my family throughout my life because I was told my goals were too ambitious for someone like me. However, my goals allow me to push through this difficulty because they mean so much to me. I believe that with the right support I can fly over these barriers and be able to impact many youths and support them as well.”
Project Nibi is a student-led social enterprise that focuses on empowering Indigenous youth with community-owned solutions to scale access to safe and clean drinking water.
Maddie Carr is a passionate environmental leader and writer who grew up in the rural community of Tay Creek, New Brunswick. She recently graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a degree in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies and Environmental Studies. She had limited access to STEM and advanced placement classes in high school, lived 40 minutes from the nearest gas station and grocery store, but attended university on full scholarships, demonstrating her studious commitment and perseverance. Her strong childhood memories of visiting Bliss Islan, a site of both natural and cultural significance, motivated her to launch this project: “My great-grandfather was a fisherman in the Bay of Fundy who left a small camp on this island to my grandmother after his passing. Growing up, the highlight of my year was the two weeks I was able to spend with my grandmother in this modest camp, immersing myself in the wonderous natural beauty and intriguing history of Bliss Island and its lighthouse site.”
Launching Mixed Heritage Connections, an eco-tourism-based organization with an interactive youth component that is dedicated to restoring, celebrating, and protecting areas of natural and cultural significance (mixed heritage areas), beginning with a site close to Maddie’s heart in New Brunswick and expanding throughout the province with the MHC Youth Ambassador Program.
Marium Vahed is an entrepreneurial leader passionate about advocacy for Muslim leadership in the environmental movement. She studied Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto and is now a candidate for Master of Science in Digital Management at Ivey Business School, where she bridges knowledge on identity, equity, innovation, and technology. She currently works at a start-up called Cookin where she hopes to learn more about best practices for Toronto-based entrepreneurs. Marium started Green Ummah to address the barriers that she and other Muslims faced in being welcomed into the environmental movement—such as a lack of action addressing the specific challenges that Muslims face in connecting with the environment: “When I first became interested in sustainability , I was shocked at the lack of racial and religious diversity. There was a lack of awareness and understanding of the ways racialized communities were and continue to be disproportionately impacted by climate change. Without that understanding, there wasn’t a concerted effort to include these voices in the co-creation of environmental initiatives. I started my non-profit to address barriers that I and my peers faced to being welcomed into the environmental movement and to empower Canadian Muslims to use their skills, knowledge, and experiences towards building a just and sustainable future.”
The Greening Muslim Communities Toolkit is an activity-based curriculum for Muslim youth in Ontario that empowers them to think critically and creatively about their relationship to the environment as a launching point to innovate environmental solutions.
Serena Mendizabal is an engaged, ambitious leader and researcher committed to Indigenous land defence and stewardship. She is a young Cayuga Panameñas woman from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, who believes in Haudenosaunee sovereignty, land stewardship and resource management as a solution to climate change. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Double Major in Indigenous Studies and Media, Information and Technoculture from Western University and is now a candidate for Master of Arts in Indigenous Health Geography and Environment, also at Western University. Serena currently works for Sacred Earth Solar, focusing on empowering frontline communities with solar energy and healing justice. Understanding environmental dispossession and how this has impacted her family, community and self, has colored the way she sees access to land: “Seeing how both of my parents were displaced and the empowerment of coming back home and growing up in my community, I understand the impact it has on our health and well-being as Indigenous people. Now being back home once again after school, I feel the connection more than ever, and want to create a new path forward away from the firsthand impact of my people’s separation to the lands we have been on for centuries, and the Grand River, Gihe’gowahneh.”
Serena will be creating a Community Hub Network for Protect the Tract, a Haudenosaunee-led project which conducts research, policy development and develop capacity for civil engagement to exercise sovereignty through the promotion of land stewardship over the Haldimand Tract. The Community Hub Network hopes to bring together kinship and allyship along the Haldimand Tract through multiple hubs in cities and towns along the territory for a shared vision towards Haudenosaunee sovereignty and climate justice.
Congratulations to Alexandra, Maddie, Marium and Serena! We look forward to learning alongside you over the next year and to sharing more about you and your projects with the Lawson Foundation community in the coming weeks.