Top 25 winner: Leah Davidson


 |  The Starfish

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“Why did I, a small-town teenager from Quebec, Canada, travel four days by plane and ship to the windiest, driest, coldest, and most isolated continent on the planet?” Leah Davidson asked the audiences attending TEDxYouth@AntarcticPeninsula in which she gave a talk about her Antarctic adventure. “To find tangible proof of climate change that could share with my community,” she prompted.

Leah Davidson, a young Canadian social entrepreneur, has a great passion for bringing innovative and immersive approaches to environmental education. She is considered as a part of The Next 36, Canada’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Initiative, a tech entrepreneurship program.

 At a very young age, Leah has not only made her mark as an influential environmentalist but also paved the way for other young environmentalists to learn and expand their knowledge. She started speaking in schools and delivered over 50 environmental presentations to various audiences at kindergarten classes, retirement homes, the Montreal Science Center, and TEDx. 

Also, Leah has taken part in recycling clubs, held documentary screenings, and created environmental art exhibits. 

She realizes that emotional connections to the environment are necessary to encourage people to change their behaviours. Thereby, she has made lots of effort into youth environmental education with the hope that she can make the study of conservation more interdisciplinary and integrated with psychology, art, and human emotion. 

Leah officially started her youth environmental education journey when she received a scholarship in high school to travel to Antarctica with Students on Ice in 2011. This experience not only changed her understanding and appreciation of the natural world but also helped her gain a deep understanding of the effects of climate change in polar areas. 

Motivated by this valuable life experience, she decided to collect art, poetry, and creative writing from the students and staff on the expedition and published the first youth anthology book called “Antarctica: To Be Inspired.” Many schools globally have since incorporated this book into their curriculums as an outreach tool to educate students about climate change at the poles. 

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Leah’s adventure in youth environmental education was carried on when she became a student at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked with 30 schools to integrate climate change into their curricula and partnered with 15 green businesses to launch Act for Antarctica, a campaign that encouraged students to join conservation and environmental education projects. This project resulted in over 1,000 acts across five continents submitted over a year. 

Leah also co-founded the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) for students at her university. PPEH is an interdisciplinary research and educational program connecting art with sustainability that has led to an academic minor, graduate certificate, tenure-track faculty hires, annual research fellowships, an artist-in-residence program, and curated community events, like a faith and environmentalism conference. 

This program has raised over 1.5 million dollars, most recently from a Mellon Center grant.

Continuing to improve climate change communication in more constructive ways, Leah has served different agencies of the United Nations. Particularly, she was a writer and a blogger on climate change and environment for UNICEF and a delegate speaker at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Japan, where she co-drafted a policy statement distributed to UNESCO Commissions worldwide. 

In addition to her environmental education journey, Leah took a role as a Strategic Partner Manager at DoorDash, a food delivery company, where she founded the northeast chapter of Project DASH using DoorDash logistics network to fight hunger and minimize food waste. 

This project helped Leah coordinate monthly donations of around 4,000 lbs of leftover food from restaurant partners to food banks.

Moving forward, Leah continues to advocate cross-disciplinary cooperation in the environmental movement. She hopes to further develop the emerging discipline of the environmental humanities and to connect people with the vulnerable natural world through multimedia art and digital technologies.