Do you see a gap in our society you think you can fill? Ever wondered what it is like to start your own initiative? Let’s explore what these five founders from Starfish’s Top 25 Under 25 are doing to drive change across Canada and what they recommend for young change-makers.
Alienor Rougeot, 21
Hometown: Aix-en-Provence, France Current Residence: Toronto, Ontario
Traditional Territory: Mississaugas Of The Credit, The Anishnabeg, The Chippewa, The Haudenosaunee And The Wendat Peoples
Alienor Rougeot (Allie) was concerned about environmental and human rights-related issues at a relatively young age. She mentions that her mother had a large influence on the educational content she had access to, and she learned lots about current world issues from watching documentaries and reading books. Allie was initially very invested in biodiversity loss and extinction, and advocated for these issues by presenting them to her classmates. Her interest soon blossomed into advocacy for human rights. Currently, she is a huge advocate for climate justice, which encompasses the urgency of the climate crisis as well as human rights and equality.
After advocating for sustainability at the University of Toronto for two years, Allie co-founded the Fridays for Future – Toronto chapter. Fridays for Future is a movement that began in August 2018, after 15-year-old Greta Thunberg and other young activists protested against the lack of action towards the climate crisis in Sweden. Together with her co-founders, Allie led many climate strikes throughout 2019 and most notable of these was the one on September 27, 2019. Thousands of youth and adults alike gathered at the impressive Global Climate Strike in Toronto, advocating for action to stop global warming and climate change.
Jamie Hunter, 20
Hometown: Nelson, British Columbia
Traditional Territory: Sinixt And Ktunaxa Nations
Jamie Hunter always knew that climate change was a large problem in our society and he says “3 years ago, I really started to have a sense that I wanted to do something”. He initially learned about fracking in school and thought that it was terrible to be destroying the Earth. Upon further investigation, he realized that there were so many other environmental issues he did not know about, and there was no real solution. Jamie knew he had to create meaningful change.
He co-founded Stop Ecocide Canada, which is the Canadian division of the Stop Ecocide International that aims to protect the future of life on Earth. This means stopping the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems taking place globally. How? By making ecocide an international crime.
Jamie and his team have been meeting with Members of Parliament in Canada to ask for their support in this campaign. Stop Ecocide Canada has met with over 20 Members of Parliaments and have gained the support from at least one member from every party in Canada. Jamie and his team have also partnered with lawyers, policy advisors and other grassroots organizations to create a webinar series to spread awareness and protect our Earth.
Jamie continues to be very much involved with Stop Ecocide and is excited that Stop Ecocide’s petitions are currently being read in the House of Commons by MPs from every major party.
Manvi Bhalla, 23
Hometown: Waterloo, Ontario
Traditional Territory: Neutral, Haudenosaunee And Anishinaabe Peoples Including The Land Of The Haldimand Treaty And Treaty 3
Manvi Bhalla’s interest in climate and social justice began in elementary school when she started advocating for quality water around the world. Fast forward several years, she is conducting research focused on climate-related health risks as she finishes up her Masters degree in Public Health and Health Systems.
Outside of school, Manvi co-founded Shake Up The Establishment (SUTE) in 2019, an organization that aims to make credible, evidence-based information readily available to the Canadian population. The goal is to promote informed voting, advocacy practices, and political accountability surrounding human and social justice issues that are exacerbated by the climate crisis. They collaborate directly with groups and communities working to address injustices, alongside their ongoing work towards environment and climate literacy, and most importantly, political action.
SUTE just launched their new podcast, “Establish”, available on multiple platforms. The overarching goal of the podcast is to allow climate and social justice conversations to be accessible to all. SUTE believes that youth should hold governments accountable, and are providing listeners with the tools to do the same through “Establish”.
missINFORMED is a sister organization of SUTE that started when Manvi and co-founders Clara MacKinnon and Kayla Benjamin realized that growing up as young women, they had many unanswered questions about women’s health. missINFORMED’s vision is to provide evidence-based answers to the everyday questions that young women and gender-diverse folks are asking. They aim to make this information accessible, relatable and most importantly, shareable, so that women’s health awareness reaches all corners of Canada.
Manvi is now actively working on creating safe spaces in both of these impactful organizations. She is also starting her PhD this fall at The University of British Columbia in Resources, Environment and Sustainability. She is looking forward to adding more value and research to become a person in academia with impact.
Samantha Casey, 24
Hometown: Guelph, Ontario
The traditional lands of the Attawandaron, Haudenosaunee And Anishinaabek, and the Treaty lands of the Mississaugas Of The Credit
Samantha Casey believes that growing up in a green space and spending lots of time outside sparked her curiosity and connection to nature. She was fascinated with the natural world and like many other students, began her environmental advocacy by volunteering on the recycling team at her elementary school. Now that she has graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Governance from the University of Guelph, she holds a unique joint role as the Communications and Engagement Coordinator at the University of Guelph’s Sustainability Office and Sustainability Coordinator at the Hospitality Services.
At the Sustainability Office, Samantha pioneered a sustainability ambassador program, which is an incubator and accelerator program for action-oriented projects and campaigns at the University of Guelph. Whether students initially have an idea to improve sustainability or not, she strives to help them create action-based initiatives to mobilize the University of Guelph community.
Samantha is also the co-founder of the Community Climate Council, a youth-founded organization that advocates for local climate action through promoting climate literacy and political advocacy in Peel Region, Ontario. They work with other community organizations and non-profits to educate and empower communities to understand the reality of the climate crisis. Moreover, they work towards outlining immediate actions the current elected leaders and communities need to take.
Samantha is currently working on an initiative by the Community Climate Council, “Camp Climate”. Camp Climate was founded last summer as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic when youth in her community could not attend in-person summer campus. Samantha and her team aim to educate the younger population on current, pressing issues in their respective communities.
Siobhan Takala, 24
Hometown: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Plains Cree Territory (Treaty 6) & The Métis Nation Homeland // Mi’kma’ki, The Unceded And Unsurrended Territory Of The Mi’kmaq People, & The Wabanaki Confederacy Territory
Siobhan Takala was always involved in social justice issues during high school. After graduation, she took a gap year to travel where she began to learn about environmental issues. Following this, she studied a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science and Sustainability at Dalhousie University and she discovered that her two passions in environmental issues and social justice could merge into one, climate justice. She is always finding new ways to learn, and just completed a certificate in Climate Adaptation and Climate Justice at the University for Peace (UPEACE).
Siobhan and two friends, Sarah Aspinall and Kelsey Brasil co-founded Let’s Sprout, an initiative to create spaces for youth to explore their whole selves, question the world and demand action. The trio wanted to address environmental and social justice issues through authentic leadership and creativity. One of the recent programs they launched was “Exploring Radical Imagination” as a change-making tool, the goal being to increase participants’ awareness of social justice movements, using imagination and creativity as a tool for change. They also host many workshops for youth ages 9-16 on themes such as mental health, sustainability, self-care, leadership development and more! Their work is inspired by many thinkers and activists, such as Co*Lab and adrienne maree brown.
Most recently, Siobhan and her team partnered with #RisingYouth to put together 30 “Cold n Cozy” care packages to be sent to 2SLGBTQ+ youth to remind them they are loved and supported. Let’s Sprout also hosted “4 the Movement”, a virtual space created just before Earth Hour for youth fighting for climate justice to connect and create a community for support, connection and care.
After learning more about these five incredible change-makers and their work, here is some advice gathered from these leaders. For someone who’s looking to get more involved with climate change, volunteering at one of the organizations mentioned above may be a good place to start! If you’ve already got a lot in your schedule, Samantha recommends looking at various sustainability or environmental courses that are taught at your school. Even if you may not be studying these subjects for your degree, you can choose these courses in your electives. This can be a way to seamlessly add environmental education into your calendar.
If you want to start your own initiative, the five founders all agree that you need to find what interests you and see if there is already an organization doing work in that field. If so, reach out to them and ask to join! Volunteers are always welcome and there will definitely be a place for you, you just need to take the first step in reaching out.
If such an organization doesn’t already exist, identify the gap you wish to fill in your community, then just do it. Starting your own organization is daunting and will be hard work, but it will be rewarding if it’s something you’re truly passionate about. You need to dare to start even if you’re not an expert on the topic as long as you’re willing to learn as you go. Learn from mentors and people who have already done this before you, such as Allie, Jamie, Manvi, Samantha, and Siobhan. You have to be the one to take the first step in order to create meaningful change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” ― Margaret Mead