By Aaron Hoyle
Climate Guides is a non-profit organization, based in Vancouver, that aims to build climate leaders by creating and supporting opportunities for youth to engage in climate action within their communities. They launched in 2018 with the goal of equipping youth with the skills, networks, resources, and opportunities they need to pursue climate change solutions. Climate Guides fosters climate conscious communities that are grounded in youth empowerment and encourage optimistic action.
Co-founders Caroline Merner and Marina Melanidis see youth as climate leaders, and their programs are aimed at building the capacity of young people to effectively address climate change.
In the beginning, Merner and Melanidis saw a problem: young people around them cared about acting on climate change, but didn’t know how to act to effect change. Climate Guides aims to address the problem by creating a system that guides youth towards climate change actions, by partnering young volunteers with professionals in the climate action space. At the same time, the organization emphasizes community building, with the hopes that a group dynamic might instill a sense of optimism into the familiar doom-and-gloom of climate action.
The cornerstone of Climate Guides is their mentorship program. The program groups young mentees with experienced professionals. Mentees develop climate action projects, while mentors are given the opportunity to put their experience to use in guiding projects. Mentees participate in skills-building workshops, and are offered access to seed funding from Taking IT Global #RisingYouth grants.
Mentors can act as sounding boards, or point mentees to resources and information that they might not have been aware of. Oftentimes, mentors can share their own experience as a young person trying to act on climate, and offer advice to mentees going through the same thing. By building a supportive climate community, Climate Guides looks to address the isolation that many feel working in climate action.
One mentee, Celia Walker, aims to communicate the relationship between human and planetary health. To accomplish her objective, she interviewed physicians about how they saw the impact of climate change on health of their patients, and produced a video framing climate change as a health issue. Her mentor, Amy Lubik, introduced her to physicians through the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Another mentee, Paul Takayesu, is working with his mentor, David Isaac (Wugadusk), to install solar panels to power the community of Fisher River Cree Nation.
Climate Guides originally launched with the intention of only being a mentorship program. However, as the organization grew, Merner and Melanidis experienced firsthand a range of barriers to youth engagement in climate action, beyond just access to networks.
First, community is key. The pilot mentorship program had a one-to-one mentor-mentee model, from which several strong relationships and projects emerged. However, the strong community that Climate Guides aimed to build among mentees was slow in materializing. Merner and Melanidis aim to address this shortcoming in their second mentorship program by emphasizing the importance of community building. This time around mentees will be grouped together into climate action teams to design and build climate solutions.
Second, Climate Guides identified the need for improved funding and grant literacy among young climate leaders. Writing a grant proposal is a skill, which is not often taught. In the second mentorship program, mentees will be coached through the grant proposal writing process.
Although the mentorship program will continue into the future, Climate Guides is also exploring other ways to help young people engage in climate action. Possibilities include facilitating youth consultations, skills development workshops, or job shadowing programs. The organization also aims to go beyond the borders of Vancouver and help youth in other communities set up their own mentorship programs. At the moment, Climate Guides is working on an international storytelling project, which will launch soon.
It’s an exciting time for the young organization; Climate Guides has experienced major growth since their inception, and have exciting plans for the future after learning valuable lessons about youth engagement and climate action.