StoriesBack to Stories

The Road from YES Abroad to Climate Advocacy

1697669652511 1 1

By Hikaru Hayakawa, YES Abroad 2020-2021 North Macedonia

The summer after I studied abroad in North Macedonia, I joined the founding executive team of Climate Cardinals, an international youth-led non-profit organization that translates climate information. I joined first as Partnerships Director and later took on the role of Executive Vice President. We began as a small team of recent high school graduates with a $500 budget, and over the past four years, we have grown into one of the world’s largest youth-led climate advocacy organizations with more than 10,000 volunteers in 80+ countries. We work to make climate education more accessible to non-English speakers and empower grassroots climate education, and to date, we have translated more than 1.5 million words of climate information into 100+ languages.

This past October, the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security and the UN Development Programme Rome Centre invited me to represent Climate Cardinals and to moderate pitches for climate education solutions at their Youth4Climate #SparkingSolutions Event in Rome, Italy. This initiative grew out of the demands of youth, who are pushing governments to fund youth-led climate solutions. According to the Youth Climate Justice Study, philanthropists dedicate only 0.76 percent of overall climate funding to youth-led organizations, even though youth are among the most visible advocates in the climate movement. The Youth4Climate #SparkingSolutions event provided the opportunity for over 150 youth to travel to Rome, for 100 youth to pitch their project ideas, and for around 60 youth to receive funding for their projects from the Italian government.

The conference took place over four days. I had the opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships with fellow speakers and participants everywhere from the Philippines to Bahrain, Tunisia, and the Seychelles, some of whom I am planning to meet later this year. My new friends also challenged the boundaries of my environmental knowledge, and our discussions catalyzed new project ideas and collaborations. We also spoke with and heard directly from world leaders, including the UN Deputy Secretary General, the UN Development Programme Coordinator, the Italian Deputy Prime Minister, the Italian Minister of the Environment, and the COP27 Youth Climate Champion, among others.

Hikaru speaks from a podium
Hikaru speaks from a podium

I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to serve as a citizen diplomat, and I came with the tools and lessons learned from my experiences in North Macedonia. YES Abroad remains one of the most pivotal experiences of my life and has continued to deeply inform my commitment to citizen diplomacy and environmental justice. While I had always cared about environmental justice issues, my peers at my host school in Skopje brought me with them to volunteer at several different youth-led organizations. Volunteering for youth organizations with my peers deepened my love for and commitment to youth empowerment, social entrepreneurship, and climate justice advocacy, and informs the work I do today.

See other stories written by or featuring Hikaru here.