What young people who want to change the world are working on

Climate change is at the heart of many conflicts, pushing many people to become refugees and creating security problems around the globe. “Aid will not fix the problem,” says Nisreen Elsaim, sitting on the other side of the sofa. If climate change is being worked on, then these issues will be worked on as well. “People cannot just sit there watching crisis after crisis,” she says.

From Europe, these problems may seem far away – or may not be fully understood – but they are happening. Putting on patches does not work in the long term. The focus needs to be changed. “Instead of giving them food, you give them resources,” he says. “The idea is to break the cycle,” he says. Elsaim is from Sudan and knows exactly what he is talking about. He gives the figures from a survey he conducted among young people from his country: 84% would cross the Mediterranean in search of a better future in Europe, even knowing that they have a 90% chance of not reaching the other shore.

It is a complex situation, complex as the challenges of the 21st century are, but it is also one in which work can be done. This is what Elsaim is doing, and she is not alone. The activist is one of the 13 young people taking part in the current edition of the Re.Generation programme, organised for the second consecutive year by the Prince Albert II Foundation of Monaco.

A push for leaders

The origins of the programme, like so many other things, lie in the times of the pandemic. Prince Albert, explains Théo Panizzi, the coordinator of the initiative, wondered during those months of lockdown how the baton of leadership could be passed on to a new generation. From this idea was born a programme that focuses on enhancing skills, giving visibility and helping to create a network for young people working to create a more sustainable future. “These young people want to change the world. We give them the push,” says Panizzi.

For two weeks, they are in Monaco, where they meet leaders and experts who share their experiences with them and gain skills, although the program lasts a year. Participants are asked to “be authentic and ask questions.”

This second edition is attended by activists, entrepreneurs, scientists and architects aged between 24 and 35, from all continents. The programme partners submitted around a hundred proposals, from which the final participants were chosen, keeping in mind the need to achieve a balance in terms of gender, origin and fields of action.

Electrifying Africa and closing the gap

The ideas are of all kinds, because if one thing is clear after talking to them, it is that the range can go from the big to the small and is, without a doubt, very varied.

Sue Whisky excitedly talks about her work areas in Malawi, a very ambitious program—she smiles good-naturedly when she hears it—that includes reforestation, electrification and closing the economic gap connected to the increasingly precarious—due to climate change—subsistence agriculture.

Sheherazade also works on land conservation, although in this case she does so in Indonesia. Her activity promotes the protection of a very unsexy species, which is crucial to preserving the biodiversity of the area: bats.

And Denise Nicolau does so from Mozambique, although in her case the conversation is about the sea. She does so in the Indian Ocean, “a very rich region” that is also “one of the most vulnerable in the world” to the effects of climate change. Recovering the sea and promoting the so-called blue economy is essential to improve the resilience of the region.

Shradha Pandey addresses one of the great forgotten problems of the 21st century: open fires, which are highly polluting and very harmful to those who cook on them. Her organisation, GEMS, has already carried out a pilot project in an Indian village where they have changed the way people cook and have learned the keys to making this transition.

After all, changing cooking methods is not as simple as installing new stoves. They must be accessible to use and the emotional and cultural ties people have with the cooking processes themselves must also be understood.

Global and natural health in the spotlight

More visible is the need to find new remedies for diseases. John Boghossian looks for them in nature. “Plants have been used for a long time,” he recalls. His company has already made progress in finding them for schizophrenia or mild dementia, but the potential is very high and gardens, forests and seabeds could be —even more— the first aid kit of the future. Boghossian speaks, however, of “conscious capitalism” and of the benefits generated by these medicines reverting to the communities from which they come.

Ali Alabyadh works on coral reforestation in Saudi Arabia, a topic that, despite being covered in media reports, still requires attention and understanding of its vital importance for the health of the seas, and Prabakaran A. does so as an urban planner in India, where, he explains, he tries to include nature in the design of the city, a local and at the same time very global problem.

Likewise, Carla Gaultier is changing the landscape of cities: through modular design and “living buildings” she is betting on rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in a more harmonious way with the environment.

The list also includes the importance of culture when it comes to documenting climate change and encouraging conversations on the subject—this is what Gab Mejia does—or the recovery of water and its reintegration into the flows of nature—which is what Nicolas Sdez is working on. Right in line with the Olympic year, Nicolo di Tullio creates a community among athletes, who become constant sources of data for the study of nature and climate change.

Even in something as common and yet as forgotten as flushing the toilet, there may be a solution to improve efficiency: Ezequiel Vedana has developed a product to avoid flushing the toilet without losing hygiene.

Changing things to change the world

Time is running out for changes. “Nature will have time to recover, but we may not be there to see it,” Elsaim reminds us. That is why finding solutions is important.

The Foundation wants to present a different narrative, one that speaks of solutions and a potential future. These young people could be the lever to achieve them. “My organization is small,” says Sheherazade, and thanks to this type of initiative, she not only learns leadership but also manages to build a network.

The fact that the exchange of ideas is global also allows for intercontinental feedback. This is particularly interesting because, if there is one thing that the programme participants point out in their conversations on the beach, it is the importance of listening to those who live in different areas in order to understand how the problems affect them and how solutions could be developed.

These are all issues that affect everyone, as Nicolau illustrates when he talks about the sea. “The conversation about ocean conservation has to transcend,” he says, “because even if you don’t live on the coast, you still benefit from it.” It is the source of food, but also the air we breathe. We may or may not have good weather. The same thing that happens with the sea happens with many other things.

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