The United States and the world face a profound climate crisis. Climate change is not just a looming existential threat, it is currently threatening development progress and exacerbating global inequities; increasing humanitarian needs, food and water insecurity, and displacement; and contributing to conflict.
Knowing that the communities least responsible for causing climate change are often the most vulnerable to its impacts, USAID is working to elevate diverse local voices — including those of youth advocates for climate action — to ensure our work empowers often overlooked communities to be agents of change.
USAID is working with developing countries to implement climate action on the ground, and we are training youth leaders, through programs like the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), to be at the forefront of climate mitigation, response, and advocacy efforts. Read some of their stories below.
In Rwanda, Ineza Grace engages youth to protect and restore the environment and address climate change.
Ineza started an NGO, The Green Fighter, in 2017 to create a networking platform for youth engaged in the fight for a better environment and help them organize community projects, such as school debates and planting trees. Ineza advocates for strengthening the African education system so that people are knowledgeable about climate and the environment from an early age. Ineza was named a 2020 National Geographic Young Explorer for her efforts.
“The clock to protect our communities against climate change is fast, and for vulnerable countries such as states in Africa, the clock is faster! Africa’s population is youthful, and we, the youth, see the opportunity and the need to achieve sustainable development through a green economy that considers the safety of the environment.” — Ineza Grace, Rwanda
In Zimbabwe, Donga Nqobizitha works to debunk climate myths and educate local communities about the impacts of mining.
Donga believes Africa’s biggest challenges with climate change are misinformation or a lack of information, small budgets for environmental protection, and insufficient political will. After completing YALI, Donga felt equipped with the skills necessary to become an agent for social change in his community. As part of his advocacy work, Donga fights for sustainable mining practices near the Deka River, which feeds directly into the Zambezi, by convening dialogues between local communities and mining companies to ensure that environmental impact assessments take place.
“I have seen first hand environmental injustices. This urge pushes me to do better for my community.” — Donga Nqobizitha, Zimbabwe
In Togo, Amé Rébecca Guelly puts women at the center of her work while advocating for sustainable development and environmental protection.
Amé Rébecca started the Network of Women Ambassadors of the Environment and Sustainable Development to harness the potential of women to address climate change. She helped draft the first-ever carbon footprint analysis for her university and proposed measures to offset emissions. Amé Rébecca often promotes videos to raise awareness about proper management of natural resources and provide ways people can help address the climate crisis.
“As women, we have a lot of potential which is overlooked. I decided to set up this network to equip women so that together we can harness our capacity and work to impact on a large scale.” — Amé Rébecca Guelly
In Nigeria, Adejoke Lasisi uses her weaving skills to convert textile and plastic waste into eco-friendly products.
Many people in Adejoke’s community dump or burn waste, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. This, coupled with her desire to preserve Nigeria’s cultural heritage, prompted Adejoke to begin taking trash from the streets, redefining its purpose, and weaving it into beautiful and sustainable products. She founded Jokelinks Weaving School and Planet 3R to create economic opportunities for unemployed youth by providing recycling and waste management training. In just one year, Planet 3R collected about 58,000 kilograms of recyclable waste (of which some 20,000 kilograms would have been burned), created 16 jobs, trained more than 100 young people, and taught roughly 4,300 students about waste management and recycling.
“I hope that other young people will be able to save the environment with their hands, too. The more wastepreneurs we have, the cleaner our environment becomes.” — Adejoke Lasisi
In Ghana, Cletus Baalongbuoro transforms agricultural waste into cooking fuels.
When burned or left to decompose, agricultural waste releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. To address this issue, Cletus takes waste from across Ghana and transforms it into cooking fuel. As the founder and CEO of Ponaa Briquettes (formally Clean Coal Power), he makes efficient use of organic waste by recycling it into a smokeless, low-cost alternative charcoal that can be used for cooking, replacing wood burning. This process also decreases deforestation in Ghana. Through Ponna Briquettes, Cletus has created jobs for countless women, educated Ghanaian youth, and reduced household expenses on cooking fuel.
“My company has ambitious plans to combat climate change. Apart from recycling agricultural waste into smokeless charcoal to replace wood fuel for cooking and heating, we also plan to embark on tree planting.” — Cletus Baalongbuoro
These are just a few of the resourceful young leaders playing a vital role in the climate movement today. USAID’s investment in YALI will ensure that young Africans continue to gain the leadership skills needed to lead stable and democratic societies, propose innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues, and transform their communities, countries, and the continent.
About the Authors
Hannah Forkell is an intern in the office of Development Planning within the Africa Bureau, and Katrina Johnston is the Communications Analyst on the Young African Leadership Initiative team within the Africa Bureau.
USAID is the world's premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID's work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity, demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.