Five people sitting in front of a screen with those on the end looking at the person in the middle who is talking
Photo Credit: Malina Brannen

An Ocean of Potential: Harnessing the Power of Youth for Ocean-Based Solutions

By Malina Brannen

“Regardless of what you do, you’re an ocean person.”

Sitting with a view of the water, the message hit home for Bodhi Patil. A self-defined “ocean solutionist,” Bodhi was one of 100 delegates attending the Youth Leadership Summit as part of the ninth Our Ocean Conference. The Our Ocean Conference was started by the United States in 2014 to gather international actors to exchange best practices and commit to actions for ocean protection. This year the conference included the seventh summit for young people to amplify their perspectives and solutions to the challenges facing the world’s oceans. 

Our Ocean, an Ocean of Potential was the official theme of the 2024 Conference—a theme that resonated with the youth delegates. 

“Youth-led action gives us so much hope about what a re-defined version of the future that our generation would like to see can actually look like,” shared Mark Haver, one of the youth delegates and North America Regional Representative for the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, which co-hosted the Summit. “The science can be so scary, but the people power is what really inspires me.”

USAID came to Our Ocean Conference harnessed with commitments to act on youth engagement: two of the Agency’s commitments, totaling more than $4.8 million, will support programs working directly with youth in the Pacific to strengthen climate resilience and disaster preparedness in their communities. 

One of these commitments focuses on creating ocean-based economic opportunities and training youth in the skills necessary to participate in these opportunities. The newly established Melanesian Youth Climate Corps will build a fellowship program in partnership with Social Solutions International to equip young people with the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to combat climate change and the impacts of natural hazards. Corps members will apply their new skills through hands-on opportunities with local organizations and institutions, ultimately supporting national climate action plans.

USAID Chief Climate Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator Gillian Caldwell, along with Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jennifer R. Littlejohn and other members of the U.S. delegation, sat down with a group of the youth delegates to hear their proposals to address the challenges facing our oceans and how youth engagement can play a role. Their message was clear: youth need equitable access to training and job opportunities. 


Group of young people standing in a group and looking at camera
USAID Chief Climate Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator Gillian Caldwell (back right) joins other members of the U.S. delegation for a roundtable discussion with youth delegates at Our Ocean Conference.

Carissa Cabrera, ocean advocate and founder/CEO of FutureSwell, expressed the importance of doing more than consulting young people. “Bring us into decision-making spaces where we can support solutions at the implementation phase,” she emphasized. 

USAID helps increase youth participation by facilitating their direct involvement in ocean conservation. Through the Save Our Seas Initiative, USAID and the U.S. Department of the Interior created the Mombasa Plastics Prize and Incubator Program to involve youth in creating solutions to the problem of plastic waste on Kenya's coast. These programs supported nine youth-led teams to start and run their own green businesses, which combat plastic waste at the source to prevent ocean pollution. 

To become a climate Agency, USAID recognizes that a program does not have to be a climate activity to contribute to climate efforts. Similarly, it is important to acknowledge that activities do not have to be youth-focused to be relevant to youth. Young people aren’t just inheriting the consequences of today’s climate decisions; they are already facing impacts and are ready to lead the charge against the climate crisis. 

As Bodhi said, “It’s a young world we’re living in, so it’s time to shift those power levers.”

For more on USAID’s youth and climate work, refer to the 2022-2030 Climate Strategy and the Youth in Development Policy.

Strategic Objective
Integration, Mitigation
Climate Strategy, Coastal, Green Jobs, Locally-Led Development, Marine, Mitigation, Partnership, Urban, Youth

Malina Brannen

Malina Brannen is a Climate and Environment Action Officer for USAID’s Center for Natural Environment. Malina has a background in environmental policy and research, and as a recent graduate is a strong advocate for the inclusion of youth perspectives in climate action.

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