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Reimagining the Future: Christina Lowery Introduces Future Rising Fellows At UNGA Side Event

On September 21, Girl Rising CEO Christina Lowery and Future Rising Fellows Charitie Ropati and Julieta Martinez addressed the audience at Reimagining the Future: Centering Education, Gender, and Climate for a Sustainable World, a United Nations General Assembly 78 side event hosted by Population Council and Global Partnerships for Education.

Building on the Girls Deliver conference in Kigali in July, this event featured stories of young education activists to illuminate both the disproportionate impact that climate change has on girls, but also how girl and women-led local solutions can have profound impacts for girls, their families, communities, and countries.

Here are Christina's remarks from the event:

Hello, I’m Christina Lowery. I have the great honor of leading Girl Rising.

Could I begin by thanking the Population Council for having us all here today? Thank you also to GPE for their collaboration on this event. This is the second of two conversations this week. It’s such a welcome opportunity to deepen our conversation about girls' education and climate change.

For those who don’t know, Girl Rising is a non-profit that grew out of a documentary film about 9 girls from 9 different countries and how they each confronted the barriers that keep so many girls from attending school. Our mission today is anchored in these roots - to use the power of storytelling to change the way the world values girls and their education. This year we are working with local partners in 8 countries to build girls’ confidence, help develop their voice and agency, and work with them, boys, their teachers, and families to confront the harmful social norms that so often prevent girls from fulfilling their potential. Across a range of activities, we reach about 10 million adolescent girls and boys every year.

We ALSO have an initiative about girls’ education…. And the power of girls’ leadership to address climate change and its effects... It’s called FUTURE RISING. I’m excited you’ll be able to hear from two of the Future Rising Fellows alongside Youth Leaders from GPE later this morning.

Back in 2012 when we were making Girl Rising, climate change was already very much a crisis, but the idea of putting girls’ education and climate solutions together in a sentence was not a ‘thing.’

But in about 2017 or so, the connections between educating and empowering girls and better climate outcomes were beginning to be written about. And we at Girl Rising began tinkering with the idea of making a sequel to Girl Rising about GIrls and Climate change.

We quickly concluded that rather than making another feature documentary, we needed to hand the mics and the cameras to the girls and women who are living and breathing the many many challenges and harsh realities of climate impacts. And importantly, we wanted to make space for young women and men who were innovating, organizing, and coming up with solutions where they live..

Climate change is a global phenomenon. But, it is not monolithic.

Its impacts are HYPER local. They look different for every community - and that’s a really key point because this demands local solutions that are rooted in a deep understanding of the context and dynamics at play in any given place.

And of course, it’s girls and women who are steeped in nuanced local knowledge.. They are keepers of food, water, and fuel security. They are carers of communities. Ironically, it is partly because of the gendered roles they often play in their communities that girls and women know so well the needs and vulnerabilities of their families and communities in the context of a climate emergency.

So this idea of local knowledge and girl-led knowledge and climate solutions was a driving force when we started to build the Future Rising Fellowship program.

Today, the Future Rising Fellowship is entering its third year. We just onboarded cohort 3. Now there are 32 fellows from 25 countries. Through the program, we aim to support young leaders who are working at the intersection of climate justice and gender justice. We provide some financial support along with professional development over the course of a year-long program.

Importantly, we focus on storytelling. We believe that the ability to tell one’s story is a critical 21st-century skill, especially for leaders and advocates. And so, in addition to storytelling workshops and learning, each fellow creates their own narrative project - in film, video, podcasting, graphic novels, journalism, photo essays or animation.

In many ways, we see the climate crisis as a communications challenge.

We know what is causing the climate crisis. We know what the problems are. We know what needs to happen to make it better. But we do NOT have the political will to make the necessary changes to reduce emissions, nor is there enough political will to address the crushing inequities in terms of loss and damage.

But stories have the power to change minds and to build movements. We saw it happen with the first Girl Rising. Stories humanize data and complex ideas. They build shared understanding and empathy. And this is critical as we try to build support and drive investment for girls’ education in the context of environmental injustice and climate crisis.

It’s education that will help girls fend and advocate for themselves in climate emergencies, and it's education that helps girls become leaders from communities to countries.

I want to share a couple of things I’ve noticed as I’ve witnessed the Fellowship gathering steam.

The Fellows are all people of action. They see a problem and they move towards it. They DO things.

In Kenya, Mercy Kamonjo is teaching Maasai women to grow climate-smart vegetables because their herds of cattle and goats have been dying off due to drought. Now they must learn new ways to feed their families. Through her grassroots organization - Kuza Generation, Mercy has now trained more than 500 women in climate-smart food gardening techniques.

Lety TItuana an indigenous Fellow from Ecuador leads an organization to help Indigenous girls to pursue stem careers, and she is combining her own training as a chemical engineer with indigenous nature-based solutions to create artificial wetlands that purify contaminated water in her community.

And in Uganda, Hilda Nakabuye leads Fridays for Future Uganda. At home, she leads climate strikes to protest environmental injustice, as well as community lake clean-ups on the banks of Lake Victoria. They conduct climate education in schools and they produce smokeless briquettes for use in cookstoves to reduce health hazards and air pollution. And - she also spends a lot of time away from home and family, traveling to events like UNGA to speak to and petition world leaders.

All of this work and the work of countless other young leaders is critical. But it is not easy. The work is hard - it’s hard financially, physically and emotionally. It comes at a cost. Young women like Mercy, Lety, Hilda, Charitie, and Julieta, and all the young people here today, need and deserve our support. And we need them. We need a planet populated by girls who have been able to thrive and fulfill their potential because of education because they‘ve been able to exercise their rights and choose their futures.

The other thing I've seen in the three years of this program - it’s a real-time demonstration of the true power of a network.

We are just a few weeks into the third cohort and already the group is beginning to gel. In those early Zoom meetings, as they meet each other for the first time, we knew that, despite the awkward feelings at the beginning, the shy smiles, the wifi connection problems, the faltering ‘hellos’ - very soon, this disparate group of young people staring at each other from the four corners of the planet over zoom, will be a community, colleagues, collaborators, friends.

It’s amazing how close and intimate this network becomes - and quickly. I’ve seen it for the past two years. It is one of the most gratifying things about this work - knowing we are fostering deep and powerful relationships.

So these two ideas - the need for action and community are what I wanted to stress at the top of our conversation today. We are a room full of people with shared values. Our missions are aligned. We are really well positioned to coordinate our efforts to make our work more than the sum of its parts through more action and more collaboration in service of girls everywhere who are doing the work.

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