How can we help solve the world’s most pressing issues? The Youth Innovation Challenge 2021 gave young people around the world a chance to come up with innovative solutions to two pressing environmental and social issues: climate change and marine litter. The Youth Innovation Challenge (YIC) is a program of the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP), a vibrant and inclusive learning network designed to champion environmental education (EE) around the world. In partnership with the Taiwan Ocean Conservation Administration, GEEP invited applicants between the ages of 15–30 years to propose a solution to one or both of these issues. We looked for solutions that were innovative, feasible, and informed by research.
Check out our 2021 Youth Innovation Challenge Winners and Finalists below!
Zaineb Akbarally (Colombo, Sri Lanka) — Blue Carbon Toolkit: Addressing and Combating Climate Change through Mangrove Restoration
Mangroves are critically important ecosystems for addressing climate change because of their ability to store carbon. Unfortunately, more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s mangrove habitat was destroyed in the late 1990s to establish prawn aquaculture projects. Lack of awareness regarding climate change and the importance of mangrove ecosystems has led to ongoing conversion to aquaculture uses. This project addresses the awareness issue and proposes creating a Blue Carbon toolkit for use with school children living in Sri Lanka’s coastal belt. The toolkit would focus on the construction, monitoring, and maintenance of mangrove nurseries at the school. With the involvement of key project partners Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka and the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Zaineb Akbarally hopes to eventually expand the project from schools into the broader community.
Musa Kondeh (Koidu City, Sierra Leone) — Community Audiovisual Climate Change and Environmental Protection Project
Traditional slash-and-burn agriculture and large-scale diamond and gold mining operations have degraded the land and water quality in the project site so badly that residents are beginning to experience hunger and malnutrition due to lower crop yields and waterborne illness from contaminated water sources. Unfortunately, local communities see these negative impacts as punishment from God and not related to their own actions and behaviors. The Community Audiovisual Climate Change and Environmental Protection Project would educate locals on changing their narratives through the development of documentaries explaining the reasons behind their current environmental challenges. The project would also work with schools to produce community theatrical performances focused on changing agricultural and mining practices at the root of the problems. Finally, the project would organize key stakeholders to develop community action plans aimed at identifying and addressing the key climate change and environmental problems.
Anghy Sayury Aquino Martínez (Huancayo, Peru) – Ecological Restoration of Deforested Clay Mining Sites
Many acres are deforested every year due to artisanal clay mining in Huancayo, Peru. This solution would establish the region’s first volunteer and community service project to educate and engage students and artisanal miners in reforestation efforts on abandoned mining sites. The project would recruit the municipality, teachers, and principals to promote and disseminate the program in three stages. Stage one distributes bulletins and holds talks on the importance of ecological restoration; stage two is focused on training students and miners on reforestation systems; and in stage three, students and miners will reforest abandoned mining sites. Students will continue to monitor the reforested sites to ensure success and sustainability.
Chen Yu An (Taipei, Taiwan) – Sea! We Art Ready
With growing interest in marine litter in Taiwan, Chen Yu An’s project would establish a website and a network of locations in Taiwan’s coastal villages to hold regular beach cleanups, collaborate with artists to turn the collected litter into art, and provide a platform for the artists to exhibit and sell their works. With a core value of bringing communities together, the project would train a growing elderly and eager-to-contribute population to give classes or serve as tour guides focused on marine litter, art, village culture and history, and beach cleanups. The project would also train corporate employees, schools, and university service clubs, providing them with opportunities to meet corporate responsibility and service-learning requirements. Material collected during the beach cleanups will be separated into trash, recyclable, and artwork material bins. The art materials would be used in art classes or by local artists to create and sell original works to sustain the project over time.
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Achare Elvis Ayamba (Douala, Cameroon) – Collection and Reuse of Abandoned, Lost, or Discarded Fishing Gear
Abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is a significant source of marine debris in Cameroon. Achare Elvis Ayamba’s project seeks to raise awareness and engage community and fishing industry stakeholders in addressing the problem by establishing onshore facilities for the collection, recording, and separation of the recovered gear, and supporting recycling efforts through craft development and environmental education workshops. The project would begin with an analysis of ALDFG in the community and establish an onshore collection point for recovered gear. Stakeholders including local community leaders, youth, women, fishermen, and fish traders would then be trained to recover and organize ALDFG at the collection point. Environmental education and craft workshops would focus on community-level discussions about the development of local policies to support the project and training youth and women to convert the collected gear into valuable and marketable crafts such as eco-mats, baskets, and carpets.
Alison Wenzel (Austin, United States) – Texas Climate Science Education (TCSE) – An Educational Resource for K-12 Teachers in Texas
A large roadblock to positive, international change that exists in many countries is a lack of environmental literacy around issues like global warming, CO2 emissions, and waste management. Alison Wenzel proposes a solution to address climate change by creating a resource hub for K–12 teachers and homeschool educators. The resource would include a week’s worth of lessons and activities for each grade level, addressing new and exciting environmental topics each day.
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Andrew Chikaoneka (Chikhwawa, Malawi) – Clean Sustainable Energy
As the demand for firewood and charcoal has grown in Malawi, there is increased pressure put on the surrounding natural resources. To address this issue that is amplified by climate change, Andrew Chikaoneka proposes a solution that would replace firewood and charcoal with briquettes made from waste material. As part of his solution, Chikaoneka would train 300 youths from 10 schools in environmental conservation while providing economic and social empowerment.
Cheng, Po-Yuan (Taiwan) – Analyzing Marine Litter Through Recreational Activities
Growing interest in addressing marine litter and debris issues in Taiwan is leading some professors and research scholars to collect robust marine debris research and data that can be used to develop more effective mitigation and education programs. As an entrepreneur of an outdoor marine recreation company and a master’s student in marine biology, Cheng, Po-Yuan’s solution is to educate kayak, stand-up paddle board, and canoe customers to collect and analyze marine debris. Cheng, Po-Yuan proposes a collaborative working model that includes environmental educators, professional outdoor instructors, university professors, local disadvantaged groups, NGOs, government, and youth. All involved would use the data to establish and maintain a long-term monitoring system and provide educational programs and jobs that promote environmentally friendly behaviors.
Christianna Paul & the Eco-Defenders (Roseau, Dominica) – WePlanet
As global consumption increases, many consumers are unaware of the environmental issues that face Dominica. Christianna Paul and the Eco-Defenders would address pressing climate change issues through their solution, WePlanet! WePlanet is a mobile web application seeking to foster ecological consciousness, encourage eco-friendly behavior, and promote sustainable consumption. The app would provide extensive links to resources by renowned professionals in the field. Further, WePlanet would outline challenges aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12–15, and would be updated quarterly to promote responsible consumption and production, climate action, and conservation steps to protect life below water and on land.
Juinn Sheng, Na and Sze Yie, Na (Port Klang, Malaysia) – Save the Animals: Gamification of Environmental Education
Juinn Sheng Na and Sze Yie Na aim to fill the general public’s knowledge gap on the hidden impacts of climate change and marine litter solutions by creating an action-based card game that awards points to players that save animals vulnerable to climate change and/or marine litter. Each card will include environmental facts from reliable sources to encourage players to reflect on their everyday behaviors. As the game progresses players learn to cultivate environmental stewardship and make informed decisions to implement sustainable solutions. Since the game wouldn’t require a background in environmental sciences, Juinn Sheng and Sze Yie propose to use the game, designed for ages 11 and above, in various settings and communities, including classrooms and non-formal programs. With regular and consistent exposure to the game, project planners hope to tackle climate inactivism and encourage the public to take a more active role in the ongoing battle against the climate change and marine litter crisis.
Luke Draper (Johannesburg, South Africa) – Augmented Reality Marine Wildlife Education Materials
Working in partnership with Two Ocean Aquarium, Luke Draper’s project would develop entertaining, immersive, interactive digital educational materials to raise awareness, showcase the beauty and diversity of southern Africa’s oceans, and encourage students to pursue marine studies. The materials support the local school curriculum and target high school students, as the Aquarium is currently experiencing decreasing interest among this demographic. Since the materials would live on a digital platform, aquarium and/or project staff would have access to analytics that track how popular the augmented reality effects are and which demographic groups are participating the most. The goal of the project is to inspire the next generation of marine scientists, educators, and conservation champions, and empower communities to become agents of change for protecting the ocean and planet.
Maria Kameta (Kasungu, Malawi) – Plastic Ambassadors
Plastic pollution is a growing issue in Malawi, and the country’s education system often faces challenges implementing robust environmental education on this issue. To address the issue of plastic pollution and marine litter, Maria Kameta suggests a program that will mentor and train youth through education sessions focusing on plastic up-cycling. Kameta believes enhancing passion for environmental management and conservation is key. Encouraging youth to understand global and national environmental issues creates big strides in saving our environment. In addition to education, Kameta proposes a series of plastic clean-up campaigns that will engage local communities in Malawi.
Mugwanya John Mulo (Kampala, Uganda) – Legal Training on Addressing Sand Mining in Lwera Wetland in Uganda
In Lwera, Uganda, sand mining poses a threat to critical ecosystems, especially contributing to steadily deteriorating wetlands. Often, community members are unaware of conventional legal instruments that might aid conservation efforts in this town. Muwanya John Mulo proposes a solution to combine education and community engagement to inform and enable community efforts to limit sand mining and conserve wetlands in Lwera. This hybrid training solution would include multiple stakeholders and learning exchanges, and would provide a space to nurture experiential learning, which would, in turn, mobilize the community to practice conservation and advocacy.
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Silvia Fátima Loayza Solórzano (Piñas, Ecuador) – Native Bee Plan: Meliponicultura as Part of a Sustainable Environmental Education
The Melipónidos, a species of stingless bees native to Ecuador, is one of the many species at risk from pollution, development, and other environmental factors. Important to the pollination of Ecuador’s native flora, the Melipónidos are in need of critical protection and conservation efforts. Silvia Fátima Loayza Solórzano proposes to share knowledge and sustainable management practices by creating programs for community members to experience hands-on education with Melipónidos apiaries. In addition to its environmental education component, Solórzano’s solution would seek to address the conservation and reforestation of critical ecosystems in Ecuador.
Taimoor Siddiqui (Hyderabad, Pakistan) – Project Clean–Green
The Climate Risk Index Report ranks Pakistan 5th in terms of climate vulnerability, and in Taimoor Siddiqui’s province of Sindh, climate awareness is essentially non-existent in the population. Based on Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, Siddiqui’s project proposes to work at the grassroots level to raise climate change awareness and mitigation strategies and encourage meaningful advocacy and youth engagement. A cohort of young people from universities and marginalized communities would initially be trained as climate activists with knowledge of climate change impacts, mitigation strategies, and sustainable solutions. Mini grants would be provided to implement social action projects in their communities focused on transformative climate education, sustainable development goals, and community mobilization.
Tarun Bothra (Ahmedabad, India) – Compostable Sanitary Pad Education Project
Approximately 21.8 billion disposable sanitary pads are used in India each year. These pads, mostly made of plastic, contribute to more than 100,000 tons of marine litter. The mission of the project is to produce 100% biodegradable, compostable, all-natural sanitary pads and educate Indian women in their use and proper disposal. The project would hold workshops with women in rural areas where access is extremely limited or nonexistent and in urban areas where plastic pads are readily available. Workshops would focus on improving knowledge and awareness of sustainable menstruation, health hazards caused by plastic sanitary pads, and the environmental issues resulting from disposal. Expected project outcomes include an increased awareness of proper disposal methods and a reduced amount of plastic waste as a result; improved women’s health from access to more hygienic pad options; and reduced number of work and school days lost due to inability to travel on menstruation days.
Video produced by UNDP - SDG Finance Geneva Summit 2021