Empowering youth to impact change

A hand holding up the 'I am Part of Movement' card with flags of countries on the background.Kali Taylor received her Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the Faculty of Environment at University of Waterloo. In 2012 she founded the organization Student Energy, serving as its Executive Director. Today she’s and advisor with SDG Lab in Geneva, Switzerland. She shared her experiences starting an organization as a student. The interview has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.

What is Student Energy?

Student Energy is a global movement that supports young leaders committed to transitioning the world to a sustainable energy future. Student Energy empowers students to become agents of change while simultaneously working with established institutions to create the space for young people to act on climate and energy issues.

What did you hope Student Energy would accomplish when you launched it?

My co-founders and I were students ourselves when we launched Student Energy and hoped to create a space where youth could authentically engage with climate and energy issues. The dialogue at that time, and still, is so polarized and emotional but we felt that we needed to take our future in our own hands. Post-secondary is a special time for becoming actively engaged and tuning into the issues we as individuals care about; we envisioned linking individuals with a keen interest in energy with their peers all over the world so that we could unleash the innovative potential of youth and create a global movement.

Do you think you’ve achieved this, related to curbing climate change?

Kali on an expert panel in a conference.We see our role as building strong young leaders and we do this through education, building networks, and instilling strong values for combating climate change in pragmatic, innovative ways. I think our accomplishments can be seen in what our students feel empowered to do after participating with Student Energy. I am always in awe of the amazing things they do — creating new energy application for blockchain, starting their own renewable energy companies, getting involved in policy development... you name it they are doing it!

In what ways is the Student Energy platform tailored for GenY/Z?

Student Energy has three main programs, all of which were developed for youth by youth. Our International conference happens every two years and moves to different universities all over the world. The planning team is made exclusively of post-secondary level students, so they design everything to be exactly as they want to experience it themselves - from the speakers, to sponsors, to social events. Our energy education platform features an energy system map and easy to understand videos about global energy and climate topics in four minutes or less. All the content was sourced and researched by students and verified professors. And finally, our Chapters program establishes clubs focused on implementing clean energy solutions and conversations on campus. The global network of chapters exchange with their peers in other locations about how to make a difference in their communities.

What sparked you to start your own organization?

Kali TaylorI didn't plan to start an organization and Student Energy was never a grand master plan. Instead, it was a series of small steps that compounded into a big impact. We held the first conference in 2009 and it was immediately successful; students wanted more. Little by little we contributed more and more time and passion to the idea and within a few years it had so much momentum that it was time for me to leave my job and focus my efforts on building Student Energy full time. I have now transitioned to a governance role and am so proud that the organization has outlived its co-founders' tenure. The new leadership team has amazing ideas and brings a whole new view of what the world of energy needs - it is exciting, like watching your baby grow and change!

What role do you see the SDGs playing in our current energy/climate change discourse? How can people use them?

I believe the single biggest thing that the SDGs give us is a new way of talking about the interactions between different facets of society, before these goals most of these topics were talked about in their own silos and were very fragmented. Understanding how a warming planet affects food production, economic opportunity, and human health is fundamental to creating systemic responses. The SDGs are a unifying framework and that is incredibly important not only from a diplomatic level but right down into implementation.