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4/17/24

ChangeNOW with Pooja Tilvawala

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ChangeNOW 2024 recently took place in Paris - curious how it went? Dive in with Pooja Tilvawala, the Ambassador of Change for Walking Softer, as she shares an exclusive insider's perspective on how ChangeNow is accelerating the transition to a sustainable world...

Last year was my first year at ChangeNOW in Paris, where I admired the exhibition of solutions, the pitch competitions, the networking and meetups, and especially the focus on what a better tomorrow can look like. This year, I wanted to be more involved in the conference, so I ran some ideas by the ChangeNOW organizers, who responded quickly and were excited to offer us a space to host an interactive panel + workshop on intergenerational collaboration and decision-making. After their approval, I put out a call for changemakers from the Youth Climate Collaborative community to support the event, and we had over 10 members raise their hands to support virtually prior to the conference, and later join us at ChangeNOW. It was amazing to catch up with them in person, learn what they have been up to since we last met, and make new memories together. This includes morning runs for croissants, lunchtime chats over focaccia, taking over the speakers lounge to catch up on work, and late-night noodle nights at arguably one of the best hand-pulled noodle spots in the world (hot take?!).

ChangeNOW took place from March 25th-27th this year, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in the Grand Palais Éphémère, a temporary exhibition hall in the Champ de Mars, designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmcotte. It is one of the coolest event spaces I have been to, and as I learned, modular and reusable too! “The structure of the building is designed to be modular and can be reused in many different configurations after it is taken down from the Champs-de-Mars in autumn 2024. The modularity, the use of sustainable materials and the structure of the Grand Palais Ephémère make it a project fully in synch with the environmental imperatives of our time.”  

Over 35,000 future-driven, committed, and international investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, changemakers, and political, corporate, and other leaders, from about 120 countries, gave life to the space, spurring conversations about AI, future generations, purpose-driven business, and much more. Next year, they aim to double the size of the event and host it in the original Grand Palais, which has a glass roof and is located near the Louvre. Tanya and I paid a visit to the building on our way to the Musée de l'Orangerie, where we got to admire captivating works by Monet.

Ahead of ChangeNOW 2024, Santiago Lefebvre, President and Co-Founder of ChangeNOW, underscored the urgency of the moment, stating “This year, ChangeNOW lands at a critical moment: right after COP28 and mid-way through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve shaped the event to deliver a comprehensive array of content that is more than ever at the forefront of current issues: from reshaping our economy to sustainable industrialization, touching on deep-sea mining, biodiversity, inclusion, etc. Over three days, we’ll be uniting change leaders, pioneers, and innovators to foster collaboration and actionable steps, aiming to make a significant impact”. Largely, I think his statement rang true; they featured over 1,000 solutions for the planet, served as a meaningful convergence point for global change with their useful networking app and event space design, and made a great selection of speakers and event hosts. The programming included a range of themes such as:

  • Adapting to climate change
  • Sustainable agriculture, healthy soils, and food
  • Transforming the economy
  • Sustainable sport (given the upcoming Paris Olympics)
  • Europe
  • Sustainable industrialization
  • Ethics and artificial intelligence
  • Energy
  • Biodiversity
  • Water and ocean
  • Inclusion

It was a pleasant surprise to see ample space given to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, including the COP15 Desertification Presidency event which united solutions, funding, and international diplomatic support in the fight against desertification. In addition, although in French, they held an official debate ahead of the European elections on an environmental transition, featuring French candidates. I have not read about what was discussed during the debate, but I was thrilled that this debate took place. However, what was missing at ChangeNOW (and at the Aspen Ideas Climate Summit I attended earlier in March) was meaningful conversation about Gaza, and the intersections of peace, security, and environment. The few times I heard any mention of Gaza and other deep conflicts, the situations were referred to as “geopolitical conflict,” and there was no depth to the conversation. Some may argue that this conference is not the space to focus on that, but I think that this type of conference MUST meaningfully include these discussions, especially since they hosted an EU debate and in their own words, are one of the largest conferences to help “achieve environmental and social transition goals.” Yes, a positive drumbeat at the heart of the conference is helpful for morale and momentum, but not providing a platform to key issues of our time kept us at arm’s length from reality. I hope that next year, as they double the size of their event, they recognize the importance of their platform and give voice to these issues, instead of avoiding them.

I was feeling disappointed throughout the three days because of this, but nonetheless, the conference was useful for learning about solutions, ways to pitch projects, and various womxn-led initiatives, and was a great setting to meet cool people doing impactful work.

Here are a few highlights from my three action-packed days at ChangeNOW:

  • The session, Transforming Corporations from the Inside: from Governance to Employee Activism, emphasized that “to respond to the environmental and social challenges of our time, companies need to change from within.” Antoine Clément, Secretary of the Environmental Committee, SAP France Works Council, shared that “employees can’t change what the company is doing, but can change how it treats people, and how it produces things, but you need to know the systems and boundaries of your actions. When you understand the limit, you know what you can change, and change it.” This informative panel explained that companies are not used to pressure from the inside and we cannot single handedly change our companies from within, but by forming alliances (even informal ones), understanding the problem and solution, and identifying our common goals, we can move the needle forward to reach our objectives.
  • The second session I attended was a workshop, Environmental Intelligence, E.I Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science, including one of my friends, the inspiring Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. During this session, I learned about environmental intelligence as a way of recognizing the interconnectedness of our world and our place within it, and about tools for merging indigenous knowledge with science, tech and academia. The speakers explored examples of engineers & indigenous elders collaborating, as well as farmers & data scientists sharing insights, to demonstrate the importance of open networks & diverse perspectives to unleash collective intelligence. Hindou, surprisingly, was only given space to talk at the end of the workshop for one minute, so when she was given the mic, she rightfully said she would take her deserved time to share her perspectives, and spoke about the role of indigenous communities in building knowledge and the importance of giving communities like hers the respect and compensation they deserve for the knowledge they have contributed and continue to contribute.
  • I enjoy watching pitch competitions, so I attended the second education themed pitch competition, where I met Oliver Dauert, Founder of Wildya, which uses mental fitness coaching to help you with your eco-anxiety, while protecting and restoring nature. Many other leaders, like Clover Hogan, also shared solutions for turning climate anxiety into action so we can continue our climate action. At Youth Climate Collaborative, we have an initiative called Climate Courage which offers workshops, virtual webinars, a journal, and other resources to help youth transform their mindsets too.
  • During this conference, I also learned about and reconnected with many womxn and gender-expansive climate groups, including:
    • Project Dandelion: A women-led global campaign for climate justice.
    • She Changes Climate: A global movement advocating for inclusion and diversity at all levels of decision-making to address the climate crisis and shape a sustainable future for all.
    • Women for Change by ChangeNOW: A platform providing visibility and opportunities for changemakers throughout the world.

I am happy to learn that these organizations exist and are successfully connecting womxn changemakers globally to create change together.

Last but not least, we at Youth Climate Collaborative had the opportunity to host a workshop on the final day, which consisted of a panel and conversation about intergenerational governance and collaboration. The pressure is on for youth in the climate space who wish for more ambitious climate action, but to a large extent, are dependent on decision-makers to drive action forward at scale. That being said, youth and intergenerational decision-making bodies are on the rise. During our workshop, our panel discussed ways to leverage these bodies to advance solutions for those most impacted by climate change. One example is the work of the Youth Negotiators Academy, which systematically transforms multilateral decision-making and creates a culture of inter- and intra- generational cooperation and solidarity. Another example is the work of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, who campaign with support across generations, to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change and human rights. Following the panel, participants collectively explored different governance models of multilateral institutions, philanthropies, non-profits, and the private sector and provided feedback on the design of our soon-to-launch research consortium on intergenerational governance.

Thank you to ChangeNOW, especially Garance Aulagne and Matilde Gallina, for your support and proactivity in making our participation possible! Thank you to the ChangeNOW team for organizing a useful and impactful event, where I got to explore a number of topics and meet global changemakers. I am looking forward to next year’s conference! Lastly, thank you to the YCC team and new friends for adding joy and laughter to my experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pooja Tilvawala (she, her, hers)

Founder and Executive Director, Youth Climate Collaborative

Alumni Committee Member and Ambassador of Change, Walking Softer

Email: pooja@youthcc.org

Social media handles:

Pooja is an award-winning global climate justice leader who founded and runs Youth Climate Collaborative, which strives to make the climate movement more just, inclusive, intergenerational, and one that activates and sustains youth. In addition, she is the Co-Founder of the Entertainment + Culture Foundation which organized the first-ever Entertainment + Culture for Climate Action Pavilion at COP28. She is also an advisor for several youth-funding organizations and initiatives, such as Rivet, an advisor for Penn State University's Global Youth Research and Storytelling Lab, Alumni Committee Chair of the Aspen Institute Future Leaders Initiative, Alumni Committee Member of the Walking Softer Young Leaders Program, judge for various youth climate funds, a public speaker, and member of the Green Leadership Trust. Her work increases access for and retention of youth solutionists in our movement, helps youth facing eco-anxiety, advances intergenerational and participatory decision-making, engages youth in UNFCCC processes, provides media training, builds community, and more.

Extra: She is an active member of YOUNGO (the children and youth constituency of the UNFCCC), a member of the United Nations Major Group on Children and Youth, and (although not ultimately selected) in 2022, was double-nominated to serve as the North America youth advisor to the UN Secretary General for climate change.

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