Young Leaders Award recipient Pooja Tilvawala is a climate justice community connector who was born in India, but grew up in the US. She has degrees in Economics and International Studies and first worked at the Meridian Institute to advance ocean policy in Mexico and federal climate policy in the US, form alliances to act on plastic pollution, and more. Currently, she is the Founder and Director of Youth Climate Collaborative, a designer for Rivet, a finance team member of the Climate Youth Negotiators Program, and an active member of YOUNGO. She focuses on capacity-building for youth, effective storytelling, intergenerational action, power sharing, and microfinance for youth led action. Her purpose in life is to nurture her curiosity and creativity, encourage herself and others to challenge the status quo, and unite people to improve the quality of life for all.
Pooja's project: Youth Climate Collaborative
Youth Climate Collaborative (YCC) is a youth-led global community offering tools and programs to make it easier for youth to get involved and remain involved in climate action, enable intergenerational cogeneration, and increase coordination and collaboration within the youth climate movement.
We recently checked in with Pooja to learn more about her background and her plans for the conservation and regeneration of the planet.
Walking Softer: What challenges did you overcome in your journey thus far?
Pooja: A practical challenge I've faced is having enough financial security, courage, and belief in myself and my vision to take the leap of working full-time as the lead of Youth Climate Collaborative. I have wanted to reach that point for so long and I finally did at the end of 2022. I was really proud of myself for finally reaching that point and then having Walking Softer support me this year, extending my runway. One lesson that I've learned is to just get going on implementing your ideas and learning and adjusting as you go instead of always waiting until you have the perfect plan and timing.
Walking Softer: What do you do for self-care and fun?
Pooja: Although I need to improve with self-care and fun, when I make time, I like to spend it doing cool things by myself or with my family and friends. This includes paddleboarding, dancing, walking outdoors, and enjoying the night out.
Walking Softer: Who or what inspires you?
Pooja: My peers inspire me. I am so grateful to live a life where I get to meet people from all over the world and gain perspective on their beautiful cultures and ways of life. My peers are so passionate about protecting our sacred lands and waters and are fighting the good fight with love, hope, and healing in community with each other. They remind me to celebrate our wins and not lose faith in yet to come. What a gift it is to be surrounded by this energy and get energized by it.
Walking Softer: Who or what sparked your interest in becoming an environmental changemaker?
Pooja: I come from a family with changemakers I admire, so maybe it's in my blood. My grandpa's brothers were freedom fighters who revolted against the British Empire in India, rejecting life as they knew it and fighting for the life they knew they deserved. They defended our human rights so their loved ones, neighbors, and future generations would not have to suffer. For the first 10 years of my life, I grew up in a vibrant immigrant and low-income community in the suburbs of Philly with a very active YWCA. I learned early on about privileges and lack of privilege, justice and injustices, belonging and outcasting. My family history and my upbringing have taught me how to identify right from wrong, and stand up for what is right. For me that means fighting for climate justice in a world where those who do the least harm are harmed the most. This is the prime battle for justice of my generation and so as an environmental changemaker, I am defending our rights - to clean air, to clean water, to thriving livelihoods.
Walking Softer: Any people or organizations that you would like to thank?
Pooja: I would like to thank Hailey Campbell from Care About Climate for nominating me. Thanks for this life-changing opportunity!
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The Young Leaders Award is a year-long program that supports passionate, young leaders who are vital agents of change and innovators of solutions for our planet.