Thank You To Our Inaugural YLA Cohort


As the first year of the Young Leaders Award program has come to an end, our awe and gratitude remain front and center. It is wild to think that we were first introduced to each inaugural Young Leader just over a year ago. In March of 2023, Walking Softer brought 12 young environmental and climate champions together to embark on an unknown path. The recipients gathered from diverse fields, backgrounds, projects, and experiences, united in their pursuit of our common objective: conserving and regenerating the planet. Each recipient joined our inaugural cohort with the understanding that they would co-create a programmatic experience that was supportive, joyful, and meaningful for all involved. Once the Young Leaders Award program was underway, it was obvious that the talent, rigor, and passion of the 12 incredible awardees would guide us toward greatness.

Together, the Young Leaders Award program staff and cohort members became a dynamic community. The urgency and magnitude of climate work can be daunting, yet the cohort community was full of laughter, encouragement, and grounding. They showed up for one another with patience, grace, and humility. We built a safe space for idea generation, problem-solving, and comradery. All of which can be attributed to the character of our servant-leaders. Having a comedian, a performer, and several sarcastic, quick-witted personalities in the mix made for a vibrant and playful dynamic. Additionally, collaborating with Shruthi Vijayakumar in planning and facilitating the year-long program was an absolute pleasure. The wisdom and grace Shruthi brought to each virtual gathering and in-person retreat set the tone for supportive discussions around systems change, heart-centered leadership, and collectivity. All of which has been, and will continue to be, foundational to the Young Leaders program.

One of the most significant insights gained this year is that despite the unsettling facts that confirm, over and over again, that the need for meaningful global change is needed to prevent environmental peril, there exists genuine joy, creativity, and determination among Changemakers committed to meaningful and equitable progress. It's evident that each of us plays a crucial role, with numerous bright young minds guiding and instructing us. As an organization, we pledge to keep listening to our Young Leaders, actively collaborating with them, and offering our utmost support.

Thank you again to each of our inaugural Young Leaders who helped build the foundation of our Young Leaders Award program. We will continue moving forward together, uplifting the next generation of environmental Changemakers who, like you, will also be vital agents of change and innovators of solutions for the planet. As, Ali Dunford, Director of Emerging Leaders, said at our 2024 closing celebration, “Although I’m positive there will be many amazing Young Leaders in the years to come, you will always be our first. Thank you for taking a chance on us. Thank you for teaching us and growing with us. Thank you for showing us patience and grace as we figured our way through this first year. Thank you for walking the talk and walking with us.”

Every one of you possesses incredible potential, destined to accomplish remarkable feats. We can’t thank you enough for believing in Walking Softer and the Young Leaders Award team and look forward to continued conversations and impactful collaborations. You are now Young Leaders Award Alumni and forever part of the Walking Softer family. Onward and upward!

Marcy Sutherland

Program Manager


More Stories

On behalf of the entire Walking Softer team and the nominating organizations, we would like to congratulate our second cohort's Young Leaders Award recipients.

Young Leaders Award recipient Rollie Williams dives into the realm of merchandise, examining what it takes to produce it sustainably and ethically.

Rowing Around Great Britain Collecting Data and Stories for Nature and Climate.