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Building a youth-led citizen movement to address climate change from the bottom-up



“If governments are unwilling to lead when leadership is required, people must. We need a global grass-roots movement that tackles climate change and its fallout.” Kofi Annan


Indicators for Sustainability is a tool to ignite a youth-led grassroots citizen movement that addresses climate change and drives the transition to a zero-carbon economy, starting at the community level, and creating the traction to influence policies at the local, provincial and national level.

The Program provides a methodology that walks participants from apathy to becoming effective influencers and drivers of sustainability in their communities.

This methodology offers a staged process that combines experiential learning and discovery, collection and sharing of environmental data, dissemination and replication of solutions, community action and policy advocacy.


Category of action

Youth Leadership on Climate Change

What actions do you propose?

… “Life, a miracle in the universe, appeared around 4 billion years ago. And we, humans, only 200,000 years ago. Yet we have succeeded in disrupting the balance that is so essential to life. In 50 years, in a single lifetime, the Earth has been more radically changed than by all previous generations of humanity. We know that the solutions are there today. We all have the power to change. So what are we waiting for? [Trailer of the movie “Home” – by Yann Arthus-Bertrand]



The Indicators for Sustainability are a tool to activate young people at the local level and lay the groundwork for informed, active and effective citizen participation for tangible results.

Incorporating lessons from experiential learning, the tool encourages curiosity and discovery by guiding participants out of the classroom (or their homes) into their communities, and into developing informed opinions that can help them actively and meaningfully engage and participate in local policy and decision making.

The key component of the Program are:

- The Indicators Tool - a set of indicators and a facilitator guide which will be available to be downloaded online or photocopied and distributed. Each indicators is made of a set of activities that participants carry out to measure their community's sustainability on a variety of subjects.

- The App and Collective Map - for sharing, collecting and visualizing the data collected (currently under development).

- The Online Solutions Platform to connect participating groups, host a bank of solutions and embed the collective map.


Climate Change is the largest challenge ever faced by humanity. Addressing it requires an effort unparalleled in history. If we are to succeed, we can not expect the solution to come from governments, business or some magic wand technology alone. We have a 25 years window of opportunity to transition to a zero carbon economy. We need every individual to be empowered to drive that transition in their community. At the same time, a strong grassroots movement will be better positioned to create pressure at the national level to influence and accelerate the public policy process.

Young people are uniquely positioned to be key actors in this effort. Not only because of their drive and their potential to mobilize support and disseminate and scale solutions, but also because our generation - and the ones to follow - will be the ones most affected by climate change. It is in our best interest to take action. However, to have a real impact, we need meaningful and informed participation - not tokenism.


The proposed methodology seeks to:

1) Reconnect young people to their natural, local environment: scientific research highlights how important this is in determining the level of environmental awareness in adulthood (Louv, 2008). Appreciation for the environment can not be taught, must be experienced and develop.

2) Participants start by drawing a collective map of their community and,  through guided exercises, activities, surveys and experiments, they go out and "measure" the performance of their community in relation to key areas of community sustainability (water quality and availability, air quality, biodiversity, waste management, energy production and use, food production, climate change and disaster preparedness, transport infrastructure).

3) The data they collect is used in two ways:

  •  a) it helps them learn about and discover by themselves the most important sustainability issues in their community and gather key data to inform the creating of Action Plans.
  • b) the data collected is entered into a collective map directly online or by using the App. The map will be integrated to the Online Platform and will show aggregated or layered data collected from all the different participating groups/ communities, it can be used to inform policy making efforts or validate official information. For example, let's say in a given city 10 participating groups collect information of the air quality in different points of the city (this can be done either by using low-cost air quality measurement devices when available or simply by looking at the status of bio indicators such as lichens). The data is then entered and aggregated and will provide a citizen-based air quality map which can be used to raise awareness about the issue but also inform policy advocacy efforts at the local level.


4) After data collection - participating teams are requested to select an issue and create an Action Plan to address it. For this purpose, each of the Indicator sheets includes at the end a simple structure to help participants think through an Action Plan (ex. how you define the problem, crafting your solution, setting goals, identifying resources they need, etc). More supporting resources for Planning and Developing Action Projects will be available online (ex. covering topics such as how to secure resources for your project? how to tell your story?, etc). We will create and/or curate some of these additional tools as we see is needed, and also refer to other relevant tools if they already exist (ex. in English there are quite a few tools out there, but not so much in spanish).

Participants can either come up with their own Action Idea or "steal" and replicate a project idea that already exists and has been proven to work elsewhere in the world to solve the same issue.

5) For this purpose, the Program's Online Platform will serve as a bank of ideas, featuring both the new projects that are started up by participants, but also disseminating readily available, tested and effective citizen-led action ideas that have been implemented elsewhere in the world - making them available to young people who could disseminate them even further.

Part of the work involved for the team leading the Program will be identifying and curating the initial batch of such solutions in an easy and accessible way so they can be easily disseminated and replicated. Our focus is in citizen-led solutions - initiatives started and lead by average citizens around the world - the kind of examples that can be put in the hands of the person who asks "I want to do something, what can I do?".  Each solution that is featured on the Solutions Bank would mirror a cooking recipe and include: a step by step explanation of how it works/how it was done, which partnerships were involved, what resources where required and how they secure them, what were the main challenges, what things worked, what things they would do differently if it was to be done again, what was the impact and results achieved. Some solutions to be featured include: setting up community managed gardens, carrying out a community climate vulnerability assessment, creating a community disaster preparedness plan, starting a local oil recycling scheme, etc. Ideally users will get to vote and comment on the ideas. Ideas will also be ranked by complexity/difficulty, and users will be able to contact the people behind those solutions for more information. As the Project grows, the idea bank will grow as well and more ideas will be referred by participants.

Participants will be invited to share data & projects, connect with one another & and use this knowledge and the skills developed to influence their local and national policies through advocacy-process (for this, we will partner with already existing platforms and organizations that support citizen advocacy efforts, such as - to run specific campaigns at the local and national level).

Throughout the process of planning, implementing and sharing their Action Projects young people will develop key skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, resource mobilization and self-confidence.

Community outreach:

On the pilot stage, we will roll out the Program through reaching out to schools and youth groups in Cordoba (we already have 10 groups we will be working with). We are using this time to test and fine tune the tools and methodology before expanding to other regions. We have already received expressions of interest from youth groups and local governments in other provinces in Argentina as well as from other countries in Latin America.

For next year, we will be launching an open call for participants through schools networks, disseminating the information through government institutions in the education sector, media, youth networks and partner organizations and local governments across the country.

We have a strong background within our organization in outreach, mobilization and campaigning and as part of past initiatives, we have built a large network of partners and friends we can work with to disseminate the tools.

Community Engagement:

1. In-person events:

In-person interaction and youth events are important elements in developing youth environmental leadership (Arnold et al., 2009). In Cordoba, and because of the proximity of the groups we will be working with during the pilot phase, we will bring them together to foster interaction and collaboration, share lessons learn and collect feedback on the tools. We are planning to host a youth camp at the beginning and an annual project fair at the end of the year. On the second year, as we secure additional resources, we can see these two events engaging participants from all over the country. When expanding to other countries, we will identify partner organizations we can work with and provide them with the methodology, content and support for them to carry out their own local events.

2. Thematic/Periodic Campaigns:

At a larger geographic scale, we will use thematic campaigns around specific issues throughout the year to rally groups around a specific issue/ call to action which can help maintain engagement and momentum throughout the year (ex. such as we do for Earth Day every April).

3. Storytelling and communications: through the Platform, we will source inspiring stories and action examples that can be used within the network but also externally to inspire a larger audience to join the Program and lead action in their communities.

We will measure success by:

  • the number of actions that are started or replicated in the communities, as a result of this Initiative.
  • the results and impact of each of the Action Projects, which groups will be requested (and mentored how to) report through the Platform.
  • the amount and quality of the citizen-generated data that results from this project.
  • the number of communities that are represented, number of participants and citizens involved.
  • the number of local policy process in which young people and participants in general engage as a result of this initiative.


Replication and scalability:

Even though we are initially using Cordoba (Argentina) as our test site, the Program and tools have been designed in a way that can be used anywhere in the world (only requiring translation). We can foresee the Program rolling out in other provinces in Argentina, other countries in Latin America and (once translation is completed), in English Speaking countries after the pilot phase. Our initial target countries are developing ones, first, because they will be severally affected by Climate Change and in many cases are ill prepared to deal with the consequences. Also, because environmental data is not often available in these places in comparison to developed countries. However, the tool could be potentially used anywhere in the world.


We've been bootstrapping the set up and development of the first version of the Indicators set, the Map and App. As we run the first pilot, we are also actively pursuing resources and we are confident we can secure support both from foundations and corporate giving to launch at a national level. Beyond initial set up costs, ongoing costs will include maintenance of the platform, coordination time and resources for running our in-person national events to bring together participants from the Program.



Who will take these actions?

"I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act." - Bill Gates


The Indicators Set is being designed by the youth team at TierraVida (in collaboration with education experts and partner schools) to target young people aged 10-20 years old. We are a youth-led organization based in Cordoba, Argentina.

The Indicators are designed to be flexible and adaptable enough to be used by anyone with an interest in their community sustainability. Participating groups can come from a formal education setting (ex. schools - which is how we will roll out the pilot phase this year). However, it can also be used by non-formal youth groups or even by a family or citizen groups with an interest in exploring and discovering more about their community.

Civil Society Organizations will be involved in various capacities: helping spread adoption of the tool in their communities, recruiting users/participants and providing support and advice for advocacy efforts.

Governments will have citizen-generated environmental and sustainability data that it might have not been available before, or which is field-collected and can help validate their official data.

Communities will see the sprout of local Actions which will address sustainability challenges and provide tangible opportunities for citizen engagement.

Local Business will have access to new local and environmental citizen generated data, which might inform new business opportunities or their clients needs' and demands.

Youth are the main target group for this Program, not as the sole audience, but more as a strategic vehicle to drive wider citizen engagement in community sustainability.


What are other key benefits?

Citizen participation doesn't happen in a fortnight. It requires activation, information and critical thinking skills in order to be effective. One big issue in Cordoba - and certainly elsewhere - is the scarce citizen participation (in comparison to other parts of the country), and youth participation is even more rare. Meaningful youth participation doesn't happen by just "inviting" young people to the table. There is significant groundwork to be done so youth citizens can make an informed and effective contribution to policy making processes.

Through this initiative, we aim to engage the average young person on the street. Not just the youth that are already involved in the UNFCCC and other international policy making processes. Instead, we need to start a new wave of community leaders at the grassroots level, that can spearhead the transition to a zero-carbon economy at the local level.



What are the proposal’s costs?

This is a large Initiative so costs will be incremental as we expand and scale our geographic reach. However, they will comparatively decrease as we reach an economy of scale. The costs detailed below are for the pilot phase:

- Design and distribution of the first edition of the Indicator Set: 1K: we have volunteer designers and illustrators within our team working on the visual identity and lay out of the materials. We will use this 1K to print and distribute a first batch of the materials for the pilot phase and for remote schools with limited internet access. In the long term, we envision distribution mostly electronically (with the guides being easy to download, print and photocopy) upon registration in the Program. Printed copies could still be requested (at cost price) or provided in cases of schools with no internet or scarce resources.

- Online Platform: 6K - to build the first version of the Online Solutions Platform that will serve as the Hub for the Program. We are aware that building a fully fledged platform cost a lot more so we are bootstrapping the 1st version with the resources we have so far (a programmer within the team working on it, low-cost& high-quality web designer providers and expertise within our team in building two previous websites ourselves and We will be building the first version on a platform that allow us to continue building and growing the platform moving forward, as we continue to secure resources to grow and improve the quality and features of the site.

- App Design and testing: 2K - We have a programmer within our team who is building the App as part of his engineering graduation thesis. These 2K will be put towards design and visual elements for App and integration with the online platform & maps

- Transport: 1K To cover transportation costs for visits to participating schools and groups during the pilot phase.

Total: USD 10K (1st pilot) (+ in-kind contributions as detailed above)


Time line

- Pilot Phase Roll out in Cordoba (beta version): Aug-Dec 2014

- Youth Environmental Camp: January 2015

- Incorporating feedback and corrections to the tools: Jan-Mar 2015

- Launch Open Call for participants in the rest of Argentina (and potentially selected pilot sites elsewhere in Latin America): May 2015

- Project Fair (partners and participants in-person meeting): October 2015

- Translation to English: mid-2015 for launch in 2016 in english speaking countries.

Related proposals




- Arnold, H. et al (2009) Youth and environmental action: perspectives of youth environmental leaders on their formative influences. The Journal of Environmental Education. Spring 2009, Vol. 40 No. 3

- Informe Nuestra Cordoba (Indicadores Ciudadanos 2012)

- Louv, R. (2008) Last child in the woods.