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Featured: A Conversation with Winifred Awinpoya Atanga

Winifred Awinpoya Atanga is a climate policy engagement and sustainability enthusiast. She is the founder of the Conservation Leaders Network and has been honored with the esteemed role of COP28 Youth Climate Delegate representing Ghana.

Winifred is pivotal in climate literacy education, contributing her expertise to programs like the IRENA I ACT initiative, the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Agenda, and the Conservation Leaders Network Climate Peer Education program. She is also a distinguished climate speaker, sharing her insights at prestigious events.

Prior to her graduation in July 2023, Winifred stood out as one of the 25 Conservation Leadership Scholarship recipients at the African Leadership University. Her dedication and innovation earned her accolades for being the Best Innovation Project Student and an Ethical Entrepreneurial Student.

Tell us a bit more about your work as a youth activist and energy leader?

I'm an ardent advocate for climate policy engagement, proudly representing Ghana as the Youth Climate Delegate at COP28 in 2023. Beyond that, I'm also the founder of the Conservation Leaders Network, a youth-led organization committed to fostering sustainable development transitions in frontline communities. My passion for making a positive impact has led me to dedicate my efforts to advancing socio-economic development through sustainable changes.

Within the Conservation Leaders Network framework, our mission is to empower and uplift young leaders who share my vision for sustainable change. Together, we amplify the voices of the youth in various arenas, such as energy, education, sustainability initiatives, youth-led discussions, and advocacy campaigns. We engage in constructive policy dialogues with influential figures from both the public and private sectors.

As part of my unwavering commitment to achieving a Net Zero by 2030, I spearhead the EcoCook and EcoHomes projects. These innovative startups focus on clean energy solutions, such as home-based biogas derived from organic waste and ethanol gel, providing marginalized communities access to clean cooking energy. Additionally, I advocate for climate literacy and transition, leading Energy Literacy campaigns as part of the International Renewable Energy Agency's I ACT peer Trainer program and the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Transition Agenda. My involvement extends to the SDG7 youth constituency, where we work tirelessly to ensure youth play a pivotal role in sustainable energy transition initiatives.

Throughout my journey, I've collaborated with diverse teams, networks, and programs that align with my overarching mission. Through my various projects and professional endeavors, I've consistently championed the active engagement of youth in policy dialogues and the pursuit of sustainable transitions. My commitment to a greener, more sustainable future is unwavering, and I'm dedicated to continuing this vital work.

What motivated you to get involved in the climate and energy discourses from a young age?

My journey into climate and energy advocacy was deeply rooted in personal experiences and a strong desire to make a difference. Growing up in a community that witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change firsthand was a powerful motivator. I saw how our environment was changing, affecting our way of life and the livelihoods of many in my community.

My turning point came when I had the opportunity to learn and grow through organizations like YOUNGO UNFCCC and the ALU School of Wildlife Conservation. These experiences were transformative. They equipped me with the knowledge and tools to contribute meaningfully to addressing the challenges of climate change.

During these formative years, I realized I could be a catalyst for change in my local community. I saw a pathway to help build resilience in the face of climate change and actively promote mitigation efforts. The sense of responsibility and the conviction that I could make a tangible impact in my community became my driving force.

So, my journey into climate and energy discourses began with a firsthand understanding of the issues my community faced, and it was nurtured by the invaluable knowledge and opportunities I gained through these organizations. This journey has since been guided by the unwavering belief that we can work towards a more sustainable and resilient future for all with the right tools and collective effort.

What motivates you/empowers you to pursue the work that you do?

The tangible impact we're making through the Conservation Leaders Network, especially in marginalized communities, truly motivates and empowers me in my work. The stories of transformation, resilience, and hope drive me forward every day.

Knowing that our collective efforts have touched the lives of over 7,000 people in various communities since our inception in 2018 is incredibly rewarding. Each individual represents a positive change, a step towards a more sustainable and equitable future. It's not just about the numbers; it's about the faces, the families, and the communities we've been able to uplift.

Seeing a community that once struggled with access to clean cooking energy now benefitting from our EcoCook Project or witnessing the positive environmental impact of our initiatives, like climate literacy programs, fills me with a sense of purpose. These successes are a testament to the power of collective action and the resilience of communities when given the tools and knowledge to thrive sustainably.

The stories of individuals whose lives have improved because of our work remind me that every effort counts, no matter how small it may seem. This impact, this tangible difference we're making, fuels my passion and empowers me to push forward in our mission. Knowing that we're contributing to building a brighter, more sustainable future for those who need it most is the ultimate motivation for me and our team at the Conservation Leaders Network.

What have been some of the hurdles that you have faced along your journey?

Our journey in promoting sustainability and combating climate change has undoubtedly come with its fair share of hurdles. One of our most significant challenges is securing adequate funding to expand our reach and make an even more substantial impact. While our work has been transformative in our communities, sustainable initiatives often require continuous financial support to thrive and reach more people.

Another significant hurdle has been the challenge of understanding the climate risk perception of local communities. Climate change can sometimes feel like a distant issue, especially for those focused on immediate daily concerns. Penetrating these local communities, bridging the gap in understanding, and fostering a sense of urgency about climate risks can be complex.

To address this challenge effectively, we must engage in meaningful dialogue with these communities, listening to their concerns and priorities. It's essential to tailor our messaging and solutions to align with their specific needs and values. Building trust and partnerships at the grassroots level is crucial in overcoming this challenge.

On this heartfelt note, I extend a sincere call to action to donors and funders who share our vision of creating a more sustainable world. Your support is not just an investment in our organization; it's an investment in the well-being of marginalized communities and the future of our planet.

What have been any shocking things you have learnt through your work - about communities, the importance of education etc.?

Through my work advocating for climate action and sustainability, one of the eye-opening revelations has been the extent of the knowledge gap within communities regarding climate change. While it may not necessarily be a shock, it's a profound issue that demands our immediate attention as advocates and changemakers.

Many communities, especially those in marginalized areas, often need more information and awareness about the intricacies of climate change to understand its extent of harm. This knowledge gap mainly hinders locals' ability to recognize the signs, adapt to changing conditions, and actively participate in mitigating its effects.

Realizing climate change education is crucial in promoting a sustainable world. It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive and accessible education on climate change at all levels, from schools and communities to broader public awareness campaigns.

As advocates, we must act on this issue by prioritizing education and awareness initiatives. These efforts can empower individuals and communities to make informed decisions, adopt sustainable practices, and actively engage in the fight against climate change.

What advice do you have for young people trying to enter the climate and energy spaces?

My advice to young people aspiring to make a difference in the climate and energy spaces is simple yet profound:

Be advocates in your own spaces, no matter how small or humble those spaces may seem. It's never too late to start, and the urgency of this mission cannot be overstated. Our core duty is to protect the planet because it's our future at stake. No matter how modest, every action, voice, and effort contributes to a more significant cause. Whether raising awareness among your peers, advocating for sustainable practices in your community, or getting involved in global initiatives, remember that every step counts. Because, our collective commitment to safeguarding the Earth will drive meaningful change and create a sustainable world for future generations.


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