On this Earth Day, Vital Voices would like to celebrate the women leaders dedicated to the fight against climate change. Gender equality and climate justice are intricately linked. In any climate crisis, women and girls are disproportionately affected – from environmental migration to increasing poverty to violence and instability due to natural catastrophes. Gender-responsive climate action is necessary to ensure women have support and access to resources.
At Vital Voices, we have witnessed the real change that can spark from investing in young women leaders early. Our Rising Voices program, which empowers young women leaders through training, mentorship, and social impact funding, has given young women the power to create transformative change within climate action.
This Earth Day, check out eight Rising Voices leaders who are committed to making the world a better, more sustainable place. Learn more about our Rising Voices program here.
Andrea Nava Founder of Líderes por el Medio Ambiente, Guatemala
Andrea Nava is an environmental activist and nature lover. Currently a board member and regional coordinator for the Plant-for-the-Planet organization, Andrea has been planning environmental projects since she was 9 years old. After realizing the disproportionate impact climate change would have on Guatemala, she has made it her mission to train the next generation to conduct their own environment projects, creating a ripple effect of change. Andrea has founded project Ponle Nombre a un Árbol (Name a Tree) and project Líderes por el Medio Ambiente (Leaders for the Environment), an organization that works to educate the public about climate change and the environment, search for sustainable solutions, and empower young leaders to create their own environmental projects.
In addition to being a board member and regional coordinator for the Plant-for-the-Planet organization, Andrea is also a representative of Environment Online in Guatemala and member of Coordinación de Alianzas para Lograr los ODS (Coordination of Alliances to Achieve the SDGs) and other youth organizations. In 2013, she received the ENO Youth Hero Award in recognition of her environmental work, presented by the ENO International Organization. In 2015, Andrea was a speaker at “El Futuro Posible“ [The Possible Future] at TEDx Guatemala. In 2016, she was invited by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to be a virtual participant in the Paris Agreement signing ceremony that took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York. That same year, Andrea took part in the 2016 World Forum for Democracy as the representative for Guatemala, organized by the European Council, in Strasbourg, France.
Shelby O’Neil Founder of Jr Ocean Guardians, USA
Shelby O’Neil is a National Geographic Young Explorer, as well as the Founder of Jr Ocean Guardians and the No Straw November challenge. As a past National Gold Award Girl Scout, Shelby has worked with several companies in the aviation, health care, and beverage industries to reduce single-use plastic pollution.
To date, over 40 million single-use plastic straws have been reduced annually from Shelby’s corporate relationships. Shelby has also worked in policy resulting in SCR-139 No Straw November statewide resolution and the passing of a “Straws Upon Request” bill in California. Hailing from the small town of San Juan Bautista, CA. Shelby is an advocate for equal education – currently focusing on shifting the narrative on who can be a scientist in hopes the world of science gains diverse innovators. Shelby is sophomore at the University of California Berkeley majoring in Global Environmental Politics.
Isha Patel Founder of the Green Sleep Project, USA
Isha is a high school student at Wooster School. An environmental activist, she is passionate about raising awareness on the issues of climate change and plastic pollution. Having grown up in India, Isha has faced the problem of plastic pollution first hand. Through the Green Sleep Project, she hopes to inspire youth to be proactive in the fight against pollution and educate them on climate change.
The Green Sleep Project started as Isha’s idea for a middle school project. The initial aim was to reduce plastic pollution by reusing plastic bags and crocheting them into sleeping mats for the homeless The very first mat was donated to Dorothy Day Hospitality House. Although creating plastic bag sleeping mats remains their staple and most popular project, they have expanded to encompass not only different matting styles, but also the pillar of environmental education. The program also encompasses the Environmental Science Exploration/Arts Initiative, where students either explore (micro)plastic pollution in their local environments (later presenting their findings) or create a piece of art advocating for environmental justice. Isha’s biggest aspiration is to inspire youth to take a stand against environmental injustice and the consequences of plastic pollution.
Claudia Renta Ortiz Founder of the The Tinglamigos, USA
Claudia is a high school student from Puerto Rico. She was passionate about nature and the environment from an early age, starting her organization The Tinglamigos in middle school. Tinglamigos is a group of youth that go to the beaches of Puerto Rico to help sea turtles to their nesting and hatching process. Tinglamigos is in charge of numerous activities for young people that have to do with the protection of this species and the importance of caring for the environment.
Claudia named this group “Tinglamigos” because in Spanish, leatherback turtle is “tinglar” and the word “amigos” was added to refer to the word “friends” which in English means “leatherback turtle friends.” The group patrols the beach at night and in the morning to register any sea turtle that nests on the coasts of Puerto Rico. Additionally, they go to different municipalities in Puerto Rico to give presentations on turtle conservation, coral reef preservation, and how to care for the environment. Claudia is an aspiring researcher, already having published her research on coral reefs in a paper titled “The Thermal Stress And The Effects On Coral Bleaching.”
Renata Koch Alvarenga Founder of the EmpoderaClima, Brazil
Renata Koch Alvarenga is a youth gender and climate justice advocate from Brazil, and starting this fall, she will be attending Harvard Kennedy School or Columbia University for her Master’s of Public Policy. She is the Founder and Director of EmpoderaClima, an educational initiative about gender equality and climate action focused on youth in the Global South.
EmpoderaClima produces exclusive content in Portuguese, Spanish, English and French, and engages in multiple advocacy platforms, such as the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, in which Renata co-leads the Education for Gender and Climate Justice collective and is a Guiding Group Member of Transform Education, hosted by the UN. / Renata has presented her work in 8 countries and spoken at global conferences such as COP25, CSW 65 and the MIT Climate Conference. She is currently involved in many global initiatives, including the Youth Constituency of the UN Climate Change Convention, where she serves as Co-Lead of the Gender group, and UN Women, where she is a National Gender Youth Activist representing Brazil. Renata is also the G(irls)20 Ambassador to Brazil and works with politics and diplomacy in Rio de Janeiro. When she’s not delivering power statements at international conferences, Renata loves watching musicals and riding her bike by the beach.
Evelyn Mutzutz Founder of the Ecoturismo Pachun, Guatemala
Evelyn Mutzutz is a 19-year-old Guatemalan girl from Chimaltenango, studying tourism at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala on the Altiplano campus. Since she was little, she has liked to participate and get involved in different activities, and in addition, she is passionate about living together and learning from people and nature. She is president of the K’o Samuj Junan Women Entrepreneurs Association and promoter of the Pachun Ecotourism project, both with the aim of helping families and thus reduce one of the problems that Guatemalans face, this problem is migration.
Pachun Ecotourism is a tourism project of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs K’o Samuj Junan. This project trains young people in tourism issues so that they can later work in Pachun ecotourism. But more than acquiring knowledge, experience and recreation spaces for the population; an opportunity will be given for young people to implement their own enterprises. The project will have both educational workshops on tourism issues as well as leadership training so that young people have the foundations for their own ventures. The goal of the project is to reduce the number of young adult forced migrants and to preserve the local environment through ecotourism.
Madison Vorva Leader of Girl Scout cookie campaign, USA
Madison Vorva is a youth engagement and sustainability strategist. At 16, she was honored as a United Nations “Forest Hero” for leading a successful eight-year campaign to get Girl Scouts USA to source responsible palm oil in its cookies. Partnering with Climate Advisers, the Rainforest Action Network, the Packard Foundation and the Union of Concerned Scientists, she grew her middle school project to a national media campaign that reached 10 million consumers. In 2014, Girl Scout cookie baker Kellogg, Cargill (largest U.S. palm oil supplier) and Wilmar (trader of 45% of the world’s palm oil) adopted deforestation-free commitments.
Her college activities included serving on the State Farm Youth Advisory board which funded thousands of youth-led service projects with its $10 million budget. Additionally, she hosted “FabLab,” a STEM education TV show airing nationwide on FOX affiliate stations. Notable shoots include the White House Science Fair, COP 21 UN Paris Climate Negotiations and the Women’s March Los Angeles. At ESRI, Madi designed GIS-based environmental science curriculum for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots “Compassionate Leadership Through Service Learning” MOOC. In 2017, Madi was appointed as the Roots & Shoots Chair on the Board of Directors of the Jane Goodall Institute. She is a NAAEE 30 Under 30 Leader in Environmental Education and recipient of Mount Vernon’s inaugural Leadership Fellowship and the Udall Congressional Scholarship. Madi is currently employed as the Member Manager at Earthworm Foundation.
Annie Lu Co-founder and CEO H2Ok Innovations, USA
Annie is the co-founder and CEO of H2Ok Innovations, a contaminant management platform that helps industrial and manufacturing businesses optimize water usage and treatment through predictive diagnostics. Industrial companies in the U.S. collectively use 18.2 billion gallons of water every day in order to run their operations. As a result, they also spend a whopping $106 billion every year to treat contaminants and waste that get in their water.
H2OK deploys a proprietary form of optical sensing into pipes, tanks and equipment to unlock previously untapped real-time data, which it then integrates into its automation control software. Customers include Cargill, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Ecolab and the Dairy Farmers of America. In 2021, Annie made Forbes 30 under 30 in the Manufacturing & Industry category for her work at H2OK innovations. Annie previously founded her own internationally recognized nonprofit BridgEd, which bridges the socioeconomic gap in education by connecting low-income high school students to free, quality college counseling. In addition, Annie was Miss Massachusetts Teen USA in 2019.