As a GenZ business student and climate and children’s rights advocate, I am constantly surrounded by like-minded youth voices who are motivated to make tangible change in the world around them. Yet time and time again, I am brought to face the societal barriers that stand between the business world and youth-led change. Entering my internship this past winter as part of the Youth Climate Collaborative Initiative (YCC), I often wondered why American Family Insurance (AmFam) chose to create the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact (Institute) and establish Resilient Communities as one of its core principles. It was a concept that I had never heard of in the past. Call me naïve, but seeing an entire entity dedicated to social impact and with a specific initiative created to listen to youth voices surrounding climate advocacy was surprising.

Working to create an engaging safe place for youth to share what grounds them in their work, I have seen the benefits that have come from being a youth voice at the decision-making table. –Isabel LoDuca

However, throughout the past 11 weeks, I have come to understand just why the Institute does the work it does. The Institute understands that as Earth Month 2021 begins and as the clock continues to tick toward 2030, climate change is increasingly affecting every aspect of the world we live in today. The Institute team knows that listening to stakeholders who are affected by various intersectional issues is a highly effective way to create change. But most importantly, the Institute is committed to breaking the systematic barriers causing opportunity disparities across the country.

The Facts

AmFam acknowledges the major complex systemic challenges facing individuals and communities across the country and the world and believes that climate change only further exacerbates these challenges. I now understand that this is why AmFam created the Institute. Focusing on the intersectionality of environmental, climate and social justice issues, the Institute is dedicated to working towards closing equity gaps.

The Institute’s Intersectional Work: The Youth Climate Collaborative

The term cross-functional arises in conversations in every industry and in every business class across the country. Yet, I have come to learn that the Institute uses this concept of cross-functional teams to fulfill its mission in every endeavor.  No longer is the term “cross-functional” simply a definition I learn for the next test, but rather, I now see how tangible change results from when diverse teams work together towards a common goal. This perfectly describes the work of the YCC in which passionate individuals from within the core team as well as across many organizations and amongst many individuals have come together to promote youth voices while tackling the issue of climate change. Through my role serving on the YCC core team, I am getting the chance to work with a diverse set of stakeholders to bridge the barriers between business and youth-led change that I and many peers face too often.

The Catalyst

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped connect the dots between climate change and the complexity of its reach and its impact. The pandemic did not slow the momentum of passionate people organizing around activism and advocacy. Instead, it became a catalyst, illuminating the disparities of the health, safety, and access issues facing black, indigenous, and people of color. I saw my friends of all backgrounds in communities across the country band together to protest racial injustice, fight for climate justice, and insight real change. Whether their work took the form of organizing protests in the streets or scheduling virtual congressional meetings, I have been inspired by my peers to be one of the changemakers the world so desperately needs.

These same systemic disparities seen throughout the pandemic are relevant to the impact of climate change. Like the pandemic, every person has their own unique climate story – their own lived experience that has affected their life. Yet not everyone has a platform nor the resources to share their insights with others.

 The Action

Recently, the Institute launched a partnership with NationSwell on a Youth Climate Collaborative bringing together youth climate advocates, government officials, and business leaders with the goal of engaging in conversations that open opportunities for action. I have had the opportunity join in these conversations as well as being interviewed as a young climate advocate.

As a member of the YCC core team, our team’s role is to listen and learn from these conversations so that experts in the space can continue to inform our role in climate action and community resilience.  By amplifying the inspiring stories we hear, we are aiding in increasing the power of collective advocacy. For example, on April 20th, the Institute is hosting an opportunity room at Power Shift Convergence 2021 as an opportunity to recognize the work of young climate advocates and to learn from their work. Working to create an engaging safe place for youth to share what grounds them in their work, I have seen the benefits that have come from being a youth voice at the decision-making table.

The Result

Reflecting upon the past 11 weeks of my internship, I now better understand why AmFam created the Institute. Through experience, I see how the Institute is committed to acting now. They believe that all efforts to reduce their environmental impacts, to understand the issues of environmental injustice, and to form partnerships that pursue a more just approach to climate risk adaptation and mitigation, will help support a more socially just future.

It has been incredibly eye opening to see my two worlds collide and to experience first-hand ways to work with business to lead societal change.  There is power and energy in both realms of this work. Through my work as the YCC intern, I am getting the opportunity to work directly with those leading the efforts to make tangible change as a representative of a business who truly wants to be a partner in progress.

Photo credits: Hudson Hintze, Li-An Lim and Katie Rodriguez on Unsplash