Young people are the group that will be most impacted by the progressing climate crisis. Within that group, women and girls are most susceptible to its devastating impacts. Additionally, 70% of the over 1 billion people living in poverty are women, who are often tasked with the responsibility of securing water and food for their homes. Increases in extreme weather patterns have meant unreliable crops and more effort needed to provide for those reliant on them. A disproportionate household burden, coupled with a lack of decision-making responsibility based on many long-standing societal norms, means that women are among the most vulnerable to climate change.

With an understanding of this and as a testament to two of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility’s focus areas – collaborate for sustainability and accelerate social business – SAP launched a new program in partnership with the global nonprofit organization ChangemakerXchange (CXC). ChangemakerXchange is an international community that connects more than 1,000 members in 130 countries around the world, providing safe, supportive, fun, and empowering spaces so that changemakers may create, sustain, and scale positive change.

CXC identifies a changemaker as a dedicated social entrepreneur, innovator, or activist, typically between the ages of 16 and 30. On a base level, CXC aims to create a community of supportive peers for the exchange of knowledge, tools, and resources to help prevent burnout and increase changemakers’ personal sustainability as they tackle the most pressing issues facing our planet. ChangemakerXchange primarily does this through hosting five-day summits that foster lasting connections, nurture well-being, and enable peer learning and meaningful connections.

SAP supported a North America-focused summit last month. Twenty women and gender-diverse climate changemakers participated in the Gender and Climate Action Summit in upstate New York to connect with one another and dive into sessions focused on human connection, well-being, peer learning, and collaboration. Nick McGirl, one of the co-founders of ChangemakerXchange, worked alongside SAP CSR to curate this cohort of participants. He reinforced the significance of these customized meetups: “Gender inequality and the planetary crisis are deeply interwoven. Women and girls experience the greatest impact of climate change, which then amplifies existing gender injustices, even within the social entrepreneurship sector. SAP’s support has enabled us to connect and support some of the most promising women climate action changemakers from North America and Canada.”

Click to enlarge. Photo by Karen Sullins.

The changemakers spent nearly a week connecting with one another to share the various challenges and successes they’ve had while developing their social businesses. The Possibilists study conducted in 2021 by an alliance of 16 of the world’s leading youth social innovation networks showed that 66% of young changemakers cannot cover their financial needs solely through the work from their initiative, meaning they have to look elsewhere for financial compensation and security. The sentiment that young changemakers are sacrificing their personal finances and well-being to make a change in the world was reinforced among participants at the North American summit. The participants also echoed that their greatest needs included access to funding, networking, and collaboration, highlighting the need for the ChangemakerXchange community. I had the privilege of attending this summit to witness firsthand the power of collective action and meet some of the young women leading the charge to leave a better planet than the one they inherited.

Gitanjali Paul is a leader at Compass Education, which seeks to empower educators as changemakers who transform and inspire students to create a more sustainable world by providing systems thinking training and tools. She described the most impactful part of the summit as the “opportunity to reflect on my ‘why’ for this work, in both formal and informal spaces…Hearing our concurrent journeys to how we got to where we are and what we’re passionate about is really inspiring and grounding.”

Mikellena Nettos of The Climate Reality Project highlighted the importance of “meeting like-minded women that are doing their best to take on climate action on all scales, learning, and growing with them.” Georgia Scott is the co-founder and co-executive director of Eco Circle International, which bridges the gap between intersectional environmentalism and sustainable action through international fellowships and educational platforms. She also found tremendous value in connecting with other like-minded changemakers, both professionally and personally.

Click to enlarge. Photo by Karen Sullins.

In sessions such as Changemaking River and Open Space Technology, participants and facilitators led conversations around topics ranging from fundraising to environmental racism, boundaries and mental health, and leadership. The final day included a Truth Mandela, where participants were able to share their fears and the anger they have related to the climate crisis, as well as the passion and hopes they have to create positive change. “I felt so empowered to be surrounded by many other young women in the climate and biodiversity space…I loved the raw and real emotion and supportive community we built through the Truth Mandela,” one participant conveyed.

Having experienced the summit in person, I can attest to the importance of such a collaborative, unique space. It is easy to feel overwhelmed as an individual when you consider the mounting challenges facing our climate, our communities, and subsequently our families. It is easy to feel like your actions alone will not make a significant difference. Above all, it can be easy to lose hope. The young women I met in New York inspired a newfound confidence in the promise of our planet’s future. Most of their organizations focus on galvanizing their peers to increase awareness and prioritize sustainable practices. There is a growing movement with promising leaders at the forefront that gives me optimism regarding climate action.

Click to enlarge. Photo by Karen Sullins.

I walked away from the summit with an appreciation for the framework that organizations like ChangemakerXchange provide to guide activists on their changemaking paths. This summit was the first of its kind in North America and SAP is excited to grow this partnership globally in 2023 and beyond – helping to remove some of the obstacles that our brightest, young changemakers face on their journeys to do good on a local and global scale. We look forward to offering employee engagement opportunities as part of these summits for those interested in getting involved.

Logan Applewhite is part of North America Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP.