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Empowering Young Climate Leaders: Reflections on the YELL Lab Journey

About the Youth Environmental Leaders Learning Lab

In March, we wrapped up our first offering of the Youth Environmental Leaders Learning (YELL) Lab. Created through a collaboration between the Academy for Sustainable Innovation (ASI) and The Starfish Canada, this program brought together young people (aged 18-30) across Canada who are engaged in or passionate about sustainability and climate action. The program was intentionally designed to support participants with skill development and community building to help them continue to lead the transition to a socially-inclusive, climate-positive future. 

To lead change, we must be equipped with Transition Leadership competencies, including skills such as systems thinking, empathy, deep listening, conflict facilitation, and futures thinking, to name a few. Young people are already leading climate action, but by deepening our understanding of systems, how we show up in them, and how to work together on grand challenges, we are a stronger collective force for change. 

ASI's Transition Leadership Competencies

Social Innovation & Learning

Strategic Futures Acumen

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Climate & Sustainability Literacy

Adaptive Leadership

Collaborative Leadership

Focus Areas of YELL Lab

The program explored many topics focused on understanding personal values, social positioning and context, and the power of imagining a better future; the more we understand ourselves and our social context, the better equipped we are to lead change. The five program modules covered:

  • Systems Change: Recognize climate change and sustainability in a systems context, and explore and practice different models of systems change.

  • Self-in-System: Assess the interplay between “self” and “system;” examine social location, power dynamics, and complexities of self-care; identify personal values and interests that align with what’s needed in the context of climate action. 

  • Communication & Conflict: Differentiate between harm and conflict; practice methods for communicating climate work to various audiences; examine and perform various roles in conflict facilitation and management.

  • Storytelling & Envisioning Futures: Construct a vision/story of the future (2080) through creative images and story; understand the concept of a “just transition,” envision alternative futures, and build relationships to foster collaborative change.

  • Presenting Ideas & Sharing Peer Feedback: Communicate a project idea, gather peer feedback, envision personal change, and integrate program learnings.

Empowering Young Leaders for Climate Action

Over 10 weeks, we gathered for five live sessions with 25 participants across six different provinces and territories. Together, we navigated the complexities of systems, deepened our understanding of conflict and how to navigate it, rooted into our values, and imagined possible futures, and above all, found community with others who are dreaming up and working towards a more sustainable future.

In our final session, we asked participants to share a word or phrase that captures what they were leaving the program with; we heard: “inspired,” “keen,” “motivated,” “connected,” “hopeful,” “glad,” “changed,” “togetherness,” “radical joy and love,” and “a better world is possible.”

Young people across Canada – and globally – are already taking climate action and are committed to making the world more sustainable for future generations. We are called to support these young leaders, enable them to lead monumental change, and not let them do it alone.

Following this program, we are left hopeful that the future is in good hands – but only if we collectively work to resource, uplift, and reduce barriers to those leading us into that future. Our parting invitation, as a play on our program acronym: YELL for climate action; YELL for tomorrow.

Brennan Strandberg-Salmon
Brennan Strandberg-Salmon
Policy Analyst
Environment and Climate Change Canada
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The YELL program was a unique opportunity to connect with passionate youth across Canada to build a national youth climate community. It exceeded my expectations with its thoughtful and inspiring content, focus on community and well-being, and ability to foster deep dialogue with help from dedicated and compassionate facilitators. Thank you to the Starfish and ASI for leading the program! I highly recommend it to anyone in the youth climate space, whether you're experienced or just starting out.
Airlea Rasul
Airlea Rasul
Stewardship Funding Coordinator Co-Chair, Environment Founder & Executive Director
Coast Funds | LEAF | Terra Elysium
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The YELL Lab Program, curated by Starfish and the Academy for Sustainable Innovation, offers an enriching experience that goes beyond conventional learning. [...] Each module delves into the intricacies of systems change and the importance of self-care amidst complexity. Additionally, the program provides a vibrant networking platform, fostering meaningful connections and dialogue essential for collective action. From exploring the Cynefin Framework to harnessing the transformative potential of storytelling, participants are empowered to navigate challenges and inspire sustainable change across Canada.
Sylvie Stojanovski
Sylvie Stojanovski
Co-Founder & General Manager
Scarbrite Collective
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It was such a nourishing and transformative experience to get to connect with environmental leaders from all over the country in a structured container.
A blue logo with the text "YELL Lab" in bold, uppercase letters. The design creatively extends the vertical line of the "Y" to form part of the "L" in "YELL," representing Youth Environmental Leaders, and the word "Lab" is positioned below on the right side.

ASI and The Starfish hope to offer this programming again. If you would like to support this work as a funder, sponsor, or individual donor, please get in touch. Contact us at

If you are a young leader who would like to sign up to learn about future offerings of this program, please add yourself to this list, and we’ll reach out when we have more information.


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