Youth Challenge International (YCI) is ready to expand its Toronto area operations from cultivating broad youth engagement in climate action to helping a more targeted group of young people build viable green businesses and social enterprises.

The Toronto-based non-profit is inviting young people from across the wider region (including Hamilton) to apply to a new accelerator program designed to give them the tools to turn their ideas into workable solutions.

“We see it as a natural progression” of the Innovate MY Future program YCI launched last winter and which welcomed its first cohort in the spring, said Laura Hache, the group’s climate action lead.

Sabrina Lau, Naomi Telford and Alexandra Lambropolous participate in Youth Challenge International's Climate Action Catalyst Summit on Feb. 27, 2020. Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald

The new Climate Solutions Accelerator, she said, is meant to help young people already working on a community-based initiative, those who have developed the concept for a green business, and those who may already have their idea incorporated.

“This program is meant to give them all the tools and support and coaching and financial support to get their ideas up off the ground and to scale up,” Hache said in a phone interview.

One of the projects that emerged from the Innovate MY Future program was the Peel region’s Community Climate Council, which is advocating for strong climate policy at local councils and ran a summer program for younger students this year.

Hache said the council would make an ideal candidate to graduate to the accelerator, but that she expects the majority of participants to come from outside the program.

She said YCI is looking beyond its established climate action networks to gather interest, including by pitching the offer to entrepreneurial post-secondary programs in business, technology and engineering.

“We're casting a wider net,” said Hache. “We're getting into new areas around green business and energy efficiency and even tech.”

“We think youth have lots of great ideas. There is a lot of appetite among youth to start their own initiatives and organizations and community projects."

Jill-Anne Santiago, Angela Zhen, and Tanvi Patel showcase their Innovate MY Future at YCI's Climate Action Catalyst Summit on Feb. 27, 2020. Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald

The first year of the new program will welcome two cohorts of 30 young people between the ages of 19 and 25 for a six-month program.

It will include four two-day intensive training courses, including initial “design sprints,” which aim “to break down and refine the problem they are trying to solve,” Hache said.

Participants will then move to developing their vision and mission, identify relevant stakeholders to engage, and receive coaching and mentorship to help deliver on goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic means the accelerator’s first cohort will take part virtually, which Hache said could help the project to ultimately be expanded across Canada.

Participants who complete the program would also be eligible to apply for a portion of $100,000 in funding for their projects thanks to financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Hache said the level of interest in YCI’s first foray into engaging directly with Canadian youth showed there is unmet demand from young people for opportunities to develop their own climate solutions.

“We think youth have lots of great ideas,” she said. “There is a lot of appetite among youth to start their own initiatives and organizations and community projects.

“The youth we're interacting with don’t necessarily see themselves reflected in the decisions or the way society is working right now. It's not really working for them.”

Deadline for applications to join the first cohort is Oct. 4.

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

“The youth we're interacting with don’t necessarily see themselves reflected in the decisions or the way society is working right now. It's not really working for them.”

I think that's true for the majority of the population.

You go kids, you go!