Kyle Empringham is helping Canadians talk about climate justice.

This 32-year-old facilitates free access for not-for-profits and charities to virtual conversations at ThoughtExchange.

Empringham is also a co-founder with Sujane Kandasamy of Starfish Canada, supervising a team of full-time interns who run the Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 awards program and teaching young environmental leaders how to craft effective online messages.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Kyle Empringham with the Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 award winners in Victoria, B.C. Photo courtesy Kyle Empringham

Tell us about your work at ThoughtExchange.

The days of corporations being accountable only to their boards and shareholders are over. To be successful, your decision-making must include your employees, and every institution must seek social licence in the communities in which they operate. ThoughtExchange has great technology to encourage broad-based engagement, allowing even the quiet voices to be heard and respected. My job is to extend that technology to non-profits, charities, grassroots groups and coalitions.

If we are to succeed in this energy transition, we must include a wide diversity of people. Our platform allows users to hear from everyone about their current concerns and hopes for a better future. In-person town halls and door-to-door, or Zoom window to Zoom window, conversations are very important, but their reach is limited and often excludes some voices we really need to hear.

We believe even if you are shy or can’t get to a meeting or are afraid to answer your door or don’t want to answer your phone, your voice matters. Our platform enables participants to speak and comment freely at a time and place of their choosing in a safe, respectful space. They can feel heard and develop an understanding of the perspectives of others, which builds cohesion. Leaders can be better employers, deliver better services and equip decision-makers with real data.

Kyle Empringham of #StarfishCanada is helping Canadians talk about climate justice. #YouthClimateVoices #ThoughtExchange
Kyle Empringham and Patrick in Whistler, B.C. Photo by Ink Photography

What do you do at Starfish Canada?

We have a team of amazing interns who manage the selection of our Top 25 awards every year. Winners get mentoring and support with funding and networking. The team also recruits editors, who mentor and coach young writers for online audiences.

What is satisfying to you about these projects?

Sujane and I became friends in 2011 in a first-year university biodiversity course. Young people did not have a respected voice then on many issues and most people were not talking about climate change. I even had a professor who taught that climate change was not caused by humans! To us, it seemed so urgent and so important, and we would talk endlessly to each other about it, but not many of our peers seemed interested. We both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives changing that. So even though we were only 19, we got started.

We both knew fabulous youth doing important climate change work and we wanted people to know about them and talk about them, so we decided to give them public recognition. We designed a selection and judging process and hosted the first awards ceremony. Since then, we have had the joy of learning about the inspirational work of thousands of youth. It is really challenging to choose the Top 25. Years later, winners repeatedly tell us the combination of recognition and encouragement has been singular in their work advancing climate justice. Canada’s National Observer has helped by profiling a number of them.

Once the awards program was up and running, Sujane set up a terrific education program in Ontario. I went to the West Coast for my master's and helped build out the mentoring and support programs for the winners.

Kyle Empringham along the Gorge Waterway in Victoria, B.C. Photo by Ned Taylor

What makes your work hard?

The passion that motivates can also weigh us down. Sometimes, it feels like a sprint and others, more like a marathon. Getting the balance and the pace right is tricky.

What gives you hope?

The changes I have seen even since I started university are significant. We have moved many needles and we are just getting started.

Tell us about your background

I grew up in a working-class family in a small Ontario town surrounded by love. But I am gay and often felt like there was not anyone else in town who had the same experience as me. I have a passion for engaging people so everyone can feel included for who they really are.

The Empringham family outside Kyle's grandparents' house in Gormley, Ont. Kyle is the smaller brother. Photo courtesy Kyle Empringham

Do you have any advice for other young people?

If you are not sure how to contribute, you are not alone. The complexity and enormity of the crises can seem daunting, but the upside is there is room and a need for everyone.

What would you like to say to older readers?

The scale and nature of the changes we need are unprecedented. The ideas the young people around you have might seem crazy, but make room for them. Your validation means more than you know.

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