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These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

In honour of Black History Month, today we highlight Alicia Richins, a sustainability and social impact consultant based in Toronto, and a fierce advocate of the United Nations' sustainable development goals, or SDGs.

Alicia Richins is bringing the United Nations’ sustainable development goals to life, one organization at a time.

This 30-year-old starts with the change people want and works backwards to help them plan. Richins also writes stories from the future, imagining the better world we are creating. I chatted with this Torontonian in her other home in Trinidad and Tobago, where she is preparing to participate in Carnival.

Alicia Richins leads a Carnival cultural event for other students at York University in 2013. Photo courtesy Alicia Richins

Tell us about your work implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

In 2015, every government in the world agreed to increase human prosperity, ensure a sustainable environment and distribute resources more fairly. I bring this down to an enterprise level so people see how they can contribute to the bigger picture.

Nyoka Design Labs makes the world’s first sustainably produced glow stick. Its goal is to make light available for play and work, without harming the environment. This supports SDG No. 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG No. 13 (action on climate change). Nyoka’s commitment to female leadership and equity, diversity and inclusion supports SDG No. 5 (gender equity) and SDG No. 10 (reducing inequity). Developing a strategic plan to deliberately maximize each of these SDGs means its team can be sure they are engaged in doing much more than just producing a toy.

HOPE Pet Food makes pet food from insects, which supports SDG No. 2 (food security). Using the SDGs as a strategic planning tool, HOPE amplified its commitment to gender equity and diversity and inclusion in its hiring practices and is helping Canada to also meet SDGs No. 5 and No. 10 as a result.

Alicia Richins is a sustainability and social impact consultant based in Toronto, and a fierce advocate of the United Nations' sustainable development goals, or SDGs. #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackClimateLeaders

This approach makes business sense. Employees increasingly choose meaningful work and consumers also find this attractive. Prospective funders and investors are increasingly supportive.

Alicia Richins shares a personal land acknowledgment at a Metcalf Foundation event in 2019. Photo by Guntar Kravis

Tell us about your creative writing.

Just as it makes sense for businesses to plan based on the impact they seek, it makes sense for our societies. We cannot create a future we do not imagine. I report stories from the future set in the Climate Verse that begin with a real news event of today and cover it as if we had already solved the climate crisis. How would the news coverage of environmental damage caused by Coastal GasLink during pipeline construction be different if we respected the claims of the Wet'suwet'en? How would the death of Queen Elizabeth be different if it triggered the payment of reparations by colonists to the colonized?

Blast-from-the-past photo of Alicia Richins with her family. Photo by Ian Nesty

How did you get into this work?

I was born in Toronto but raised in Trinidad and Tobago and my dad was an airline pilot. We visited family in many places and I grew up aware I belonged in many countries. It was natural for me to become involved in the Model United Nations in high school and to continue that in university. I was frustrated by my Canadian university economics education because it failed to incorporate human potential and suffering and instead taught, as a matter of doctrine, that the study of how we allocate resources is simply a matter of maths. I was relieved to discover social and environmental economics, which demonstrate we can centre well-being in societal design.

I interned at the Inter-American Development Bank and saw my perspective recognized in the world. My full-time job is with Common Approach to Impact Measurement, where we set standards that facilitate both flexibility and aggregation of impact data. Groups that might, for example, be working to support the federal government’s commitment to the SDGs can do so with the metrics that make the most sense for them.

How did the way you were raised impact where you are today?

We were raised with an acute awareness of our privileged middle-class life. When I talked with my family about how unfair it is that some people have so little while others have so much, my parents agreed with me and told me I should study hard so I could change things.

What makes your work hard?

There is so much work to do. It is essential for me to acknowledge I cannot do it all and I cannot do it alone.

Alicia Richins negotiates with fellow delegates at McGill University’s annual McMUN conference in 2012. Photo courtesy Alicia Richins

What gives you hope?

I am on the steering committee of Leading Change Canada, supporting young people. That is very hopeful work. When I return to Trinidad and Tobago for Carnival every year, the air is charged with everything that is good about the human spirit. It is impossible not to feel joy.

What impact do you seek?

A world where we get to be humans with enough of what we need to allow us to be both aware and part of our ecosystems.

Do you have advice for other young people?

Lean into the many reasons for hope. Follow your passions. There is room for everyone.

What about older readers?

Allow youth to lead in the same way you would if you really believed we had a contribution to make as valued peers. Our contribution might be different than yours, but we can work together.