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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 the climate equality work of Lisa Akinyi May.

Lisa Akinyi May translates research into action.

As the new associate director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ B.C. office, May leads the organization’s communications and public engagement and is a member of the management team.

Lisa Akinyi May represents at the International Press Institute’s global conference in Abuja, Nigeria in 2018. Copyright Kunle Olawoyin

Tell us about your work at CCPA-BC.

CCPA-BC is a team of over 50 staff and volunteer researchers shedding light on the key challenges facing our province — the high rate of poverty, economic insecurity, the extreme concentration of wealth, and threats to our environment and climate.

Our research doesn’t just sit on a shelf. We want civil society to engage with our findings and hope our solutions influence those able to make life better for British Columbians.

I provide the support our researchers need to do their work and make sure it has traction now and into the future. For example, in partnership with Climate Action Network, we released Spending What it Takes, our advice to the federal government as to how best to protect Canadians and improve our lives in the context of the climate crisis.

Our senior economist Marc Lee, Caroline Brouillette from the Climate Action Network and other collaborators show how federal government spending of just two per cent of GDP over five years can get us on track for net zero.

As the new associate director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ B.C. office, this 34-year-old leads the organization’s communications and public engagement and is a member of the management team. #BlackClimateLeaders

With our communications team, my job is to help ensure the report resonates with civil society and that decision-makers take it seriously.

Lisa Akinyi May after getting her master’s degree in political science at the University of British Columbia in 2022. Copyright UBC Political Science

How did you achieve this position?

I moved here in 2020 just as the pandemic started and since very few jobs were available, I spent the time getting my master's degree from the University of British Columbia. I wanted to work at the intersections of social, environmental and economic justice and since CCPA-BC seemed like a great fit, I applied. The rest is history.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in Kenya. When I was 16, I moved to Belgium to live with a relative. There I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Journalism.

In my early career, I worked for the United Nations reporting stories of some of the most vulnerable people in Kenya. Then I worked as a journalist at one of Belgium's leading broadcasters, VRT News, before joining, a Brussels-based foundation. I managed communications and grants supporting a global network of investigative journalists exposing money laundering, corruption and human rights abuses.

Lisa Akinyi May and the Belgian delegation of investigative journalists at the 2019 Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, Germany. Photo courtesy Lisa Akinyi May

How does your background impact your work?

For me, the expression, “Think global; act local,” is personal. In Kenya, the lakes have been “swelling” due to climate change. This is how people talk about floods that have brought waist-high water to their living rooms. Northern Kenya now endures serious drought and resulting food insecurity. At the same time, Kenya shelters thousands of refugees from the region — some displaced by the changing climate.

Belgium experiences severe heat in the summer just like other parts of Europe. Climate change is a global problem, and in B.C., I have seen forest fires, the heat dome, and floods. Canada is working to shelter more refugees.

I was raised by a global community. In Kenya, it was my grandmother, my parents and other relatives. In Belgium, my aunt and Belgian family showed me how to do well. In Canada, the progressive community welcomed me and showed me opportunities.

So, as well as seeing the negative implications of the climate crisis in all three places, I have also seen community-building and resilience everywhere.

My lived experience is local and global and vice versa. The CCPA-BC offers analysis and solutions to local issues, but because many of these are global in nature, the solutions could benefit people in British Columbia and beyond.

What makes communicating real-world solutions hard?

We must contend with organized and well-funded disinformation. Deciding how much to correct and choosing the most effective platforms to disseminate our evidence-based reports is an ongoing challenge.

We strive to make our work relevant. It is crucial to foreground the wisdom and insights of those with lived experience as well as scholarly research. Finding the best mix takes time.

It is also important to get it right — both to make sure our work is credible with British Columbians and in other places where it might apply.

To Lisa Akinyi May, the expression, “Think global; act local,” is personal. Copyright Assia Missaoui

What do you see if we get this right?

When young people have a seat at the table, we all benefit from ideas and solutions borne out of a refusal to accept things as they are. When Black, Indigenous and people of colour contribute their ways of knowing and building resilience, we can all benefit.

Lessons we learn in one part of the world may apply to another. If we can appreciate that being anti-racist means we all share more of the emotional labour of contending with racism, we can create space for more diversity in our solutions.

What would you like to say to other young people?

Your voices matter. Continue to demand they are heard. And vote.

What about older readers

When you support organizations like the CCPA-BC, you amplify research that advocates for social, economic and environmental fairness. Carry that commitment into the voting booth.