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Rasha Rehman headshot

Fellowship Empowers Young People with the Power of Sustainability Storytelling

Issues like warming temperatures or gender equity gaps may sound complex. But when communicated through the lens of story — and through the eyes of the people affected by these issues and working to solve them — they take on new meaning for engaged audiences. 
By Rasha Rehman
Geela - girl rising - storytelling

Geela Garcia, multimedia journalist and Girl Rising Future Rising Fellow, Philippines, documents stories of women, food sovereignty and the environment. 

Storytelling is central to sustainability and social impact. Issues like warming temperatures or gender equity gaps may sound complex and difficult to understand. But when communicated through the lens of story — and through the eyes of the people and communities affected by these issues and working to solve them — they take on new meaning for engaged audiences. 

Young leaders looking to accelerate their work in this area have a new opportunity to learn how to tell impactful stories. Launched by the nonprofit organization Girl Rising, the Future Rising fellowship selects 10 leaders annually between the ages of 17 and 25 who are working on gender equity and climate justice issues interchangeably. The fellowship provides financial support, a stipend of $5,000, access to networks of advisors and experts, and skills training such as leadership development, storytelling workshops, speaking opportunities, and other professional opportunities.

Girl Rising was established to explore how empowering women and girls with education can combat global poverty, CEO Christina Lowry told TriplePundit. Originally, Girl Rising launched as a film, which later became an organization. Along the way, the founding team kept up with research and trends on girls’ education and consistently discovered girls and women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, Lowry said.

Girls and women are more susceptible to climate-induced disasters

Globally, women represent 43 percent of the agricultural workforce, a rate that grows higher in parts of Asia and Africa. As such, women play a critical role in environmental sustainability and food security. Yet due to a combination of factors such as cultural gender norms, lack of access to education and resources, poverty, and limits on decision making, they are disproportionately impacted by climate disasters. Women are also susceptible to climate-induced exploitation such as organized trafficking because climate disasters uproot local security and safety for women and children, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

"We believe, at this moment in time, it is imperative to hand the mics over to girls and young women for us to be able to elevate the voices of those people, young women and young men who really are on the front lines of this work,” Lowry said. “So, we decided to create a fellowship program.”

During their cohort, Future Rising fellows complete a narrative media project that tells the story of their own work or the work of girls and women within the climate and environmental justice space. Fellows also learn the elements of impactful storytelling and are empowered to develop their own stories to tell.

ayo book reading - girl rising fellowship - storytelling
Ayomide Solanke, microbiologist, activist, visual artist and Girl Rising Future Rising Fellow, Nigeria discusses her graphic novel that highlights how the impacts of climate change can lead to forced marriages.

The Future Rising fellowship teaches effective storytelling strategies and provides access to a global network

Ayomide Solanke is a 2021 Future Rising fellow from Lagos, Nigeria. For her media project, she created a graphic novel that highlights how societal practices and norms such as child marriage affect girls and women and worsen poverty and climate change. The novel has since published locally in Lagos as well as online. “[The fellowship] was an opportunity at the time to be able to see and get my message on a larger and … wider platform,” she said. 

Solanke first discovered the fellowship via X, previously known as Twitter, and applied. "My original manuscript was probably maybe 10 pages at most,” she told us. “At the end, I have like 45 to 50 pages.” 

During the fellowship, Solanke and her cohort participated in a series of training sessions and workshops to learn more about storytelling. She learned to incorporate the voice of survivors in her story by speaking with them, while navigating the delicate line of not making them feel re-victimized. And the time spent drafting her story taught her how important using easy-to-understand language can be to getting a message across.   

"I would say that the Future Rising fellowship helped me not just in my project, [but] also in my work as an activist,” Solanke said. “I'm able to have a wider platform to grow and evolve and meet other people and share my work with people, and also hear, and see what other people are doing and incorporate and collaborate.”

Like Solanke, 2022 fellow Geela Garcia of Manila, Philippines, said the fellowship connected her to a global network of individuals to learn from and engage. "I wanted to be in a diverse community with shared goals and perspectives about people and our home,” she told TriplePundit. “Since the cohort is global, it exposes me to stories and experiences of people from different cultures and parts of the world. The fellowship reminds me that despite our differences, we are similar in wanting to make a safer and more livable place for all.”

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Leticia Tituaña, engineer, writer and Girl Rising Future Rising Fellow, Ecuador, spotlights Warmi STEM, a group dedicated to connecting indigenous women and girls with careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Girl Rising and HP continue their work to advance digital equity and eliminate challenges to girls’ education

Girl Rising has partnered closely with the tech giant HP for nearly a decade — from HP’s support of the original Girl Rising film, to a multi-year partnership to advance technology education in the U.S, India and Nigeria, said Michele Malejki, the company’s global head of social impact.

"In 2021, HP made a commitment to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people, and the Girl Rising Future Fellows program, also launched in 2021, was a natural next step in our collaboration — squarely rooted in our Sustainable Impact focus areas of climate action, human rights and digital equity," Malejki told TriplePundit. 

Digital equity — meaning equal access to technology and knowing how to use it — is essential for combating poverty as education, healthcare and economic opportunities increasingly move online. Women and girls, people with disabilities, aging populations, and other marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by gaps in digital literacy and technology access. HP and the HP Foundation aim to change that by bringing technology solutions and funding to nonprofit partners like Girl Rising. 

“HP and Girl Rising share a common belief that to drive positive, lasting change in the world, women and girls must have access to quality education, which includes amazing learning materials,” Malejki said. “Educating women and girls is fundamental to addressing our climate crisis, to strengthening our communities and global economy, and to solving other related issues like population growth and human rights violations.” Since 2019, the company and nonprofit have enabled 14.4 million students and teachers in India, Nigeria, and the U.S. with technology solutions and new curriculum, she said.

Meanwhile Girl Rising announced the third cohort of Future Rising Fellows in September in its latest bid to help young people tell their stories on a global platform and have access to power. 

“One of the things we know is that young people often don't have a seat at the table, and as critical discussions and decisions are being made about how countries and multilateral institutions are going to address climate change, where investments are going to go, we believe these young people need to be at the table and have their voices heard and their demands heard,” Lowry said.

This article series is sponsored by HP and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of Girl Rising

Rasha Rehman headshot

Rasha is a freelance journalist with experience in external communications and publicity. She is a Ryerson School of Journalism graduate and has worked on various media and communication campaigns in film, home development and the nonprofit sector. Rasha is passionate about storytelling for impact, whether she focuses on social enterprise, transforming our food system or making the business world more inclusive.

Read more stories by Rasha Rehman