Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For breaking down the language barriers that can hinder climate education

Sophia Kianni vividly remembers reading a climate research report at age 12. She was ready to take action and encourage others to do the same. Yet her extended family spoke only Farsi—and the report was in English. While many a tween would have shrugged it off and moved on, Kianni translated the report herself. And then she set her sights on a bigger audience: the 75% of the world that doesn’t speak English. But she knew she couldn’t do it alone. So she began recruiting—and in the three years since launching Climate Cardinals, Kianni has attracted more than 9,000 volunteers in 40-plus countries.

By translating climate education materials into more than 100 languages, the nonprofit aims to empower everyone—regardless of the language they speak—to turn the tide on the climate crisis. And Kianni sees young people leading the charge.

“Our generation is going to be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis if action is not taken,” says Kianni, who’s studying climate science and health policy at Stanford University. “It’s imperative that we have a voice so we can spur greater urgency and greater action.”
Like other digital natives, she’s expertly tapped social media to amplify and engage. Case in point: Kianni received more than 1,000 volunteer requests the very first day she posted for Climate Cardinals on TikTok. And when she and others staged a hunger strike in the office of U.S. congressional leader Nancy Pelosi in 2019, their TikTok coverage of the protest went viral. In another nod to its global audience, the nonprofit also disseminates translated information via WhatsApp and Telegram.

“The traditional method of raising awareness—the way that old legacy nonprofits have been doing it—is totally broken,” Kianni says. “Through social media, we’re able to reach millions of people and spread the message about our climate work. It’s specifically made young people stand out in the climate fight—it’s a crucial differentiating factor and why so many more people are paying attention.”

Her influence keeps expanding. Kianni became the youngest member of the United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change when she joined at age 18. She also co-chaired the first Youth4Climate Pre-COP summit, bringing together young people from over 100 countries ahead of the big U.N. Climate Change Conference. By forging partnerships with UNICEF and Translators without Borders, Climate Cardinals has reached over 500,000 people. But to achieve real change, she knows that more powerful people must step up.

“If a ragtag group of teenagers that organize through social media can do this work, imagine the impact that a concentrated effort by governments, scientists and corporate leaders would have,” Kianni says. “There has never been a better time to engage and inspire people through storytelling.”

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