Introducing Youth on Boards at The Climate Initiative!

youth on boards graphic with youth in a room

We’re thrilled to shine a spotlight on a new program – Youth on Boards, Action on Climate (YOB). Led by the passionate and dedicated Bethany Humphrey, YOB empowers young voices to actively participate in decision-making processes related to climate action. To give you an inside look at this inspiring project, we’re hosting a Q&A session with Bethany in this post. Join us as we delve into the mission, goals, and impact of YOB, and discover how you can get involved in amplifying youth voices in the fight against climate change.

Introducing Bethany Humphrey 

Hi everyone! I’m new to the TCI team as of November 2023. I work as the program lead for Youth on Boards, and I bring past experience in education research, land stewardship, natural resources management, and science communications. 

I live in Brunswick, Maine, and I grew up in Deer Isle-Stonington. I’ve seen firsthand the ways climate change threatens communities’ well-being and survival. I firmly believe that climate change solutions should be designed by and center the voices of people historically excluded from the environmental sector. 

bethany humphrey headshot and name

What is YOB?

Youth on Boards, Action on Climate (YOB) is a project that aims to increase the number of young people (teens and twenties) on boards of directors. The idea is that businesses and nonprofits will make more climate-focused decisions with young people as board members. 

This project educates youth about board service and trains them to become confident board members. We also ask boards to reflect on their culture, and make changes to norms or meeting procedures to be more inclusive of youth participation. 

I am passionate about YOB because it just makes sense to me; young people will inherit the results of decisions made now to address climate change, so youth should have a voice in decision-making processes now. 

Q: Can you share a little more about the origins of Youth on Boards, and how you envision the project’s place within the overall structure of TCI?

YOB grew out of an intergenerational discussion group of the Maine Climate Table, and officially became a project of TCI in December 2023. I am very excited about this transition because the mission alignment between TCI and YOB is so clear. We share the goal of educating, empowering, and activating young people to take action against climate change. We have put in a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work to fully integrate YOB as one of TCI’s programs, and the result is a strong foundation that will empower us to reach more young people and boards in 2024.

Q: YOB is a relatively new program, but I know you had some success stories during your first year. Can you tell us more about those wins?

In 2023, we placed three youth board members on two boards of nonprofits in Maine. We will continue to support the board members and leadership at these organizations. We will build on our successes and begin working with more nonprofits and businesses to place young people on their boards of directors. 

man at podium with TCI projection in background
Pictured: Former Fellow Dabreon who now sits on TCI’s Board of Directors!

Q: It’s really exciting to see a young person taking a leadership role in this project. Can you share some of the lessons you learned during your first year with YOB?

We learned a lot in 2023 about what it takes to run a successful, collaborative project with intergenerational leadership. The challenges we faced weren’t just related to bridging the gap between the generations; we also had to address differences in values and identity between team members. 

I learned the importance of paying attention to process and foundation-building. Climate change is a real threat to our survival, one that requires urgent action. However, we have so many systems of oppression and injustice built into traditional ways of taking action and “doing business”, that if we move too quickly and without intention, we run the risk of repeating the same mistakes and injustices we’re aiming to address. Projects that don’t advance justice inevitably exacerbate inequality. 

For intergenerational collaboration, it’s important to spend time on relationships and building trust. A strong team can start with folks of different backgrounds, but the work doesn’t end there. Our different identities affect our individual values, and our level of access to power, respect, and financial security. Taking the time to name these differences can be uncomfortable, but helps to build trust and respectful relationships. Building on this foundation of trust can help you define shared values for your work. It’s important not to make assumptions about priorities, terminology and methods for achieving your goals. 

In the case of YOB, I realized we couldn’t “practice what we preached” to boards in 2023 because we had unintentionally created an internal culture where not everyone’s voices were heard equally. This was a wake-up call that we needed to re-evaluate our foundations, engage with discomfort, and build a healthy, equitable project culture. That decision is what led us to a great home here at TCI. 

Q: What’s on the horizon for YOB?

2024 will be an exciting year for YOB! We are working in the first quarter to define a clear mission, vision and set of shared values for the project. I am confident that YOB is stronger than ever, thanks to the lessons we learned last year. TCI has amazing social media reach, education experience, and other in-house resources that will help YOB thrive and grow. 

Also, stay tuned for opportunities later this year to attend trainings! We have an “Introduction to Boards” training that covers the basics of board service for youth. We are also developing a financial literacy training for youth, since reading budgets and financial statements is a key skill for new board members. 

Q: If someone is interested in supporting YOB and the youth you work with, how can they get involved?

We will begin meeting later this year with interested boards and youth, so please reach out to Bethany at bethany@theclimateinitiative.org if you are interested. If you are an older person with board experience who is interested in mentoring or supporting youth board members, please reach out as well. 

Philanthropic support to continue this important work is greatly needed for 2024, and we welcome new and existing funders to reach out to discuss ways to partner going forward. Your support is essential for the continuation of Youth on Boards.