Sophia Kianni: Increasing Accessibility To Climate Information

Sophia Kianni, youngest member of the United Nations’ Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and founder of Climate Cardinals (Photo © Ryan Lash / TED)

Climate activist, the youngest member of the United Nations’ Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, founder of a non-profit and Stanford student – the bubbly and energetic Sophia Kianni has already accomplished a lot at only 20 years old. In this exclusive interview, she tells us more about her non-profit, the challenges of being a founder and why you should attend her talk at Arch Summit 2022 on 26 October.

You are the founder and executive director of the non-profit Climate Cardinals. What can you tell me about it? 

Climate Cardinals is an international youth-led non-profit working on making that makes climate education more accessible to people who don’t speak English. We do this with our network of 9000 volunteers from 41 countries by translating climate resources into over 100 languages.

Growing up as an Iranian-American, visiting my family in Iran, I was struck by the fact that my relatives didn’t know about climate change, partially because there was a lack of climate resources available in Farsi. So, I started working with my mum to translate climate information into Farsi. Shortly thereafter, I also started working with other grassroots organisations like Fridays For Future and  I realised they also didn’t provide their information in languages other than English.

Realising that we were leaving people like my relatives behind, I decided to launch Climate Cardinals in my senior year of high school.

How do you ensure that the translated climate information gets read by the people who most need it?

We work with our partners on distribution strategy. For example, we work with UNICEF and they send out press releases to countries that lack translated versions of the documents. Nowadays, we also do partnerships for our translations because a lot of our partners have very large distribution networks that we want to tap into.

What feedback have you received so far?

It has been really incredible. we have started a very important conversation because now more organisations and individuals are thinking about the role that accessibility and translation play in furthering climate solutions.

Beyond our translation work, I find that a lot of the organisations and institutions that I work with also aim to translate more of their reports and include young people in their sustainability planning. 

What challenges have you faced as a young female founder overseeing 8000 volunteers in 40+ countries and being a student?

To be honest, I would say that I’m a full-time student and I run a non-profit on the side, that would be a better description. It’s very difficult because this is still a learning experience for me and I am trying to find the balance between being out with my friends, socialising, doing hours of schoolwork and having meetings and following up on my climate work commitments. I have to be very diligent about my planning – I basically live in Google Calendar.

What can you tell us about the keynote speech you will be giving at Arch Summit 2022? What do you hope to achieve with your speech?

It will be a call to action and showcase what I, as a young person, have been able to achieve on a very limited budget through the power of social media and young people’s passion. If I can do it, imagine what a concentrated effort by the companies attending Arch Summit could achieve. 

I also want to show examples of the key priorities of young people that I’ve aggregated through my work at the United Nations and talk more about the green trends that the youth of today care about. As we are the future, we are an important demographic that businesses need to listen to more.

From a business perspective, companies should take the climate crisis more seriously, because studies have shown that it’s one of the top values of young people and because in the long-term it’s the financially smart thing to do. There is a moral argument to be made to act now for the sake of future generations. 

On a positive note, social media has democratised access to information and made it harder for companies to pretend to be sustainable. Nowadays, companies who lie about their sustainability claims go viral and their brand image suffers. This of call-out culture means brands and organisations feel more compelled to take sustainability seriously. 

Do you see social media more as a positive or negative force in the climate movement?

My experience with it has been very positive. I think that part of the reason why we’ve been able to mobilise millions of people to go out into the streets and strike is because of social media.

There’s no way that I would have been able to grow Climate Cardinals organically to thousands of people without TikTok. This is relatively new and I think it’s changing the landscape of grassroots organisations.

Finally, what do you still hope to achieve with Climate Cardinals this year?

The biggest thing we’re working on right now is piloting a partnership that would allow us to use Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to translate high volumes of documents with a very high accuracy rate. Hopefully, that would enable us to automate and increase the number of translations that we’ve been able to do. If we’re able to get past this initial pilot, then we would want to scale that. However, that’s still very much in the works. 

Sophia’s talk will take place on 26 October between 12:00 – 13:00 at the Arch Summit 2022 hosted at Luxexpo.

For more information on Climate Cardinals and how to sign up as a volunteer, follow this link.

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