Youth are the Leaders of Today with Sujane Kandasamy

Youth are the Leaders of Today

The Starfish Canada Blog Series with Sujane Kandasamy

Youth are the Leaders of Today

The Starfish Canada Blog Series with Sujane Kandasamy

By Emily Jerome, Digital Engagement Assistant

As the Co-founder and Director of Education with The Starfish Canada, Sujane Kandasamy works to empower youth leaders across the country.

Over the past decade, The Starfish Canada has filled their online journal with over 1,200 entries covering an array of environmental topics from biodiversity and food systems to innovation and sustainability. What’s even more incredible is that all were written by passionate youth from across the country. As Sujane Kandasamy, the Co-founder and Director of Education with The Starfish Canada, put it, “young people aren’t the leaders of tomorrow, they’re actually the leaders of today.”

Sujane Kandasamy
Sujane Kandasamy

The roots of The Starfish Canada

It all started with an undergraduate course at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Sujane and Kyle Empringham dived into the world of biodiversity and environmental challenges. Inspired by what they had learned, Sujane and Kyle set out to share these environmental stories with other young people across the country and formed the national charitable organization, The Starfish Canada, in 2010. Although it started as an eco-blog filled with storytelling and simple solutions, it’s grown to a team of over 60 passionate youth writers.

For Sujane, environmental stewardship has always been an important part of her life. “I’m lucky to have had those early life experiences that shaped my way of thinking,” reflects Sujane. “As an organization, to provide something similar for young people across cultures and languages is a beautiful thing.”

Workshops designed to inspire solutions

Through their inquiry-based workshops, The Starfish Canada is engaging classrooms in debates about in-vitro meat, deep discussions on interconnectivity, creative environmental storytelling and much more. In every session, Sujane is met with hard-hitting questions and original ideas on how to tackle complex and persistent challenges. To Sujane, this highlights how important it is to listen to youth voices and cultivate their ideas, especially since many of these wicked problems don’t appear to have solutions in sight.

How to tackle eco-anxiety and empower youth

As youth are increasingly exposed to environmental challenges through social media and movements such as Fridays For Future, there’s more talk about youth experiencing eco-anxiety. But, Sujane has some tangible suggestions for educators. “What works really well is centering the conversation around a real-world challenge,” says Sujane. From that jumping-off point, educators can guide “solutions-oriented and empathy-driven dialogue rooted in planetary health, ethic and justice pieces.”

If eco-anxiety arises, Sujane says that it’s important to name it and give the power back to youth by providing examples of solutions. What’s even better is showcasing solutions that have been designed by other youth. This is precisely why The Starfish Canada created the Top 25 Environmentalists under 25 program; to “celebrate and amplify the stories of what young environmentalists are doing.” The program also helps to connect young people and create a network of like-minded youth to uplift and inspire each other.

Students learning on Fridays for Future
Youth learning about environmental protection for Fridays for Future. Photo by Robert Kneschke from Canva.

Lessons along the way

Since 2010, Sujane has learned four lessons from growing a charitable organization and spending countless hours working closely with youth. First, the value of intentional and meaningful partnerships with other organizations and communities in cultivating grassroots change. Second, educational programs must go beyond the facts and work to inspire youth to spark change in their own lives and communities. As Sujane says, it “isn’t so much the filing of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” Third, the need for solutions-oriented dialogue with youth of all ages to help them realize their potential and harness their inner changemaker. Lastly, the importance of developing student-centric content and co-designing programs with youth voices at the table.

Hope going forward

The core value guiding The Starfish Canada originates from a story of a boy who saves a starfish washed up onshore. While he couldn’t save them all, he made a difference for a few. Although the environmental hurdles we face are overwhelming at times, “lots of little changes can add up to big change” says Sujane. So, what gives Sujane hope going forward? “Young people and their ideas and their commitment and engagement to learning more and being a part of the solution.” After all, they’re the leaders of today and will shape the future of tomorrow.