At the just-ended UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai, where world leaders gathered to confront the pressing issue of climate change that has disproportionately affected Africa and other Global South countries, these three Kenyan trailblazers stood to showcase the impactful role that individuals can have in shaping a more sustainable world.
Kate Okorie, bird story agency
Sebastian Mwaura, the co-founder of YNA (Young Nation Agenda) Kenya, is one of the two UN Global Climate Action Award recipients. Naiyan Kiplagat, the co-founder and director of the Paran Women Group, went home with the Gender Just Climate Solutions Award in the non-technical solutions category for her work training women to become climate defenders. On the other hand, Whitney Mwangi, the former East Africa co-lead for the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Youth Advisory Council, won the Rising Champion Award.
Mwaura's organisation focuses on expediting the adoption of electric vehicles by establishing a robust charging network powered by renewable energy sources.
Launched in 2022, Yna Kenya has taken a disruptive approach to achieving its objectives by introducing an initiative, Her Go Delivery, to bring more women into the transportation sector.
A 2020 report by the International Transport Forum showed that women make up only 17% of employees in the transport workforce.
"We created the initiative to have gender equality, having women do last-mile deliveries using electric motorcycles," he said.
Presently, the organisation has 20 riders and Mwaura shared that they have attained financial independence through the work.
"They can pay their kids' school fees and support their families without waiting on their spouses or the families," he said.
Mwaura is encouraged by the widespread acceptance of the initiative and its social impact. He hopes to bring in another 100 women in the first quarter of 2024 and up to 12,000 women in the next five years.
"If we are talking of just transition, then we need a just inclusion. We have to make sure that every gender is represented," Mwaura said.
Gender inclusion has also been at the core of Kiplagat's work since she founded the Paran Women Group in 2005 to address challenges around gender equality and climate change within Kenya's Narok County.
In its early days, the group had only 25 members but has grown to 3,000 women across 15 resource centres in Kenya. "The resource centre is where we bring the women together to exchange knowledge and learn," Kiplagat said.
The group aims to reduce poverty, and strengthen women's leadership and environmental governance through socio-economic empowerment initiatives.
With the backing of the local government in Narok County, Kiplagat organised training for indigenous women on producing briquettes, energy-saving cooking stoves, and beekeeping.
While the briquettes and energy-saving cookstoves are useful in reducing pollution, beekeeping is an ingenious response to the protracted periods of drought in the Narok region.
"Most of the women in dry areas depend on livestock, but the animals struggle to survive without water. We have seen that beekeeping is more financially rewarding because it involves less water consumption," Kiplagat said.
Securing the Gender Just Climate Solutions Award was quite an achievement for Kiplagat, who revealed this was her fourth attempt.
"It is a testament to our resilience because we started applying for the award in 2019. We applied again in 2020, 2021, and now in 2023, we have finally won it," Kiplagat said.
Revelling the recognition and the increased visibility the award would bring to her work back in Narok, Kiplagat advised, "Indigenous women should not give up; they must remain resilient in the work they are doing."
A few days before Mwaura and Kiplagat received their awards, their younger compatriot, Whitney Mwangi, was chosen out of over 800 nominations for the "Rising Champion" Award as part of the 2023 Recognising Excellence Around Champions of Health (REACH) Awards.
Mwangi was awarded during the inaugural Health Day at the UN Climate Change Conference.
"Winning this award is evidence that little seeds sown do one day become full-blown harvests. When I started as an intern in the health sector with a degree in journalism, I only wanted to do what I knew best—write. At the time, it seemed insignificant. I did not see how a passion for writing would evolve into an eventful path in global health, impacting communities through advocacy," Mwangi wrote.
She was chosen for her contributions during her time as East Africa co-lead for the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Youth Advisory Council, where she conceptualised the guidebook titled Malaria Conversation Guide for Youth in Africa.
The guide was a response to a problem she had identified among young people seeking to advocate for malaria awareness.
"I noticed that many young people know what they want, have the energy to advocate for the change they want to see but do not have the right language to get the attention of the policymakers," she wrote.
She added: "The guide is structured to support young men and women in building their capacity for malaria advocacy. It enlists step-by-step approaches of organising a policy dialogue and evaluating it in a manner that leads to policy formulation."
According to the latest Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, the warming climate is prolonging the transmission season for malaria, with the biggest increase seen in Africa.
After its launch in 2022 by the African Union Commission alongside the former president of Kenya, H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, the guidebook was further adopted by the Malaria Youth Army in Senegal during the 5th Anniversary of the Zero Malaria Starts With Me Campaign in July 2022, according to Mwangi.
She envisions more women taking up the fight against malaria. "Historically, women have been conditioned to take the back seat when it comes to decision-making," she said.
She continued, "I hope the win motivates young African women in malaria elimination and overall health promotion to continue raising their voices and pursuing health for all."
bird story agency