Over the past year, the CCYP has grown tenfold. From new partnerships and programs to our Youth Council and Fellowships. Get ready for the next level of our 21 Questions for 2021 series! Throughout February, we will be introducing you to our fellows who have graciously found time to put aside their research to share a bit about themselves and their work with you. Tune in weekly, you just might learn something new.
What's your name?
Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky
What are three words that you would use to describe yourself?
Creative, passionate and open-minded.
What is your most played song right now?
My Own Best Friend - Dounia
What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelor of Arts Honours in International Development Studies with a minor in Political Science from Dalhousie University.
Can you speak about your advocacy work/project?
My project is an assessment of federally funded environmental employment programs for youth. These are generally wage subsidies and/or funded internships the government provides employers so they can hire youth for 3 - 6 month placements doing environmental work. Many of these are as new as this year, as part of Canada’s youth employment and climate action strategies. I want to know how the government defines green/low-carbon work, which youth can access these programs, and how effective they are in helping youth continue to work in the environmental field.
What sparked your passion for it?
I have been a climate justice organizer since 2013 when I joined a group called Kids for Climate Action in Vancouver BC. Since then I’ve been involved with various campaigns including those for fossil fuel divestment, solidarity with water protectors in Wet’suwet’en and Mi’kma’ki and Green New Deal and Just Recovery organizing. While activism is important, I also see the value of advocacy and working with the government to improve policies. From my organizing experience I know how much youth care about the climate crisis and their future, and want to work to help the environment in some way. Helping youth identify pathways into the green job market, training them and making securing long term employment easier is central to meaningful sustainable development.
Why do you think this is important in the Canadian context?
Canada has positioned itself internationally as a climate leader, despite actions which contradict this image, such as the purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the RCMP invasion of Wet’suwe’ten territory in order to force through construction of the Coastal Gas Link Pipeline, among other actions. Despite the ramping up of Canada's climate actions under the most recent federal climate plan, many critics say Canada is not on track to meet our 2030 greenhouse-gas emission targets. To add on to that, in the wake of COVID-19 and its economic impacts, youth are facing disproportionately high unemployment rates. Ensuring federally funded environmental programs for youth are inclusive, accessible and effective will better equip Canada to face these challenges.
What does opportunity look like within your advocacy work?
The nexus of COVID-19 and the ongoing climate crisis has provided a unique political opportunity to demand the government synthesize economic and environmental goals. In his throne speech the Prime Minister promised more green jobs and a Green Recovery plan, which is only beginning to unfurl and reveal itself. The next few months is a pivotal time to influence not only the policies themselves but how they are implemented and how youth are included in these processes.
How can other Canadian youth get involved?
Canadian youth should look into work around a Canadian Green New Deal and specifically read 350.org’s Principles for a Just Recovery (created in collaboration with multiple nonprofit organizations and grassroots organizers). Climate justice is a large field, and intersects with anti-racism organizing, LGBTQ2s+ rights, the fight against homelessness, Indigenous struggles, and migrant issues among others. Everyone can find their niche to get involved with. Furthermore, I believe green jobs are much more diverse than we are led to believe - if you care about the environment you don’t need a STEM degree to work in the field. You could do social media for a nonprofit, fundraise for a project, produce art for a campaign, and many more positions that we don’t conventionally think of as low-carbon work.
About the CCYP Fellowship Program:
What made you want to get involved in the CCYP Fellowship Program?
I was a Halifax team member for Pivot 2020 and when I applied for that position I discovered CCYP. Their mission and values really resonated with me and I wanted to work for them. I actually applied for the Fellowship before I knew I was hired for Pivot, ended up working for Pivot for a month before getting offered an interview and eventually the Fellowship Position. I jumped at the chance to enter a new field (youth workforce development) and was excited that the Fellowship would allow me to merge my passions for advocacy, youth empowerment and research!
What do you hope to bring to the CCYP Fellowship Program?
I bring a unique perspective being a queer woman, climate organizer and international development graduate. Specifically I use a climate justice approach to my work, looking at how social and environmental issues intersect on local and global levels. For example, my research centres on youth being the inheritors of the climate crisis while also being some of the most impacted by COVID-19 and its economic effects. This means that any COVID-19 recovery plan must centre youth and climate action if it is to be successful and sustainable. It must also centre those most marginalized and vulnerable to climate change, such as migrants, BIPOC, and low-income people.
What professional relationships are you hoping to establish?
I am hoping to increase my existing networks within the NGO and environmental fields, but also create new connections in the youth empowerment and workforce development sectors. I also want to build relationships with more government representatives and other decision makers, such as those associated with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Economic and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship? What does impact mean to you?
I hope that the government implements my recommendations regarding environmental employment programs for youth, but on a larger level I hope their rhetoric and policy language reflects an expanded definition of green work and that this in turn helps grow the low-carbon economy and youth participation in it.
Can you share with us an organization or program that you think others in youth workforce development/employment should be made aware of?
I think the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are well researched and propose many socially and environmentally equitable solutions/approaches to policy issues in Canada.
Which of your previous work/volunteer experiences had the most impact on your current advocacy work?
My year and a half at the Dalhousie Student Union taught me so much about organizing, the student movement, and working with various stakeholders and decision makers. Working on campaigns around tuition increases, environmental policies and more, I learned how change happens and the power of youth. Through being the Director of the Sustainability Office I got to meet environmentalist heroes of mine such as David Suzuki, and advise the University President on sustainability issues.
How has that impacted the person you are today?
This taught me that in addition to being an activist, I can work side by side with decision makers to make incremental change as well as systemic change. I also learned the responsibility of representing a diverse group of youth, from Indigenous to international students, on topics that are crucially important to our futures.
Recognizing the importance of building a community network, how has mentorship supported you throughout your professional development thus far?
Some of my greatest mentors have been social justice researchers who meld praxis and theory, reminding me that it is not enough to just read about the wrongs in the world - you must be actively involved in the solutions. They help me be ethically grounded and not become complacent by reminding me that research is as powerful as what you do with it.
Who is an individual/figure that you look up to?
Dr. Ajay Parasram at Dalhousie University and Dr. Shelley Price and Dr. Jonathan Langdon at St Francis Xavier University to name a few are activist-academics furthering study and practice on anti-racism, Indigenous rights and trans-local movement learning among other topics. They’ve been my greatest supports and inspirations as I navigate my career path and organizing approach.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
John Scherer (founder of the Scherer Leadership Institute) says: “You do not need to change yourself. You need to come home to yourself, that changes everything.”
Can you share three fun facts about yourself?
I’m a libra sun/moon and Sagittarius rising, I am half Mexican, and I’ve travelled to over 18 countries!
Can you share a goal you have for 2021?
One goal I have for 2021 is to spend more time on creative projects such as painting and doing makeup. I started an art account on Instagram during quarantine and it's been a source of self-care and joy during these hard times.