Changemakers for the future

Vincy Abraham, Purpose Climate Lab

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series ‘Changemakers for the future’, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. This time: Vincy Abraham, campaign manager of Purpose Climate Lab in India

‘The moment you empower communities, you see change really happen’

Growing up in the slums of Mumbai, I experienced life without resources first hand. I remember having to wait hours to catch water from the nearest pipe, or to use the community latrines. Flooding was so common that we’d lose our belongings almost every year. I also experienced poverty and hunger. My personal history of slum living and lacking basic resources prompted my work in water and climate action. I wanted to change the situation for others experiencing what I experienced. I decided to dedicate my life to moving as many people as possible away from this chasm of inequality. I hope to build a pathway, and try to bring as many people along that path to reach the other side. At various stages, I’ve met other young people doing phenomenal climate work, which has inspired me even more.

Things my heart really beats for
Last year, I ran my first climate campaign in Uttar Pradesh. We decided to work with faith leaders during the lockdown because they were feeling so disconnected from their followers. We encouraged them to talk to their followers through WhatsApp videos and social media, which we remotely trained them to use. Once they started sharing videos, the leaders became trusted messengers of solidarity and hope during a very confusing, difficult situation. As the campaign progressed, the leaders also recognized Uttar Pradesh’s changing environment: clear skies, clean air. They discussed climate change in their videos, which was an important moment: faith leaders were encouraging followers towards climate action. This showed my work was really creating an impact. I was able to change something, or at least play a tiny role in creating change. That’s when I realised being a campaign manager at Purpose Climate Lab was the job for me. I get to work in an amazing organisation with amazing people all doing things my heart really beats for.

Empowering communities
I am proud of The Karkhana Chronicles, a campaign we ran on fashion and climate last year. We created a textile museum that brought together artisans from local communities from across three states in India. They made beautiful dresses representing sustainable textile practices, such as reusing fabrics and waste. An exhibit was designed by local artisans, providing this beautiful platform to showcase the work. It went on to be covered by VOGUE India. Empowering these local communities through a fashion and climate campaign was really powerful.

Several points in my career have made me think: why am I doing this? I’ve always had this passion to work with local communities because they are experiencing the impact of climate change first hand. But how many times do you talk to people living in slums and make climate a serious topic of conversation?      It’s almost never done because we do not think of poor communities as equal stakeholders or as those affected by climate change. We also forget that climate conversations cannot – and rather should not – happen without climate justice in mind. I want to be a person who has those conversations. So, I’d rather rephrase the question as: why would I not be doing this? While bringing people out of poverty, we must also be champions for the climate because climate impacts their lives.

Dreams for the future
My dream is to live in a world with no poverty. I want to see people treated equally and everyone acting as stewards of the Earth. I think it’s important that we preserve the Earth because we don’t have a plan B or a planet B.

If I had 10 minutes to speak at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, my message to leaders would be to collaborate and act. COVID-19 has shown us that collective action can result in a lot of progress. It can also change the climate situation for the better. And even while acting together as leaders, it remains important to engage those on the ground because the moment you empower communities, you see change really happen. This decade is the crucial decade of delivery. We have a short opportunity to slow down climate change. It’s time to act in order to see a real impact at the ground level.

This story was based on an interview with Vincy in February.

Vincy Abraham is a campaign manager at Purpose Climate Lab, where she focuses on working with businesses and inter-governmental processes to spark a just and sustainable movement on the ground. She holds SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals, at the heart of her work. Vincy has a Masters in political science. She volunteers as a leader of YouKnoW!, a Dutch government-funded innovation project with a name that is short for Youth-driven Knowledge of Water.

Purpose Climate Lab builds and supports campaigns that inspire people to take bold climate action and adopt fair solutions to climate change around the world.

Related articles
Investing in clean air can protect our health and the planet
Ask an expert: Jessy Tolkan and Jessie Macneil-Brown