This 19-year-old climate advisor who started her own nonprofit and worked on Greta Thunberg’s youth strikes spends her days meeting UN officials and grabbing pizza with friends

Sophia Kianni Day In The Life
Sophia Kianni.

Days are busy for Sophia Kianni, a climate activist and founder of the nonprofit Climate Cardinals.

Much of her work centers on the climate crisis, a topic she has been interested in since visiting Iran, her parents’ homeland, seven years ago and discovering her extended family knew nothing about the subject.

Launched in May 2020, Climate Cardinals translates information about the climate crisis into over 100 languages, including Swahili, Bulgarian, Mongolian, and Portuguese. Kianni, 19, had realized that most of the research was in English but that most people in the countries most affected by the climate emergency don’t speak English.

Climate change is a global issue that disproportionately affects communities that don’t speak English,” Kianni told Insider. “It’s critical to translate climate information into as many languages as possible to make sure that these mostly-minority communities are informed.”

Kianni made headlines in 2019 after joining the activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future to organize climate strikes and protests with high-school students. She became a national strategist for the group and a partnership coordinator for the environmental advocacy group Zero Hour.

Last year, Kianni was named a spokesperson for another climate-crisis organization, Extinction Rebellion.

She’s also a climate advisor at the United Nations and the American Lung Association; a board advisor for the tech startup CommunityX and the charity EarthPercent; and a senior partner at the Gen Z marketing firm JUV Consulting.

When she’s not working, she’s studying public policy and environmental science at Stanford University.

Kianni was hailed as one of Vice’s humans of the year in December. She was selected as a National Geographic Young Explorer and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis tweeted about her advocacy.

Kianni broke down what a typical Friday looks like, including taking meetings with UN officials and getting pizza with friends.

She wakes up around 5:30 a.m.

Kianni wakes up in her home in McLean, Virginia, and eats breakfast: a banana, a homemade rice pudding, and a protein shake. She styles her hair, packs her computer and a few professional blazers for her meetings, and checks her calendar to see what her day looks like.

Sophia Kianni Day In the Life
Kianni heading to Union Station.

On this day she headed to New York City to visit the UN and JUV’s headquarters. Last year, all of Kianni’s events were virtual, but since being vaccinated she’s been traveling to attend meetings in person.

“My relatives in Iran knew very little about climate change because there’s very little information available in Farsi, which is their native language,” Kianni said. “The United Nations only provides climate information in six languages that account for less than half of the world’s speaking population.”

Kianni, who is bilingual, began translating articles about the climate crisis from English to Farsi and sending them to her family via WhatsApp. Last year, she decided to further her work by launching Climate Cardinals, where she and 8,000 volunteers translate climate information and upload the documents online for anyone to access.

Climate Cardinals also works with organizations such as Unicef and the UN Environment Program.

At 7 a.m., her friend’s mom picks her up

Her friend is also headed to New York City, so they take the train together. Kianni lives about a 30-minute car ride from the nation’s capital. She and her friend arrive at Union Station at 8 a.m. and buy bagels as they wait to board their train.

Once seated, Kianni reads “The Martian” by Andy Weir, a science-fiction novel that was made into a film starring Matt Damon in 2015. “My friends and I have a mini book club,” she said. Now that school is out for the summer, she said, “I have time to read again.”

Still on the train, she virtually attends a UN meeting at 10 a.m.

Kianni calls into a UN meeting with Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN secretary-general’s envoy on youth, and six members of the UN Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change.

Kianni was invited to join the group last summer as the only US, Middle Eastern, and Iranian representative – and its youngest member. As part of the group, Kianni attends meetings with António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, and gives him advice on things like which UN documents to translate and when to emphasize environmental racism.

Sophia Kianni Day In The Life
Kianni.

During the call, they all give updates on their projects. In December, the group published a report outlining six key actions young people wanted world leaders to take regarding the climate crisis.

“Our generation is going to be disproportionately affected by climate change,” Kianni said. “There is a need for young people to be involved in decision-making spaces, so we can really convey the work we’ve been doing for the past few years.”

Next she answers emails

Kianni coordinates speaking engagements and confirms her attendance for an ocean-conservation gala in Washington, DC.

Kianni also goes over updates from Climate Cardinals, which has chapters in over 41 countries.

As she’s just transferred to Stanford from Indiana University, Kianni posts an introduction message in the Stanford 2025 Facebook group to connect with classmates. “It’s a great success,” she said. “Students from Stanford follow and direct messages to me on Instagram.”

At noon she arrives in New York City

Kianni walks from Penn Station to her hotel to drop off her luggage, then takes the bus to the UN building in midtown. She’s greeted by Esther Agbarakwe, a UN program officer.

Sophia Kianni Day In The Life
Kianni at the UN.

They head to the office of Selwin Hart, a special advisor to the secretary-general on climate action.

Kianni said that in the beginning she was a bit nervous about meeting big names. “But now I really believe that I belong at the table and that my voice is important to UN discussions,” she said. “I’m no longer nervous but more so excited to share my experiences and perspective on climate justice.”

Sophia Kianni Day In the Life
Kianni and Selwin Hart, a special advisor to the secretary-general on climate action and the assistant secretary-general for the climate-action team.

Kianni and Hart discuss strengthening the UN’s commitment to youth participation and the role of young people in advocating the delivery of the $100 billion that countries pledged in 2015 to help combat the climate crisis.

“You really need money in order to fund the infrastructure needed to have a sustainable transition away from fossil fuels,” Kianni said, adding that it was “critical” to prioritize frontline workers. “We need to make sure they can now work in the clean-energy sector.”

After the meeting, she goes on a brief tour of the UN building.

At 2:30 p.m. she heads to her next job

She walks to the nearest bus station and heads to JUV Consulting’s headquarters to meet the rest of the senior executive team.

Sophia Kianni Day In The Life
Kianni visiting colleagues at JUV Consulting.

Cofounded in 2016 by Ziad Ahmed, 22, the firm works with over 20 Fortune 500 companies on everything from major research projects to full-scale marketing campaigns. Last summer, Kianni applied to work at JUV as a consultant, and she was promoted to junior partner before becoming a senior partner in January.

At JUV she advises clients on social media and sustainability and how to use TikTok to reach Gen Zers.

After meetings, the team takes a break. “We make some fun TikToks and also head to the rooftop to have coffee and enjoy the beautiful weather,” Kianni said.

At 4 p.m. she meets with friends

She walks across the city to meet up with some friends at Madison Square Park.

Kianni says she walks everywhere because it’s better for the environment and more affordable than pricey Uber rides in New York.

“Honestly, I got a blister after a few days ’cause I was walking so much,” she said.

She walks back to the hotel at 6 p.m.

Back at the hotel, Kianni takes a nap before continuing work. She schedules a Zoom call with a BBC reporter about the climate emergency and a call with a new JUV client.

Around 8 p.m. she meets up with another friend. They walk to an Italian restaurant and order a margarita pizza.

Finally, around 10 p.m., it’s bedtime

Kianni walks back to her hotel to answer a few more emails.

She texts her younger sister to help her find a prom dress. Kianni scrolls through TikTok and Instagram for 20 minutes before she gets drowsy and falls asleep.

On Monday she’ll head back home and continue to do it all virtually.

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Act to Impact: Klaus Schwab and Marguerite Ward Fireside
Ahead of the newsletter launch, Insider senior reporter Marguerite Ward interviewed Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum.

Just over three years ago, Insider launched Better Capitalism, a section focused on how companies are moving beyond financial targets and actively contributing to a better world for their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

Sustainability has been a key topic we’ve covered along the way, and it’s only gaining momentum in the conversation around stakeholder capitalism. Last year, Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Starbucks, and other major corporations made big pledges to reduce, eliminate, or offset their carbon emissions. In January of this year, GM announced it would only sell electric vehicles by 2035 and pledged to be completely carbon neutral by 2040.

At the same time, the demand for ESG investing – which integrates environmental, social, and governance goals with investment – has skyrocketed, while more companies have agreed to report on their progress on ESG criteria.

Helping to lead this movement is Klaus Schwab, executive chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum, who convenes economic and political leaders annually to discuss innovative ways to reshape and advance industries. During Insider’s climate-focused virtual event, Act to Impact, on April 20, Schwab said the surge in interest in ESG means customers, investors, and leaders are focused on accountability. He also noted that there are over 300 ESG proxy issues headed to vote this spring.

“Leaders have a new mindset,” Schwab told Insider. “We have a new social consciousness.”

He also spoke about how the pandemic has only increased people’s alertness and sensitivity to corporate social responsibility, which includes how companies treat the environment.

The event also featured insight from David Sproul, the Global Deputy Chief Executive of Deloitte; Rebecca Marmot, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Unilever; Ruth Davis, the Director of IBM’s Call for Code initiative; Alice Sharp, the Artistic Director of Invisible Dust; and more.

Insider is investing more into our sustainability coverage by launching our newsletter, Insider Sustainability. With our new sustainability reporter, Karen K. Ho (who previously wrote for Quartz), at the helm, we’re highlighting the ways in which government, businesses, and society are coalescing responsible climate choice with their practices.

We look forward to sharing these stories with you. Subscribe to Insider Sustainability.

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The founder of the World Economic Forum explains why ‘a new mindset’ is giving him hope for climate action, and shares which companies are getting it right

Act to Impact: Klaus Schwab Fireside

When Klaus Schwab thinks of climate change, he thinks of his grandchildren and their future. Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, is worried – but hopeful.

“Many people have a tendency to see our fight against climate change as a cost, as something that is negative,” Schwab said. “Yes, it may be to a certain extent, but it’s also a great opportunity.”

For the economic leader, tackling climate change means leadership innovation. Company executives, investors, consumers, and political leaders will have to find ways to work together to enact change, he said.

And that means new economic opportunities: new infrastructure projects such as the one Congress is debating, new developments in technologies such as carbon sequestration, and new products such as expanded options for electric cars.

Schwab credits a good portion of his philosophy on climate change to Bill Gates, who he said is a leader in the green movement.

“Gates talks about how, in order to decarbonize the world or to make it carbon-neutral by 2050, a lot of new technological progress has to be achieved,” Schwab said. “I see here a great opportunity because we can move into an age of green innovation.”

Signs of this age of green innovation have increased in the past year. ESG investments, or investments that apply environmental, social, and governance principles to a company’s performance, have seen record growth and are projected to increase in the future, reports showed.

US assets under management that used ESG criteria increased 42% over the past two years to $17 trillion in 2020, up from $12 trillion in 2018, showed a 2020 report from the US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

A growing number of companies have pledged large green initiatives. GM, America’s largest car manufacturer, said it would go carbon-neutral in its global products and operations by 2040. Apple committed to being 100% carbon-neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030.

Schwab is energized by these changes and believes the trend toward a more stakeholder-centric view of the world is ahead.

“I’m really excited,” he said, adding that society has changed over the past few years. “We have a new mindset. We have a new social consciousness.”

Insider spoke with Schwab about his new mindset and how leaders plan to embrace the ESG movement. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

There’s more and more recognition that a viable economy not only relies on treating people well but treating the climate well. Do you think CEOs have fully adopted this mindset that treating the climate well is good for shareholders?

So the executives who have a longer-term thinking have clearly adopted this mindset. And if you look, there are two reasons – they are very obvious. So there’s first an economic reason. I think what we have learned from the coronavirus is that prevention – the cost of prevention is much lesser compared to the cost of responding afterward to the damage. So we have a situation where you have a kind of free ride because you don’t have to integrate all your external costs into your business model, but someone will have to pay for it. And it will be down the road.

And my fear is that we may end up like tobacco companies, which means, we will be in a situation where, down the line, you will have class action. Already today, investors recognize this danger, this risk. There are investors who hesitate to provide capital to companies who really are damaging the environment.

But there’s also a moral reason. I’m thinking of my grandchildren. I don’t want to have them facing a crisis that may be much worse compared to what we are seeing today with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you believe that investors are recognizing the risk?

I said investors who are thinking long term. Of course, if you want to make a fast buck, it’s a different matter.

But in the end, I think companies will recognize they will be better off economically if they take care of nature, because young people – I mean, at least my employees – they don’t want to work anymore for a company or for an organization that is damaging nature.

And I think clients and customers do not want to buy the products of such a company. So I think it’s in the direct, commercial business interest of companies to take care of the planet.

Here in the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission just created an ESG task force to promote the disclosure and transparency of ESG criteria. And a report showed that over 300 ESG proxies are headed to a vote this spring. How do you feel about the surge and attention to ESG reporting?

I think it’s a great evolution. Some people would say even a revolution. But we should not forget that the ESG metrics – so measuring responsibility – are only part of a total integrated system.

It starts with defining your strategies, where you have to take into account the present and maybe even future expectations of your stakeholders. So it’s a strategy formulation. It’s the responsibility of the board. Then it is of course execution, not only inside the company itself but also in the supplying network. And at the end, you have some measurement system, the ESG metrics.

So we should not look at ESG metrics just as some kind of a formal, additional reporting system. I think to do ESG performance in the right way, you have to look at it as an ecosystem, which integrates a company as a whole.

There are those who are still against certain ESG metrics, for example, the billionaire investor Warren Buffett recently urged shareholders to reject proposals for more transparency of climate-related risks and diversity and inclusion efforts. What would you say to Buffett and others who reject more transparency?

I would like to have a discussion with him.

I would tell him: “Look, I can understand that on the level of Berkshire Hathaway, which is a kind of conglomerate, you will have difficulties measuring the ESG responsibility of each of your companies where you have a shareholding in. So, here, I would understand.”

But as far as his companies are concerned, where he has invested in, I would tell him: “Look, particularly because you are very heavily exposed to the insurance business, why don’t you engage actively into more ESG of responsibility? Because it may backfire on you one day, in your insurance business. You may be caught by not having an integrated policy where you pursue profitability but also take care of people and the planet.”

President Joe Biden is asking Congress to approve hundreds of billions of dollars to remake transit infrastructure in the US in a plan that the White House says will fight climate change. What do you think of this kind of package?

It’s not enough to hold only corporations responsible. I think we have a common responsibility, all stakeholders of global society, which means corporations have to absolve a lot of their responsibilities in this respect, but it’s also us individual consumers, and it’s the government.

And the government has to contribute to fighting climate change by creating the necessary incentives and also disincentives. I think there are still too many governments around the world that provide subsidies for activities that actually are damaging the climate. And I think we need the government to step in to build the necessary infrastructures.

What we need is an integrated approach. We cannot fight climate change by doing here a little bit, there a little bit. We need to have an integrated ecosystem approach. And I think here the government has a major role to play, to provide the kind of integrated vision for the future.

Going back to the corporate world for a minute: Doesn’t the case of Danone and the recent ousting of its CEO show that focusing on ESG metrics can lead to a nonconfidence vote of shareholders?

Yes, so we have the famous case of Danone. The CEO was ousted and the criticism was that he has been devoting his time and his attention much too much to the ESG dimension, and not necessarily giving sufficient attention to his shareholders. But I think that’s a wrong dichotomy.

We shouldn’t make an artificial polarization between profitability on the one hand and people and the planet on the other hand. I think the art of good management today is to create the right balance and not to be too much just keeping in mind stakeholders or shareholders. I’ll give you a practical example – if we compare Danone with Unilever.

Unilever is certainly recognized worldwide as a company that is at the forefront of ESG thinking, but at the same time the share price of Unilever has doubled more or less in the past 10 years. The share price of Danone has quite had some difficulties, especially over the past year. Shareholders are also stakeholders. Unilever is an example that you can give [attention] to your shareholders as well as your other stakeholders.

What company stands out to you as doing especially well when it comes to tackling climate change?

I’m looking at the hardest-hit companies, hardest in terms of those being confronted with a major need for transformation. Here – if I look at the oil industry – I take as an example Total, the French oil company. Total is one of the 70 companies that the World Economic Forum brought together to commit to report on the ESG metrics we have developed with the International Business Council, under the guidance of Bank of America’s CEO, Brian Moynihan, together with the Big Four audit companies.

If we’re talking about persons, I would say Bill Gates. I just read his newest book [“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”]. I think he has a very great contribution to offer us. Because he says, “Look, we need a systemic approach to fight climate change. Even if we take all of our goodwill, it will not be enough. What we need is innovation.”

He talks about how in order to decarbonize the world or to make it carbon-neutral by 2050, a lot of new technological progress has to be achieved. Our present technology does not suffice to get to the target in 2050. So I see here a great opportunity because we can move into an age of green innovation.

Many people have a tendency to see our fight against climate change as a cost, as something that is negative. Yes, it may be to a certain extent, but it’s also a great opportunity.

If I look at the young generations – the World Economic Forum has a community of 10,000 young leaders – if I talk to them, they have a different mindset. They have a different picture of the world.

It’s not only the material dimension, income, or GDP. It’s well-being. And climate change is interconnected with pollution. It’s interconnected with life expectancy. It’s interconnected with a lot of health issues. So if we want to invest in our well-being, then we have to invest in fighting climate change.

Recently, a number of major corporations such as GM and Apple have made pledges to go carbon-neutral – GM by 2040, and Apple by 2030. Do you think these timelines are realistic? And are they fast enough?

We speak about a carbon-free world by 2050. That’s the objective of the Paris Agreement. Most countries have subscribed to this objective. And many, many companies have now also issued statements that they would achieve carbon neutrality.

Now, we have to be aware that the situation is not the same for each company. We have the energy companies – the Exxons, the Chevrons, and so on – that will have much more challenges to reach this objective of carbon neutrality in 2050, compared to Google, or even a car manufacturer that understands the technology to make this transformation to the electric car.

So it’s good if companies that have fewer challenges, such as the high-tech companies, provide an example by setting very ambitious objectives. But again, I come back to this: Setting objectives is not enough. Being measured in the execution is important, and here the ESGs come in again.

Do you think the energy-sector companies such as Chevron and Exxon have fully bought into the stakeholder-capitalism model? Have they bought into addressing climate change?

I would answer that in the following way: If they haven’t bought in yet, into the stakeholder concept, they are on the wrong side of history, because I’m deeply convinced that we are now really at an inflection point where society as a whole does not tolerate any more companies that are damaging nature or that are not upholding diversity and social justice.

I think we have a completely new social consciousness. We now also have a world where every deficiency can be reported very fast, and that can create a negative reaction. So if I were Exxon or a company that’s really challenged – we should not forget, these companies need a complete transformation of their business models – I would commit to the stakeholder concept, but would also try to create understanding in the public. For me, being in the energy sector, it may be much more difficult compared to a company that’s already producing products that do not necessarily damage the environment. So it’s a communications effort.

How are you feeling about the corporate fight to tackle climate change? What, if anything, are you excited about?

I’m really excited because, as I just mentioned, we have a new mindset. We have a new social consciousness. People like Greta Thunberg got very aware that something is wrong here in our lifestyles – that either we will have to suffer down the road or our children will have to suffer.

So we are now in a situation where climate change, or the attention given to climate change, provides a higher sensitivity for other deficiencies that we have.

I mentioned already a lack of inclusion, a lack of social justice, a system that is not necessarily fair in providing everybody with the necessary opportunities. And I think the pandemic has contributed to this new alertness, to this new sensitivity. Some people may say this is inconvenient because we pinpoint weaknesses in our society, but it’s a wake-up call to adapt and to make sure that we have better lives. That’s what we’re fighting for.

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SIGN UP NOW: Leaders and climate activists from the World Economic Forum and more discuss sustainable solutions

Klaus Schwab
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive director of The World Economic Forum and author of “Stakeholder Capitalism.”

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