For this week’s #myclimateplan feature, we spoke with Akaya Windwood. Akaya has dedicated her life to the vision of a safe and just global society, with over three decades of experience in nurturing leaders in the realm of social change and women’s leadership.
She shares why the path to a safer future depends on building relationships across generations, how “neighbourliness” is key for global transformation, and the simple experiment she uses that has given her hope that a better world is coming.
When Akaya reflects on the steps we need to take to work towards a safer and more just future, she thinks back to a recent conversation she had with a group of millennials. She says, “Somehow, the topic of sexuality and gender came up. I like to think of myself as a fairly sexually liberated person, but many of the things they were talking about surprised me!
“A few things they said made me quite uncomfortable, but instead of stopping the conversation or removing myself, I chose instead to just listen. And it got me thinking – what else is this generation talking about that we just aren’t hearing?”
She recognized that this discomfort was one of the reasons that true relationship building isn’t happening across generations. “My generation of Elders – people over 60 – often shut these conversations down.”
She continues, “We get stuck in the idea that we know what’s right and wrong and so when we hear the things the younger generations are saying that don’t align with what we think we know, we sometimes shut it down or tune it out. But without truly listening – without leaning into that discomfort – we’re cutting ourselves off from the conversations that need to happen to create true transformation.”
This is part of the inspiration behind Akaya’s work as the Lead Advisor for Th!rd Act, an organization dedicated to “building a community of experienced Americans over the age of sixty determined to change the world for the better.”
She explains, “Those of us who are over 60 currently hold 70% of the wealth in the United States. We’re the ones making policies that will affect younger generations and the ones yet to come. We hold so much of the power. But in order to use that power to make a better future, we need to understand the needs of the younger folks first.”
In this spirit, Akaya has been hosting intergenerational conversations to ask younger people what they’re interested in, worried about, and what they need. She came into these conversations thinking that the best thing that her generation could do would be to step aside. But what she heard surprised her.
She says, “I asked a beloved younger friend what they needed from my generation. She said to me: ‘We don’t want you to step aside, we want you to step beside’. It wasn’t about just taking ourselves out of the picture entirely, but rather working together and using our collective strengths to build a better world. You need our experience and we need your vision, so we have to work together.”
And for Akaya, a key element of being able to work together effectively across generations and differences is focusing on the value of being “neighbourly”.
She explains, “My neighbours are devout Christian conservatives and they’re white. I’m a progressive queer Black woman. We are different in so many ways, but in the service of being neighbourly, we are able to put these differences aside. Instead, we focus on taking care of each other. I bring them tomatoes from my garden, they bring me pears from theirs. In small and big ways, we look out for one another.”
She continues, “If we can do this on a local level, we can surely do it on a global scale. It doesn’t have to be difficult. We’re all cousins at the end of the day. So while we don’t always have to agree, if we focus on being neighbourly – on taking care of each other despite our differences – we’re able to come together at the scale we need to make transformational change.”
In fact, Akaya has been conducting an experiment with people from all walks of life – and around the globe – that makes her optimistic that this level of change is not only possible, it’s coming.
She explains, “I ask people to close their eyes and imagine the world when they are elders. How are they living?? What do they see in the natural world?? What are humans doing?? After asking these questions of over 70 participants, every single person – without exception – has seen the same basic things. Some of the details may differ, but the core is the same: children laughing and playing, vibrant cities, healthy forests and waters, communities working together.”
She continues, “If so many different people who don’t know each other are imagining the same set of circumstances, I have no reason to believe it won’t come to pass. We need to listen to each other, we need to work together despite our differences, and we need to be kind – but a better world is waiting for us on the other side.”
If Akaya’s story resonates with you, we invite you to join My Climate Plan as a founding member to take action together for a climate safe future.