“Aspire to be the one who asks the best questions.”
2024 Top 30 Under 30
What specific issue(s) are you taking on, and what inspires you to do so?
Some of the issues that are top-of-mind for me right now are financial education, leadership opportunities for young people, alternative food networks in Mexico, and building global empathy. That is a non-exhaustive list and I’ve always used volunteering to stretch myself to understand new parts of the world that I don’t get to dive into at school or work, so there’s always a lot on my mind.
My inspiration comes first and foremost from my parents, who taught me in their words and by example to take risks and be curious. I feel like larger parts of my purpose continue to be inspired by Rotary International’s youth exchange program and all the volunteers connected to it, who have given me the opportunity to see that the world is so much bigger than myself. At school, I continue to be inspired by some incredible friends, professors, and research supervisors who help me find direction when I don’t know where to go next.
What does climate change or climate justice mean to you? To your work?
I study climate justice from multiple angles through my research on economics and Mexican farming networks. In Mexico, the changing climate and industrialization are impacting the growing season and soil texture for crops, making it difficult for farmers to continue their livelihoods and for communities to get food as they did in the past. On the economics side, there are data gaps in how communities are more broadly represented. Data builds awareness and amplifies solutions, which is incredibly important in understanding and replicating the innovative types of alternative food networks that are allowing farmers to adapt their livelihoods around the effects of climate change.
What advice do you have for other young people looking to get involved in sustainable development?
Lean on other people who have done it before! They are usually happy to help you find your way and can teach you books worth of knowledge and wisdom in a single coffee outing. I’ve gotten some of my most valuable leadership advice from reaching out to people from conferences or on LinkedIn that I had never spoken to before.
I make a point to attend new events about sustainable development whenever I have time, because they connect me to new ideas and people who are thinking about issues differently than I am. There is only so much someone can learn from studying in school and reading the news, especially about sustainable development because it is so vast and nuanced. To learn outside your comfort zone you have to have discussions with people you disagree with, hearing ideas you aren’t familiar with, and constantly fact-checking yourself and those around you to understand why things might be the way they are and what you can do to change them.
No project is too small, and you just get better at managing them as you go, so don’t shy away from starting up!
Maya and fellow Rotary International youth exchange alumni leading a group of high school exchange students to run a disaster relief fundraiser for Rotarians across southern Alberta.
Maya and her Reach Alliance research team explaining their research question to academic and community leaders from across the world at the 2023 Reach Symposium.
Maya being photographed by one of her 2nd grade English students at a community gathering while living as an English teacher in the Dominican Republic.