World Affairs Institute for Changemakers Across Sectors

March 5, 2024 @ 8:00AM — 3:00PM Eastern Time (US & Canada) Add to Calendar

William Pitt Union @ University of Pittsburgh: 3959 Fifth Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15260 Get Directions

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Join us on March 5, 2024 for the World Affairs Institute for Changemakers Across Sectors, presented by Rotary International, Sustainable Pittsburgh, and World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

This year’s World Affairs Institute will focus on Navigating Climate Intersections.

The Changemakers Across Sectors track is made possible in part by support from the John T. Ryan Memorial Fund.

Why does climate matter?

Climate change and its impacts affect every aspect of our lives and work, from supply chain crises to extreme weather events that displace populations and suppress economic growth. The private, public, and nonprofit sectors must act in alignment to address these challenges and ensure long-term sustainability for all.

Climate change will remain at the center of debate and discussion for governments and institutions worldwide for decades to come. Climate issues pose both a threat and an opportunity for businesses and society. Just one example of this is COP28, which concluded with a pledge to transition away from fossil fuels, laying the groundwork for the next round of emissions-cutting pledges that cover 2025-2035 and leading to investments in renewable energy and green jobs. Embracing climate action minimizes risk and also contributes to long-term resiliency and profitability.

Proactive climate action helps businesses adapt to government regulation changes and ensure supply chain resilience. Sustainable practices can also drive innovation, develop new environmentally friendly products and services, and help ensure long-term success.

Whether you're interested in topics like fast fashion and the circular economy, climate migration havens, or the synergy between clean transportation and green space access, the Institute will allow you to dive deeper into local and global climate intersections. Together, we can create a future that aligns organizational performance with climate action.

Who is a Changemaker Across Sectors?

We define changemakers across sectors as people at all stages of their careers across the nonprofit, public, and private sectors who want to make Pittsburgh a more globally minded and globally connected city.

Whether you are an artist or entrepreneur, a college student or retiree, an emerging professional or a senior executive – you are invited to connect with and learn from experts about the impact of climate change on Pittsburgh and how to build more sustainable spaces and institutions.

What can you expect?

Through interactive workshops, panel discussions, and performances, we will explore how climate action intersects across sectors, connecting Pittsburgh to wider regional and global initiatives. We’ll also discuss how climate affects our other key global focus areas: Women and Girls and Global Migration.

You’ll gain a fresh perspective on complex climate issues, expand your local network, and leave with actionable steps to enhance your organization's commitment to sustainability and better prepare for the future.

Join us as we navigate our new climate reality and chart a path to a more secure and sustainable future for all.

What Else To Know

Parking: The World Affairs Institute will be held at the University of Pittsburgh's William Pitt Union located at 3959 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Click here to find a visitor parking map and more information about Oakland parking and the ParkMobile app.

Dress Code: We invite you to show up in your favorite conference wear — you decide what that means for you. We want you to feel comfortable and ready to dig into the important work of building a globally minded, globally connected Pittsburgh.


Institute Agenda

8:00AM: Registration & Breakfast

9:00AM: Welcoming Remarks & Performance
  • Welcoming remarks from Sherry Zalika Sykes, Diplomat in Residence for Allegheny at the U.S. Department of State
  • Land acknowledgement and drumming performance by Miguel A. Sagué Jr., the community outreach, cultural and historical education representative for the Speaker's Bureau at the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center

9:30AM: Keynote & Plenary Session

  • Sundaa Bridgett-Jones from the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet

10:45AM: Session 1: Leading the Way to Global Climate Action

  • Joylette Portlock PhD, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh
  • Jake Werner, PhD, acting director of the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
  • Jack McCaslin, policy advisor at Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

This first session will ground us in the current state of climate action around the world and right here in Pittsburgh. We’ll define what climate action means and focus on some of the most important initiatives that are underway across sectors. We will explore the business case for climate action and break down why it’s crucial for CEOs to lead the charge within their companies and communities. We’ll also look ahead to critical climate touchpoints for the coming year, including how efforts like COP29 can shape the future.

Our speakers will include individuals with expertise in science communication and local business leadership, as well as specialists in global efforts who can share how the United States can both support and take a leading role in climate change mitigation and adaptation worldwide, especially through collaboration with other nations.

12:00PM: Luncheon

12:30PM: Session 2: Public-Private Partnerships and the Green Economy

  • Lydia Morin, executive director of CONNECT (Congress of Neighboring Communities)
  • Aimee Curtright, PhD, senior scientist at RAND
  • Marita Garrett, President & CEO of Civically, Inc; former Mayor of Wilkinsburg
  • Jessica Mooney, Project Developer, Duquesne Light Company

We will further examine how the public and private sectors are working together to take climate action. We’ll discuss how governments and private-sector companies can pool resources and share risks to mitigate the effects of climate change. We will also look at the impact of the green economy in our region — where are green tech jobs and the workforce to support them. By harnessing the strengths of both sectors and this new economy, we can drive transformative change and accelerate progress towards a sustainable, resilient future where everyone benefits.

During the session, we will listen to insights from a clean energy policy expert who can provide a well-researched perspective on this transition, as well as a community leader from Allegheny County who has effectively executed a Climate Action Plan, setting an example for other governmental bodies.

1:45PM: Session 3: Innovative Pathways, System-Level Solutions

  • Nisha Blackwell, founder and CEO of Knotzland Bowtie Co.
  • Matthew Mehalik, PhD, executive director of Breathe Project

This third session will explore system-level solutions, which work to address the complex, interconnected systems that drive climate change at the societal and economic level. We’ll explore how solutions like sustainable transport and the circular economy can help transform our society to mitigate climate change.

Our speakers offer diverse perspectives: one is a sustainable business-owner representing a circular brand focused on crafting upcycled, low-waste products; the other is a local nonprofit expert who will delve into advocacy efforts and the collaborative partnerships aimed at bringing together local residents, environmental advocates, public health professionals, and academics to advocate for improved air quality in the Pittsburgh region.

2:45PM: Closing Remarks & Performance

3:00PM: Adjournment

Meet Our Speakers

Dr. Joylette Portlock is the executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh. Joylette has always cared about the natural world. Her dad was a science teacher, so she was used to backyard field trips, and she co-founded her high school’s Earth club. She then went on to an extensive career in science, earning a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford University. As her career progressed, she found it most rewarding to not just understand how things work, but to make that information available to others. Her work focuses on building community around sustainability topics, with a particular interest in making important scientific, technical, or complex information accessible and useful. Read more about Joylette.

Sundaa Bridgett-Jones is the Chief Partnership and Advocacy Officer for the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, a new enterprise to accelerate and scale equitable energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries. She leads a new partnership construct for the Alliance, spearheaded by The Rockefeller Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund, in support of ending energy poverty and spurring just energy transitions in developing and emerging economies. Read more about Sundaa.

Amali Tower is founder and executive director of Climate Refugees. She has extensive global experience in refugee protection, resettlement, forced migration and displacement contexts, having worked for NGOs, the UN Refugee Agency, and the US Refugee Admissions Program. Years of interviewing refugees fleeing conflict allowed her the chance to hear their stories of also fleeing climate change. Through this, Climate Refugees was born. She has conducted research in climate displacement contexts, including in urban and camp settings. Her case study on climate, conflict and displacement in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin was presented as evidence of loss and damage at COP26. Read more about Amali.

Sherry Zalika Sykes is a senior level career Foreign Service Officer with over twenty-four years of experience at the U.S. Department of State. She is currently the Diplomat in Residence for Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where she seeks to inspire and inform on careers, internships, and fellowships with the Department of State. Her diplomatic assignments have included being the Director of the Office of Environmental Quality, Deputy Director of the Office of Conservation and Water, and Scientific Affairs Officer in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She brings a love of the arts, a passion for environmental and scientific affairs, and an eagerness to help the citizens of this region where she was born to learn about career opportunities with the Department of State. Read more about Sherry Zalika Sykes.

Jake Werner is acting director of the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute. His research examines the emergence of great power conflict between the US and China and develops policies to rebuild constructive economic relations. Prior to joining Quincy, Jake was a Postdoctoral Global China Research Fellow at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, a Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago, a Fulbright Scholar at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, and a Fulbright-Hays Fellow at East China Normal University in Shanghai. Jake is also a cofounder of Justice Is Global, a grassroots organizing project that advocates for reforms to the global economy. Read more about Jake.


Jack McCaslin is a policy advisor on the energy team in the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Prior to joining the State Department, Jack was a research associate for Africa Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. He received his MPA in international relations and climate from the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and his BA in international relations with a minor in Russian from Colgate University in upstate New York.


Matthew Mehalik is Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communication platform, the Breathe Project, beginning in September 2016. From 2007 – 2016, he served as Program Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh where he created Pittsburgh’s sustainable business network, Champions for Sustainability, and its performance programs and networks. Matt has been teaching sustainability and environmental policy at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, since 2008. He has published multiple peer-reviewed articles in sustainability, design and education and has co-authored “Ethical and Environmental Challenges to Engineering” with Michael E. Gorman and Patricia Werhane. Matthew’s Ph.D. is in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. For the past 25 years, Matthew has dedicated himself to creating and managing networks that transform systems for a sustainable, just, fair and hopeful future. He serves on the Phipps Conservatory Board of Trustees. Read more about Matthew.


Aimee Curtright is a senior scientist at RAND and a professor of policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. With more than two decades of experience in energy, infrastructure, and environmental policy analysis, her work often explores research, development, and adoption of energy technologies and tradeoffs in their costs, technical performance, environmental impact, and social and economic implications. Areas of expertise include solar PV, unconventional shale gas, and building efficiency, and her work has evaluated the impacts of these technologies on sustainability, resilience, and equity in a range of contexts and for a range of sponsors. Read more about Aimee.


Nisha Blackwell is a purpose-driven Entrepreneur and Chief Creative Officer of Knotzland Bowties, an environmentally and socially sustainable company that sources, rescues, and repurposes discarded textiles into stylish bowties intentionally made through providing flexible work-from-home sewing opportunities to people around the region. Since 2015, Knotzland has rescued over 7,000lbs of textiles and materials from entering landfills and has cultivated a community of mentors, sustainability advocates, and loyal customers through participation in Pittsburgh’s ecosystem of creative hubs, accelerators, and business incubators in the city and abroad. Read more about Nisha.


Lydia Morin brings over a decade of community building experience to her role as Executive Director of the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT). Before CONNECT, Morin spent three years leading community engagement and development in the Sto-Rox area, where part of her mission was shifting neighborhood partners from a competitive mindset to a collaborative one.


Miguel A. Sagué Jr. is the community outreach, cultural and historical education representative for the Speaker’s Bureau at the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center. He is a member of the Taino Indigenous nation of the Caribbean Islands off the coast of Central America. He emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10 and grew up in western Pennsylvania. He worked as an elementary school teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School District until he retired in 2010. He has been a member of the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center since 1977. As a representative of the Indian Center he has offered historical and cultural presentations all over the western Pennsylvania region for over three decades. His presentations are featured at conventions, schools, community groups and cultural organizations of all kinds.


Marita Garrett was born into a family that firmly believed in exercising their civic duty and spirit of volunteerism, and her drive and commitment to serving underinvested communities is palpable. As an undergraduate, Marita became immersed in the community and public sectors, as an Outreach Coordinator with University of Pittsburgh’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center. In 2017, Marita launched Civically, Inc, a social enterprise that focuses on community development by promoting civic and social literacy to instill self-reliance. Initiatives include Free Store Wilkinsburg, Fresh Market, Civically Speaking, and Wilkinsburg Community Conversations, as well as initiatives for health literacy and education. Advocating for women in leadership, Ms. Garrett was the co-host of Shattered Glass stories of extraordinary women shattering the glass ceiling are highlighted.

Jessica Mooney has a background in public policy with a focus on sustainability. Currently she works at Duquesne Light Company on the Transportation Electrification team where she implements the DLC Community Charging Program. Jessica has her master’s degree in public policy and management and previously worked for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Chatham University’s School of Sustainability and the Environment, Allegheny County Economic Development and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

More speakers will be announced soon.


We are grateful to Rotary International and Sustainable Pittsburgh for their partnership on this event.



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