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Sarah Ferguson Is Thinking About Her 'Grandchildren's Grandchildren' in New Role 'Defending the Planet' (Exclusive)

The Duchess of York tells PEOPLE why there is "a great deal to be optimistic about"

<p>Gotham/GC Images</p> Sarah Ferguson smiles in New York City on March 8, 2023.

Gotham/GC Images

Sarah Ferguson smiles in New York City on March 8, 2023.

Sarah Ferguson’s family is on her mind as she looks to the future in her latest endeavor.

The Duchess of York, 64, is in Australia this week for her role as co-chair of Global Citizen NOW: Melbourne, the inaugural international edition of Global Citizen NOW. The Duchess of York, who is popularly known as Fergie, exclusively tells PEOPLE why she signed on to help helm the summit dedicated to ending extreme poverty.

“I love the energy and enthusiasm of young people, and I care deeply about the issues that Global Citizen is focused on: defeating poverty and defending the planet. I am here to listen, learn and use the voice that I have to amplify these messages,” the Duchess tells PEOPLE.

“Global Citizens have taken over 30.4 million actions since 2009. Today, these actions, in combination with high-level advocacy work, have led to over $41.4 billion being distributed to our partners around the world, impacting 1.15 billion lives in the fight to end extreme poverty,” she says. “Those are incredible facts and demonstrate how everyone can do their part, whether large or small, to make a difference.”

<p>Rob Kim/Getty </p> Sarah Ferguson speaks onstage during Global Citizen NOW: Climate Sessions in New York City in September 2023

Rob Kim/Getty

Sarah Ferguson speaks onstage during Global Citizen NOW: Climate Sessions in New York City in September 2023

Related: Sarah Ferguson Receives Good News Following Skin Cancer Diagnosis: 'She Is Very Relieved'

Much of the Duchess of York’s public work has connected to young people, and her daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, have the same passion for speaking out about issues close to their hearts. As a mother and grandmother, Fergie tells PEOPLE it means "a great deal" to see future generations call for change and watch her daughters use their platform to inspire young people.

"I hope to learn from these incredible youth activists, share their stories with the world and raise awareness and drive action to address the key threats to our planet,” the Duchess of York says. “We need to leave this earth and know our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to live and thrive here. My daughters are incredible, brilliant, passionate young activists, and they inspire me constantly.”

<p>Dave Benett/Getty </p> Princess Beatrice of York, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Princess Eugenie of York attend The Anti Slavery Collective's inaugural Winter Gala in London in November 2023.

Dave Benett/Getty

Princess Beatrice of York, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Princess Eugenie of York attend The Anti Slavery Collective's inaugural Winter Gala in London in November 2023.

The Duchess of York and her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, are grandparents to Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi’s daughter Sienna, 2, Edo’s young son Christopher Woolf, 7, from a previous relationship, and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s sons August, 3, and Ernest, 9 months.

Fergie gave Instagram followers a peek behind the scenes with a photo of her meeting with Global Citizen co-founders Mick Sheldrick and Hugh Evans and suggests that anyone hoping to make a positive difference can think global by acting locally.

"I would encourage people to start small — even the smallest acts of kindness can have a huge impact. Sometimes issues feel so much bigger than us, it can be daunting to get started or know where to begin. I would encourage anyone who wants to do something to help their community to start today!” she tells PEOPLE.

Related: Princess Eugenie Shares Why She's Raising Son August to Be an 'Activist' from a Young Age

As for her own “small part,” the Duchess of York says she hopes to serve as a "bridge" between generations.

"I want to serve as a bridge between generations so we can accelerate our collective actions toward a sustainable future. Young people have had enough and want change. My generation has failed them thus far, but we can change that now, and my hope is I can play my small part in driving that change," she says.

Global Citizen: NOW is doubling as an inspiration and motivation.

"I am very moved by these youth activists who have taken action. I am optimistic about the future thanks to the attendees here at GC. They are extraordinary, one and all,” Fergie tells PEOPLE. “They are inheriting a climate mess but despite this and two years of COVID, their grit and determination are absolutely inspiring. If you ever become pessimistic, listen to this group. There is a great deal to be optimistic about.”

<p>Stephen Pond/Getty </p> Sarah Ferguson at the Christmas service at Sandringham on December 25, 2023 in Sandringham, Norfolk.

Stephen Pond/Getty

Sarah Ferguson at the Christmas service at Sandringham on December 25, 2023 in Sandringham, Norfolk.

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The Global Citizen NOW: Melbourne conference, which kicked off on Tuesday and concludes on Thursday, is focused on amplifying young innovators from across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region and driving derisive action on the climate crisis, gender inequity, better health systems and fighting food insecurity, a statement said.

The event brings together 300 young leaders, plus world leaders, influencers, policy experts and more, including virtual appearances from ambassadors Hugh Jackman and Charlie Puth.

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