More than 150 Echoing Green Fellows gathered in Joburg for the 2015 All Fellows Conference to refine and re-energize their leadership. Here's what we learned.
Invest in Diverse Leadership For a Richer Ecosystem
Bold Idea: We need leadership that reflects the diversity of the communities we seek to influence. In several of our Black Male Achievement Fellows, we saw enterprising social innovators who have fresh ideas to scale the environmental movement by empowering their communities to be the agents for change.
Markese Bryant attends Green For All in Atlanta Earth Day 2012. Photo courtesy Green for All.
Just as our planet requires biodiversity to maintain a healthy ecosystem, cultural diversity is essential to the success and sustainability of the social movements of our time. A recent NCRP report [pdf] detailed why environmental grant makers should increase funding directed towards grassroots, community-based groups that are most effected by environmental harm. To scale and sustain the impact of the environmental movement, the report explained, our society requires leadership that reflects the diversity of those communities.
Echoing Green intentionally invests in a diverse range of social entrepreneurs whose work spreads solutions and access to agency. In the inaugural 2012 Open Society Foundation Black Male Achievement Fellowship class, we saw an opportunity to support leaders who represent an expanded environmentalism movement within black communities.
Two such Fellows are Markese Bryant and John Jordan. They met at Morehouse College where John was a business major growing frustrated with the black community’s lack of access to the Green Jobs movement, and Markese was engaged as a community organizer for Green for All, an organization started by Van Jones (EG ‘94).
As they explain, “Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and their surrounding communities, often cannot afford investments in infrastructure and energy efficiency. These same communities lack access to healthy foods and as a result, have some of the highest obesity rates. At Morehouse, we saw these inequities firsthand, and are driven by our own personal adversities to change this reality. Markese lost his mother to crack cocaine and nearly his own future through drug dealing, but was given an opportunity to change his life through a mentorship-based diversion program. In college, John faced the death of an aunt, the murder of one cousin, and the incarceration of another. We are compelled to change the harsh realities black men face. Fight for Light empowers students at HBCUs to help their communities lead environmentally conscious and healthy lifestyles, while acquiring specialized skills for the growing green job market.”
Determined to create better opportunities for themselves and the students who would follow them, they applied for the Echoing Green Fellowship to launch their organization, Fight for Light. They are now working to transform HBCUs into hubs for sustainability by increasing black college students’ knowledge of the environment and providing clear pathways to careers in the green movement.
Echoing Green and our partners at the Open Society Foundation know that the inclusion of these emerging black environmental and sustainability champions is important to the goal of sustaining and enriching our ecosystem. Their unique approaches and histories affect how we think about the challenges, and ultimately the effectiveness and sustainability of their solutions.
Drive Change: Step away from your preconceptions of what an environmental entrepreneur’s resume and background look like, and imagine a culture of innovation that supports diverse profiles and approaches. Below are further examples of organizations empowering the next generation of leaders for our planet:
Fight for Light (BMA ’12)
BlocPower (BMA ’12)
Real Food Challenge (EG ’10)
Green City Force (EG ’93)
Green for All Founded by Van Jones (EG '94) in 2007
Emerald Cities Collaborative
— Echoing Green (@echoinggreen) April 17, 2013
One clear way to drive change is to invest in leaders who have a direct connection to the communities they serve.
Bringing about dramatic and lasting social change requires lifelong leadership and learning lessons along the way.