In April, over 50 individuals representing a range of organisations came together to participate in a hackathon seeking to address the lack of diversity in the environmental sector. In this blog, IYPC member Daniel Seifu shares his reflections from the event.
During the hackathon, we sought to explore the barriers diverse communities face in accessing nature and environmental professions. We, as the Involving Young People Collective, co-created a space for those with lived experience of working, campaigning, and volunteering in the environmental space to share ideas and actively listen to one another. It was a brilliant event, one that was buzzing with the shared enthusiasm and innovative ideas of environmental leaders from across the UK.
What were the key patterns and themes in the conversation?
Changing the narrative
Conserving, maintaining, and appreciating Britain’s rural landscapes has long been seen as an activity reserved for white middle-class communities, as highlighted by many of the hackathon participants. Within these activities and spaces participants described how the social codes, etiquettes, branding, and messaging contributes to this perception of the countryside as an inaccessible and exclusionary space for young diverse communities. We discussed how this narrative is ingrained in Britain’s complex history of race and class divisions, in particular the vast inequalities of land ownership.
Institutional complacency by environmental gatekeepers continually fails to prioritise the relevant resources and funding needed to tackle this chronic lack of representation in the environmental sector. Participants shared how truly diverse and disruptive organisations are struggling to access the funding they need to thrive. In contrast, well known environmental organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF receive favourable access to funding and dominate the wider discourse on environmentalism. However, this feels like it is beginning to change with funders like Esmée Fairbairn starting to explore and understand how they can work directly with the grassroots organisations pioneering incredible work in this area.
So, how can we challenge these established organisations - and those in positions of power - to commit themselves to broadening and embedding the knowledge and experiences of diverse communities within their organisations, to catalyse equitable access to nature?
Making space and creating pathways for a more diverse environmental sector
Another key pattern of discussion during the hackathon looked at barriers to accessing careers in the environmental sector - the second least diverse sector in the UK. The barriers identified included low salaries, lack of access to career networks, career pathways seeming obscure and unobtainable, lack of diverse role models at senior management and trusteeship level, and the lack of mentoring schemes.
Having a keen interest in environmentalism is usually a prerequisite to working in the sector. However, participants explained how the hard reality of everyday socio-economic challenges for many underrepresented communities often means environmentalism is far from a priority for struggling families and individuals. Environmentalism is felt to be a privileged passion for the comfortable middle classes. Thus, we discussed how work to improve the lack of diversity in the environmental sector must recognise the importance of holistic systemic change, encompassing intersectional anti-oppressive struggles fighting for social change and wider equity in society.
Watch the short videos below to hear the initial thoughts on the issue from some of those who attended.
What does diversity in the environmental space mean to me and how do I feel about it as a young person
For me, diversity is about embracing difference to include perspectives and opinions that have historically been side-lined. It’s about the willingness to let go of old models of governance, conservation, and management - and to champion the diverse change makers who are reimagining the societal models of environmental stewardship. In the context of the hackathon, this means supporting the eclectic mix of individuals and organisations who we had the pleasure of working with and learning from.
Young people are essential to this change, not just as tokenistic participants invited as spokespeople, but as young leaders who work with and for young people, establishing a shared stake in the future of environmentalism.
The hackathon - which was led by young people - was modeled on these values of young leadership. Invited participants were also from organisations who champion the skills and knowledge of young environmental leaders.
What inspired me
It is the individuals and organisations at the hackathon which most inspired me. The organisations in the room included: Flock Together, May Project Gardens, Action for Conservation, John Ellerman Foundation, Cody Dock, Black 2 Nature, Mosaic Outdoors, Black Geographers, Black Girls Hike, Repowering London, London National Park City, LOT: London’s Land Bank, Creative Climate Resilience, Disobedient films, NYCE, Sheffield Environmental Movement, Myatt's Fields Park Project, Ella Baker school of organising and more. These innovative, ground-breaking, and committed individuals and organisations, who break stereotypes and challenge conventions, have instilled in me a real sense of hope for the future.
Before I go, I want to leave you with a few of my favourite radical ideas from the hackathon:
- A National Park, owned, maintained and created by and for people of colour.
- Funders allocating capital for social investments into community land ownership, to bridge the vast land inequalities and turn disused brown spaces into green community hubs (ie. community allotments).
- Sending funding managers to spend a day in the life of a grassroots environmental organisational leader in a diverse community; this could enable funders to clearly understand what is lacking and what needs to be done by funders.
- Providing a salary for 2 years to 1000 emergent leaders across the UK to help them evolve and pioneer this work in their communities.
I felt privileged to be part of such a stimulating event full of inspiring individuals; there are so many exciting possibilities for the future.