Esmée's hackathon and me: a young environmentalist’s look into how change is made

Action for Conservation

Following a hackathon to address the lack of diversity in the environment sector, Hemlata Pant, a Youth Representative for Action for Conservation, writes about the experience.

As a teenage, BAME, first generation immigrant, diversity will always be the only way, the key to achieving a truly greener world. It should be at the heart of environmentalism.

With a name like ‘Diversity in the Environment Hackathon’, the hackathon hosted by the Involving Young People Collective on behalf of Esmée Fairbairn Foundation in April 2021 sounded like an experience I would enjoy as a teenage, BAME, first generation immigrant working with Action For Conservation to bring nature into the forefront of all young people’s lives. I was right.

Though I had never been to such a hackathon, I thought I knew what to expect: simple breakdowns of statistics and figures, basic proclamations that ‘something’ must be done and gardening tips. I was wrong. Very wrong.

Perhaps my bizzare misconceptions came from countless, fruitless school assemblies on climate change, barely covering the entire scope of the issue, but these were washed away as I was introduced to the leading figures of the day through pre-recorded introduction videos. Like the ‘keen to get stuck-in’ person I am, I watched all the introductory videos representatives or participants had sent in the night before the hackathon. I was in awe of those innovators and leaders who had all done what I regard to be the sole, crucial part of environmentalism: made a positive, tangible change wherever possible. I remember being quite restless that night, so fired up by the passion I saw in them and the passion I imagined would follow the next day.

The power of conversation

Right from the beginning, the first thing I learnt was that conversation is powerful. After a warm welcome from the delightful hosts who were part of the Involving Young People Collective and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, I hadn’t expected to hear such concrete analyses of complex contemporary issues such as racism in the environment sector, the effects of a whitewashed green movement, and even deconstructions of the environmental impacts of white supremacy so early on in the event. These conversations are the most important conversations of our time, their power lies in their ability to set the stage for an incredible transformation of society itself.

Importantly, leaders of the event noted that this issue is so broad it would be impossible to find solutions in just a few hours but I felt that, though discussion of the problems were insightful, our conversations were giving rise to exciting solutions and I wish we had more time to speak about this. However, afterwards, I felt that this minor frustration only served to make me more zealous in making changes in my own life and community based on those conversations.

I could tell that the deliberate centering of diversity within the environment sector above other things made the conversations more difficult, due to its complexity. But it gave the conversations necessary depth to lead to change and participants were more than capable of exploring it with nuance. As a teenage, BAME, first generation immigrant, diversity will always be the only way, the key to achieving a truly greener world. It should be at the heart of environmentalism. The environmental sector’s aim is for each and everyone to live in a green, sustainable society which can only be done through the inclusion of the marginalised, who are the ones who make up most of society. It’s not environmentalism if it only leads to a green, stable future for the few.

Weaved through the event, I believe, was the theme of a position unyieldingly similar to mine. Voices of people who looked like me, who shared my experiences were determined and unmistakable throughout the event. These are the people who have the wisdom, skills and expertise on diversity in environmentalism and this hackathon showed me how they will be the ones leading the inevitable green transformation.

What the experience meant to me

To be frank, to be honest and (probably overly) sentimental, this hackathon meant a lot to me.

I shiver thinking of the mental and almost literal pressure I was under at the time with all-important GCSEs going on - I went and did my Russian Reading GCSE half an hour after logging off - and how I had nearly forgotten what I was working so hard for. Yet, after those five hours with youth, activists and pioneers - people I could clearly tell that, like me, had a fierce desire to build a new, greener world and were working so hard to do so. I felt like I was on top of the world. As problems were being discussed and new ideas developed, I felt incredibly lucky to be there, amongst such incredible environmentalists which brought back to my mind the reason for my hard work at school and with Action for Conservation: the realisation of our shared vivid picture of a sustainable world for future generations to come. The image hasn’t left me since.


Hemlata Pant, Youth Representative - Action for Conservation

Hemlata is a young person attending secondary school in Bristol fascinated by environmentalism and keen to promote youth ecological involvement. She has previously been published in Xplode, a youth magazine, raising awareness of ecological issues such as food waste and insecurity. She is currently working as part of the Green Influencer Scheme with the Wilderness Foundation UK, working as a leader in a youth-led project (@litterbusters_greeninfluencers) aiming to benefit communities affected by littering.

She sits on the Unique Voice CIC Youth Board, aiming to represent the views and needs of her peers and contribute to her local community.

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