The Will Steger Foundation’s Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program is engaging forty environmental leaders in six Midwest states in powerful dialog across the generational spectrum. This co-mentorship model pairs young and veteran environmental leaders with complementing experience and growth interests to share perspectives in an egalitarian exchange.
Participants are meeting once a month, in-person when possible, to discuss pressing questions, insights, experiences, and emerging ideas. Issue areas range from food justice, to divestment from fossil fuels, tar sands resistance, environmental education, behavior change, clean energy policy, and building the green economy, to name a few. Pairs are exploring strategies to organize campaigns, improve communications, build authentic partnerships, creatively access resources, and create a better working environment. Specific questions include :
- How does local organizing fit into the context of state and federal policy work?
- How do generational perspectives differ and align on where to push in order to get meaningful change?
- How can young people access funding and elevate the value of local work, when most of the funding is in the hands of older generations and focused on state and federal campaigns?
- How can REAMP better measure success across local community-based initiatives and state-level policy campaigns?
- How does the development of a personal narrative help to connect local action to legislative efforts, and change the political dynamic?
- Why do Big Greens often find it challenging to engage youth in their political campaigns? Are they consistently and inherently inaccessible to youth?
- How do we create spaces in REAMP and the larger Big Green network to talk about emerging innovative models that support transition to a green economy, as well as campaigns that push back against the fossil fuel status quo?
Mentorship participants also have monthly opportunities to join a group call, where they can share questions and insights with others in the program. Our February call generated insight into contrasting generational perspectives on state and federal policy work based on differing life experiences: Baby Boomers have seen many legislative wins over the course of their careers, whereas Millennials have only known gridlock, causing many youth to have little faith in policy. Instead, many youth organizers value local grassroots organizing as a leading strategy for change.
On our March call, participants explored how traditional approaches to environmental policy change could become more compatible with youth and local interests, and discussed how stories of self might feature in bridging this divide.
The following best practices provide a guide for the program:
- Best learning comes out of mutually respectful relationships
- A clear orientation process is important to establish guidelines and expectations for the co-mentor relationship
- Good communication builds trust; this can be supported through program structure, the orientation, and facilitation
- Participants decide on additional parameters for their exchange, including the development of personal objectives, expectations of each other, meeting frequency, etc.
- Ongoing support of mentor partners provides accountability and trouble-shooting assistance
- Creating a culture of mentorship is important and helps participants transfer the program to other relationships and settings in their professional and personal life.
- Encouraging connection across pairs supports on-going networking and learning beyond the singe mentor-match relationship
- Matching participants in the same geographic location fosters sustainable relationships and collaboration
The Emerging Leaders Mentorship Program is designed to facilitate cross-generational dialog in an egalitarian environment, as mentorship programs based on mutually respectful relationships tend to support more empowering growth. Ultimately, the program provides an opportunity to build new and lasting relationships that can shape a more inclusive paradigm and a more coordinated strategy on climate change solutions.
2013-14 Mentorship Program participants include :
Grand Aspirations: Iowa City Summer of Solutions, IA
Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Develop, IA
Energy Action Coalition; Grand Aspirations: LET’S GO Chicago, IL
Crown Family Philanthropies, RE-AMP, IL
Illinois Student Environmental Coalition, IL
Natural Resources Defense Council, IL
Union of Concerned Scientists, Grand Aspirations, IL
Great Plains Institute, MN
Southern Illinois University: Net Impact; Arctic Action Teams, IL
Aldo Leopold Nature Center, WI
Grand Aspirations: LET’S GO Chicago, IL
RE-AMP Analyst, WI
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
National Wildlife Federation, MI
NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, MI
Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, MI
Grand Aspirations: Soulardarity, MI
National Wildlife Federation, MI
MN350: Midwest Tar Sands Coalition, MN
Clean Energy and Jobs Campaign, MN
MN350: Divestment Campaign, MN
Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, MN
Sandbox Cooperative, MN
AfroEco; Movement Center for Deep Democracy, MN
Transition Northfield, MN
Fresh Energy, MN
University of Minnesota Morris (student), MN
Clean Up the River Environment, MN
MPIRG: Morris Chapter, MN
Clean Wisconsin, WI
MPIRG: Duluth Chapter, MN
MN350, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, MN
Higher Education Consortium of Urban Affairs, MN
Project Sweetie Pie, MN
Energy Action Coalition/OH Student Environmental Coalition, OH
Sierra Club, OH
OH Student Environmental Coalition, OH
The Oberlin Project, OH
350 Stevens Point, WI
Sierra Club: John Muir Chapter, WI