Will Steger Foundation Launches Innovative Region-Wide Mentorship Program

image mentorshipThe Will Steger Foundation is kicking off the summer with research to develop and launch an innovative mentorship program within the RE-AMP network that connects youth climate leaders with veteran staff from climate-focused non-profit organizations across the Midwest.

Mentorship is defined as a mutually beneficial learning relationship between two people that involves caring, commitment and trust. This project, which received grant funding through the RE-AMP Strategic Initiative Fund, aims to build egalitarian and intergenerational relationships that allow both participants to gain powerful new insights and perspectives.

The development of this program comes at a critical time for the environmental movement. Now over 40 years old, the environmental movement is experiencing a point of stagnancy. There is a gap between public opinion and political progress. The number of Americans who say there is evidence for global warming is on the increase and there is strong public support for clean energy; yet, climate change remains a partisan issue with very few recent political victories.

Research is indicating that we need to change our approach.

image mentorship2In a 2011 report, Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environmental Funders, Sarah Hansen found that rather than continuing to rely on top-down strategies, we need to increase support for grassroots organizing in communities that are directly impacted by environmental harms.

“We need a holistic approach to solve the complex problems such as those our environment and climate face today. Problems in our environment stem from a long chain of complicated reactions and overlapping factors,” says Hansen. “Conceptually and practically, science is never isolated from culture, society and the economy.”

As a young climate organizer from Minnesota, I am excited to be working with the Will Steger Foundation this summer as a Research Assistant on this project. I have seen the work my peers are doing across the Midwest to engage new communities in the climate movement and create innovative solutions. They are organizing to transition their campuses from coal power to clean energy, launching initiatives to grow the green economy, and committing to inclusive organizing practices.

Young people have always been at the forefront of social movements. Today in the Midwest, they are pushing the boundaries and changing the dominant narrative around climate to focus on its impact on people, so that it is understood as more than an environmental issue. By moving the debate from protecting polar bears and ice caps to social justice, human health, and resilience of communities, they are broadening the environmental movement and spurring innovative solutions that address the systemic nature of the problem.

Across the country youth organizers are building authentic relationships with marginalized, low income, and communities of color and collaborating on local victories that strategically build political pressure for large-scale change. Many valuable insights have been formed from these experiences, and youth still have a lot to learn.

By fostering open dialogue and mutual learning between young climate leaders who are working on the front lines in their communities and veteran staff from environmental organizations, this program will increase the flow of knowledge, resources, and ideas across the generational spectrum, and lead to necessary growth in the climate change movement across the Midwest.

I see huge potential for synergy by creating a space where youth organizations and established non-profits can build relationships and share skills. A few examples include :

  • How have youth organizations leveraged social media?
  • What expertise do established non-profits have to offer on high-level networking?
  • How are youth redefining the boundaries of the environmental movement in new and necessary ways?
  • How can veteran staff support and learn from these efforts?
  • How can we collaborate, leveraging relationships with key constituencies and influential decision-makers?

I look forward to seeing how this program will shape the Midwest climate movement and help us build a more powerful movement.

If you are interested in participating in the mentorship program or if you have research or ideas to share, please contact me at christy@willstegerfoundation.org or 612.278.7147.

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