On June 27, 2017 I traveled to Kutztown, Pennsylvania for a tour of the Rodale Institute. The visit, organized by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, was an opportunity to experience first hand how the power of sustainable agriculture can simultaneously improve our environment and build community wealth.
I’m still a novice when it comes to healthy soils, but the opportunities seem limitless. Not only does implementing healthy soil practices do the obvious – build healthy soil – but it results in land that sequesters carbon, has higher production yields, and better withstands extreme weather. Healthy soil builds healthier environments. If that is not enough? It is bringing together diverse stakeholders; ones that have not traditionally worked together or found each other working on the same team.
I am looking forward to continue learning and seeing where the momentum around healthy soils takes the work in Maryland and beyond.
The conservation field is chock-full of significant challenges like cleaning up polluted waterways and curtailing air pollution. In the case of the NWF-hosted Choose Clean Water Coalition, for which I serve as Deputy Director, we work to reduce polluted runoff and minimize the impacts of natural gas fracking in the fight to meet the pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay. With all of these complicated problems, I never anticipated that the most significant and troubling issue is not an environmental issue at all, but a societal one: the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the Chesapeake Bay environmental community. This issue is critical because our success in returning clean water to the region relies on our ability to understand and effectively work with those from different backgrounds.
There are countless reasons why we must move toward a more diverse community: diversity makes us smarter; it allows us to be open to things that set us apart; and it can help reduce discrimination. Diversity is not only critical to our success as a community, but it is critical to making significant environmental progress.
First, the conservation community speaks on behalf of the public interest, promoting the “public good,” not private interests. When we do not reflect the communities we serve, we can’t legitimately speak on their behalf. People may question “how can an environmental nonprofit know what is best for me when they do not look like me or share my values and culture?”
Second, this is a numbers game. As the number of diverse individuals increases in the United States, our movement will continue to miss out on a growing segment of the population to engage and activate around our issues. Our field relies on numbers; more people are needed to combat the extraordinary amount of corporate dollars that promote private interests over the public good.
Third, it is our responsibility to ensure the people working in our field are accepted regardless of background and culture. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace will help us attract diverse individuals. It’s always fun to feel unique and special, but it gets tiring being the only person of color at every meeting and event. I want to see other people like me and I want to be a part of a movement that is not exclusive.
With that said, our end goal is two-fold: (1) the racial make-up of our organizations must reflect that of the communities we serve, and (2) we must engage more diverse communities in a meaningful and impactful way. To accomplish this, our coalition is advocating for a watershed-wide cultural shift in the way we think about institutional racism, unconscious bias, and outright discrimination. We are not going to authentically address our lack of diversity and inclusivity without breaking down these deep-seated, systemic barriers, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of how they impact the space we all live and work in.
The Choose Clean Water Coalition has consulted with experts to learn what we can to address these issues and has made strides toward beginning this shift. We created a tool-kit to help organizations craft governance documents, adjust hiring practices, and shape communications to attract more diversity. The Coalition committed to increasing diversity in our 2016-2017 strategic plan.
We also decided that improving the diversity of our annual conference is a priority. At last year’s conference, we collected our diversity demographics for the first time, and let me tell you, it was not pretty.
At this year’s conference, we made a conscious effort to incorporate diversity into every aspect. We included an environmental justice track, which featured all diverse speakers, and facilitated cultural competence training to help participants build awareness of how cultural differences impact people in an organization.
From last year to this year, we attracted significantly more people of color to our conference. Why? Because we acted intentionally. If we can intentionally improve diversity at our conference, can’t we do this in our larger environmental community? The Coalition has finally experienced some quantitative success in the quest for diversity. We believe this success can be scaled up to a watershed-wide level.
To accomplish this, the Choose Clean Water Coalition, in collaboration with the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, intends to create a DEI plan for our community. This is a heavy lift, so we released an RFP to find an expert to help build our capacity to address DEI and write our plan. This expert will help us build the capacity of watershed organizations to establish mutual relationships with diverse communities and develop productive cross-sector networks to benefit diverse communities.
It is vital that our community reach a shared vision on DEI with the goal of using these principles in our work. We want to lead the way; and we hope you will follow.
Check out these resources to build your awareness and understanding of equity and the environment:
Read this fact sheet from Green 2.0 to understand why equity matters in the environmental movement
Equity in Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime
By Stuart Clarke
In just over a year Maryland has achieved a number of impressive milestones in its efforts to address the causes and consequences of climate change. Last Spring the General Assembly codified the Climate Change Commission as a permanent stakeholder body charged with advising the Governor and the legislature on climate and clean energy policy and programs. Then in July, the state’s Public Service Commission decided to extend and expand Maryland’s energy efficiency resource standards, which had been set to expire. Come November the Climate Change Commission released its first annual report, calling for an extension and expansion of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction mandate (from 25 percent by the year 2020 to 40 percent by the year 2030) and for a prioritization of equity considerations in our clean energy transition. Then, in the just-ended 2016 General Assembly session, the legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that turned that 40 percent by 2030 recommendation into law. The session also saw passage of a bill to expand the state’s renewable energy mandate from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020.
We are of the view that, taken together, these developments represent the inauguration of a new phase of Maryland’s leadership on climate and clean energy. This new phase – what we might call Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Regime 2.0 (GGRR 2.0) – is characterized by several important commitments.
With the signature of Governor Hogan and the support of a number of Republicans in both chambers, the passage of the 40 percent by 2030 mandate represents a bipartisan commitment to extend and expand Maryland’s climate change leadership. The legislative record includes a finding by the Maryland Department of the Environment that achieving the 2009 mandate of a 25 percent reduction by 2020 will result in significant net economic benefits to the state. Accordingly, the passage of the new mandate also represents a commitment to the proposition that de-carbonization is a path to future prosperity rather than a threat to future prosperity.
The establishment of a permanent Climate Change Commission represents a commitment to the proposition that climate change leadership in Maryland should be transparent and accountable, and the Climate Commission’s 2015 report represents a commitment to the proposition that a decarbonized prosperity needs to be resilient, and needs to be equitable.
In identifying these commitments as key features of GGRR 2.0, we do not want to suggest that we are overconfident about how fully they will be respected and realized. We are not. Our proposition is that the manner in which our recent progress has occurred – including the language with which it has been framed – creates principles, criteria, aspirations and expectations to which the state can, and should, be held accountable.
These markers of climate and clean energy progress are not, of course, the set of developments that most forcefully marked Maryland’s last year. The year that moved us forward on climate and clean energy action also brought us – in the form of the police custody death of Freddy Gray and the unrest that followed – a sobering reminder of the kinds of progress that our progressive state has yet to achieve. Celebration of our climate and clean energy advances is tempered by the recognition that, absent attention and intention, ‘progress’ will often reproduce and reinforce structures and systems of inequity and injustice. Clean energy advocates ought not permit ourselves to look away from that reality. Instead, we should confront it for what it is, an opportunity to embrace and enact a broader transformative vision, one that seeks not simply create a clean energy future, but one that is fairer and more democratic as well.
In this context we are especially enthusiastic about the GGRR 2.0 commitment to equity. This commitment is made explicit in the Climate Commission’s 2015 report, which calls for Maryland’s 2030 planning to include consideration of the degree to which climate action strategies, policies and programs produce economic benefits that are equitably distributed across Maryland’s population; effectively address the economic dislocations that they may cause; and reduce energy burdens and improve resilience in vulnerable communities.
Until fairly recently Maryland interactions between climate action, energy policy, and equity considerations and constituencies have, as often as not, been tactical, incremental, and discontinuous. Equity advocates have been appropriately focused on the delivery of energy services to low income households and communities, often in the form of bill payment assistance, and energy efficiency upgrades. These advocates have also, on occasion, raised reasonable concerns about the economic impact that clean energy investments will have in increasing electricity rates for low and moderate income households. On the other side, when not ignoring equity considerations, clean energy advocates have too often sought to use them merely for tactical leverage, to gain the support of Baltimore or Prince Georges County legislators.
Our hope is that the GGRR 2.0 commitment to equity can help promote a weaving together of equity and clean energy challenges and constituencies into a new movement focused on making Maryland’s energy system cleaner, fairer, and more democratic. This movement would be built on the growing recognition that strategies to promote clean energy progress can also address and mitigate social and economic inequity if two simple principles are adhered to: we must insure equitable access to the benefits generated by clean energy strategies, policies, and programs; and we must identify and address how the costs of those strategies, policies, and programs can disproportionately burden the poor and the vulnerable.
Equity and clean energy advocates have already been forging mutually convenient alliances to highlight the community health burdens associated with the embrace of lower carbon content ‘bridge’ fuels and technologies like fracked natural gas and waste-to-energy incineration. We are pleased to begin to see these alliances ramifying, as advocates begin to find common cause in strategies and policies that drive us towards an equitably prosperous clean energy future. These include policies to insure that low income households and communities of color are able to access the economic and health benefits associated with living in more energy efficient dwellings powered by renewable energy; the job creation benefits associated with increased investment in renewable energy generation; and the security and stability benefits associated with increased energy resilience from expanded micro grids and distributed generation.
We are especially pleased that a piece of Town Creek-funded work may help to facilitate and inform these new relationships and ambitions in Maryland. “Planning for Climate and Energy Equity in Maryland” is a comprehensive review of the environmental justice and energy equity challenges and opportunities embedded in the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. This report – commissioned by the Maryland Environmental Health Network and conducted by Skeo Solutions Consulting – provides a precise review of the justice and equity aspects of Maryland’s existing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, while also emphasizing the need for the plan’s programmatic interventions to take place in the context of inclusive and adaptive planning for equitable outcomes. Since policies and programs that are neutral on their face can have inequitable impacts when implemented across our state’s particular geography of vulnerability, the report also emphasizes the importance of developing and implementing tools, techniques and practices that will allow for the precise locating of equity challenges and opportunities.
To be sure, Baltimore and Maryland are no different than other cities and states in preserving and extending legacies of inequity and injustice. We are simply in a moment when it is especially difficult to pretend otherwise. Since it would be unwise to expect that this moment will last, we ought to strive to use it wisely and productively. Fortunately, opportunities to reduce carbon pollution while also redressing energy and environmental inequities abound.
As the state’s representatives on the RGGI Board consider if and how to continue and expand RGGI’s progress in reducing regional greenhouse gas emissions, we hope that they will embrace the opportunity to include the views and perspectives of the low income constituents that directly benefit from the auction revenues generated by the carbon cap.
As the Public Service Commission explores how our electric grid can be made more resilient and more supportive of clean energy, we hope that they will embrace the opportunity to consider – along with the state’s low income and vulnerable constituents – how it can be made fairer as well.
As the Maryland Climate Change Commission develops its 2016 Annual report, we hope that it will embrace the opportunity to make good on its 2015 commitment to emphasize equity considerations, and generate robust recommendations for how Maryland can better track and plan for the distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate policy and planning.
The lack of diversity in the mainstream environmental community is apparent in almost every organization, meeting, and conference. And while the community discusses the approaches to better address diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g. evaluating an organization’s make up and external outreach programs) there is one aspect that has never come up once in a DEI conversation that I have been a part of – unpaid internships.
I get it, it’s challenging, the nonprofit community operates on shoestring budgets to pay its own staff, let alone pay for interns. I was a product of unpaid internships and was grateful for those opportunities, but I also recognize that those who can take advantage of unpaid internships are those who are economically stable enough to do so. How many incredibly talented people is our community missing out on because of this issue of access?
Green 2.0 highlighted the diversity challenges in the environmental community. Not only do we need to be intentional about organizational make up and how we conduct hiring searches, but we need to be thinking about the barriers we are putting in place that becomes exclusionary to the next generation.
I obviously cannot speak for every organization and their strategies behind offering internships, but I believe they are an opportunity – a missed one for internships that are unpaid – to ready the next generation with the experience they need to hold their own in the job market.
So on this Earth Day, I appeal to my friends and colleagues – take your organizational reflection one step further and think about how you may be creating barriers for our next generation of environmentalists.
“I was shocked and outraged to hear the story of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s much loved lion. Not only is it incomprehensible to me that anyone would want to kill an endangered animal (fewer than 20,000 wild lions in Africa today) but to lure Cecil from the safety of a national park and then to shoot him with a crossbow. I have no words to express my repugnance. He was not even killed outright, but suffered for hours before finally being shot with a bullet. And his magnificent head severed from his wounded body. And this behaviour is described as a “sport”. Only one good thing comes out of this – thousands of people have read the story and have also been shocked. Their eyes opened to the dark side of human nature. Surely they will now be more prepared to fight for the protection of wild animals and the wild places where they live. Therein lies the hope.”
For me, I have very little hope that this will result in anything more than what was happening before Cecil’s death. The amount of outrage and level of coverage is similar to that of any controversial and polarizing issue.
For a few days we have overnight activists who share their opinions, whether they are informed or not.
Then you have news coverage that usually only focuses on the specific incident and ignores the greater systemic issue it resulted from.
You might have organizations trying to leverage the amount of attention, but for the most part it goes un-utilized with no opportunities for engagement clearly presented.
And then 2-3 days later, we shift our attention back to the critically important on fleek eyebrows, selfies, and viral videos that populate our newsfeeds.
I think if there is any good that comes from the level of attention Cecil’s death has received, it will come from its ability to further cement the determination of the animal activists who do as they preach and see this incident as part of a larger systemic issue.
I do not see Cecil’s death resulting in systemic change and cultural shifts because the framing of the story already tells me that it will not. The world is upset over the death of one lion. That is not to say I do not care. Trust when I say my ferocious little grumpy cat and I are upset. The problem is that Cecil’s death goes far beyond the death of one lion. It is about the deep complexity of corrupt government systems, impoverished countries, and the significant motivating forces that drive the market for trophy hunting. Most of the articles do not address this. I can bet that most of the people upset, are upset from a place of anthropomorphism and not from a deep understanding of, or care for, the systemic issues that got us to this point.
This trend happens more then it should. For a few days, otherwise apathetic and passive individuals, share their opinions, hit a few “likes”, feel good about themselves, and move on. Some of these individuals would never move into meaningful action, but others might have had organizations leveraged the attention in an effective way that provided opportunities for deeper engagement.
We cannot place the responsibility of protecting our planet on the backs of a select few. Organizations need to effectively leverage the attention an issue is getting and individuals need to step up and practice what they preach. We are not industry and we will never have money on our side. What we do have is people and money cannot speak louder than a group of strong, informed and united individuals, demanding systemic change.
By Stuart Clarke, ABAG Board Member and Executive Director, Town Creek Foundation
I was recently invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers about the work we are doing at the Town Creek Foundation and how it illustrates one of the goals’ of the Association’s newly presented strategic plan.
ABAG’s mission is to maximize the impact of philanthropic giving on community life through a growing network of diverse, informed and effective philanthropists. As an ABAG Board Member, I was happy to speak about the foundation and about the strategic plan that I helped develop, which acknowledges the long standing roles of our Association as a convener and leader for collective and transformative action and how we will seek to elevate that role, maximizing our unique ability to convene a broad range of stakeholders, to be a voice, to lead public discourse and to influence governance and policy affecting the issues and communities we serve.
The new plan highlights four main goals, and I helped illustrate Goal #1:
“The Association will lead, with and for its members, efforts to influence critical issues and improve community conditions.” I discussed transaction to transformation and how the Town Creek Foundation thinks about our work and our collaboration with other members to encourage more systemic change.
Here are my remarks:
“It’s fun to be up here talking to you this morning, at least partly because – for at least two reasons – it’s sort of an odd place for me to be. First, Town Creek is a thirty-four year old environmental advocacy funder that, until pretty recently, has had a pretty low profile in Baltimore. Our more significant distinguishing characteristic, however, is that we are sun-setting. We are in the middle of the fourth year of a ten-year spend down. We plan to make our last grants, throw a big party, and bounce the caterer’s check at the end of 2021.
I’m here to tell you that self-imposed mortality can have an urgently clarifying influence on institutional thinking. Our decision to sunset was made in 2011, after a period of significant environmental progress in Maryland on issues of primary concern to us. This was a period that culminated in the establishment of relatively ambitious goals, strategies and plans to reduce the state’s contributions to Bay pollution and global warming.
Rather than basking in that glow, however, our decision to sunset prompted us to confront three questions about our work and our partnerships:
Is the scale and pace of change that we were seeing sufficient in view of the political, economic, and ecological headwinds that appear to be on the way?
Are the strategies that are producing incremental pollution reductions also building sufficient political power to sustain and accelerate those reduction sunder change political and economic circumstances?
Can we sustainably address Maryland’s major pollution challenges by reforming the practices that generate that pollution but leaving unchanged the purpose, logic, and structural relationships of the systems in which those practices are embedded?
It probably won’t surprise you that we emerged from this confrontation convinced that the answers to these questions are probably no. That we probably haven’t done enough of the right things to earn the self-satisfied retirement we’d been planning.
So we jumped into our last decade intent on encouraging our partners to augment their transactional strategies focused on incremental change with transformational strategies focused on systemic change.
We think we know what that means, but we know that we don’t know precisely how it works. We do think that five things are probably critical. The first three have to do with our grantmaking:
We think we need to invest in vision – in work that produces narratives of fundamentally different futures for the state and the region;
We think we need to invest in leadership – especially leadership with an appetite for boldness; and
We think we need to invest in examples, in pilot projects – real live pieces of the future that we need to build.
The last two things are about where we invest our time and our commitment, rather than where we invest our funds.
We need to be present with folks that are struggling with our toughest problems – not just environmental problems, but the full panoply of social and economic problems that we need to overcome. And, we need to engage that struggle in the state’s center of gravity, here, in Baltimore, where the challenges and the opportunities present themselves in the rawest and ripest forms.
So that’s why we are showing up at ABAG, and that’s why I am standing up for this strategic plan.”
As someone who works in the environmental field, I should enjoy Earth Day. Instead I actually find myself hating it more each year. For me, Earth Day has turned into an annual day of inauthentic concern and celebration for the planet.
The environmental community advocates 365 days of the year, with 364 of those days usually involving some sort of opposition and challenge. Earth Day is the one-day about us; where the media and the attention are focused on the planet. We do not have to “fight” per usual because for a mere 24-hours everyone seems to be a born-again environmentalist. We are given 24-hours where the opposition does not have an equal footing and environmental organizations and advocates let it be used for “happy” pictures and simple celebratory sentiments about the planet.
Municipal waste only accounts for 3% of total waste production in the United States.
Taking shorter showers will not stop the planet from running out of water. It will not fix drought stricken regions. Over 90% of water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The other 10% is split between municipalities and individuals.
If every person in the United States did everything Al Gore suggested in “An Inconvenient Truth,” U.S. carbon emissions would only fall by about 22%.
A picture of “happy trees” in honor of Earth Day will not make a difference.
In case there was any doubt, a “Happy Earth Day” post will not:
Secure the termination of the proposed Energy Answers incinerator in Curtis Bay. The hard, on-the-ground work, of United Workers and Free Your Voice did that.
Improve the air quality of overburdened communities. Your zip code should not dictate your life expectancy. This is a reality that is very much within the confines of the state of Maryland. The Maryland Environmental Health Network is fighting for that.
Work long hours from January-April defending the right to a clean and healthy environment during Maryland’s Legislative Session. The countless advocates and constituents do that year after year.
To the 24-hour born-again environmentalists: If you mean what you said or posted today, connect with your local environmental organization and get involved. The environmental community is fighting too many serious issues for you to hide behind a computer.
To the environmental advocates: Work to engage “slacktivists” in more active advocacy roles and utilize this day, and any where we are given more attention and leverage than the opposition, to its absolute fullest.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
…but that means actually caring for the environment all 365 days of the year.
By Rebecca Ruggles, Director, Maryland Environmental Health Network
“We’ve always felt that as grantmakers, it is our responsibility to smartly deploy the full range of resources at our disposal, including grantmaking, communications, convening, and connecting. Like most grant makers, we’ve paid considerably more attention to grant making than we have to the other avenues for impact.”
With these opening words, Stuart Clarke framed the Town Creek Foundation’s stakeholder meeting on November 14, 2014 in Easton. Drawing over 100 Town Creek grantees and partners together was a deliberate investment – and Stuart might have said, an experiment – in exploring those “other avenues for impact”.
Town Creek, headquartered on the Eastern Shore, made the bold decision in 2011 to sunset in ten years. Among their reasons was a sense of urgency about achieving major gains in the areas of their investment – the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, fighting climate change, and promoting environmental sustainability. Citing that sense of urgency, the foundation convened what it called its First Annual Stakeholder Meeting at Chesapeake College.
After the intense social buzz of morning coffee, Town Creek President Jennifer Stanley opened the formal program with welcoming remarks and urged us to participate actively. The morning featured a keynote from University of Maryland professor emeritus Gar Aperovitz followed by lively audience dialogue. After lunch, small groups met to address questions posed by Stuart and then convened together as a full group to report out.
One part of the morning was an overview of Town Creek grantmaking philosophy and practice, presented by Stuart Clarke and Meredith Lathbury Girard. Stuart’s remarks, which I had the opportunity to read in advance, offered a framework for viewing environmental work as both transactional (rooted in the politics of what is possible in the present) and transformational (working at what Stuart called “the scale of the problem”, instead of the scale of what politics allows).
Though he claims no plans to publish, I asked Stuart to allow us to post his remarks on the ABAG website. If you are a student of philanthropy, an environmentalist, or a grantmaker concerned that incremental change is not enough, you may find this paper intriguing. The paper also offers insight into the thought process of a foundation in its final 7 years.
To attendees, Stuart posed the question: Can we address Maryland’s pollution challenges by changing practices while leaving unchanged the structures that allowed that pollution? A provocative question, it stimulated much discussion during the afternoon’s small groups about the role of Town Creek, of funders in general, and of the diverse sectors in Maryland that seek to be change agents.
Lynn Heller from the Abell Foundation tackled the daunting task of summarizing the reports from the small group facilitators. Among the conclusions were a resounding desire to be enabled to work “at the scale of the problem” through changes in grant-making practices that address building grantees’ organizational capacity, investing long-term, and supporting ambitious approaches to the root causes of societal woes.
The Maryland Environmental Health Network convenes diverse stakeholders in the fields of health and environmental advocacy, research, and community activism, to support cross-sector education, dialogue and action that results in better protection of both human health and the environment. MdEHN is a project housed at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG).
For those unfamiliar with the day, #GivingTuesday was created as a philanthropic alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday – a global day to celebrate generosity and to give. This year’s #GivingTuesday will take place on December 2nd.
If you have not started planning, now is the time to start! The key to success is to start building an online buzz now and utilize the resources on the #GivingTuesday and #MarylandGivesMore websites to develop an effective online presence. You can download a free e-book “Guide to a Successful Giving Day” here.
The #MarylandGivesMore campaign has set a goal of raising $12.2 million on #GivingTuesday. This is roughly equivalent to every Marylander donating $2. For more information on ways to get involved with #MarylandGivesMore, contact Allison Albert, Membership/Marketing Director, at email@example.com or 443.438.2346.
NGO Participation Ideas:
Use the #MarylandGivesMore goal and #GivingTuesday as a new way to communicate with donors and kick off your year-end giving campaign.
Promote your current projects on #GivingTuesday: Sign up to be a Partner on the #MarylandGivesMore website and report in dollars raised on December 2nd.
Organizations have the option to launch new projects to capitalize on the enthusiasm and online traffic on the #MarylandGivesMore Crowdrise page.
Volunteer hours are also eligible – they will be monetized and counted toward the goal.
Announce your participation to your community on Facebook and Twitter (@MDGivesMore).
Foundation Participation Ideas:
Lend your stature and leadership to the effort, join the #MarylandGivesMore campaign by signing up to be a Partner on the #MarylandGivesMore website and reporting in donations on 12.2.14.
Announce your year-end grants on 12.2.14, #GivingTuesday, to contribute to the statewide goal.
Invite your grantees to participate
Spread the word about the #MarylandGivesMore initiative, and your involvement or support, via traditional and social marketing (find us on Facebook and Twitter @MDGivesMore).
To encourage generosity in donations on #GivingTuesday, provide matching fund grants to the overall #MarylandGivesMore campaign. Contact Heather Iliff, Vice President, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443.438.2348.
Support your grantees directly with matching grants on #GivingTuesday.
I encourage everyone to participate and bring this global day of giving to their local membership. Happy Fundraising!
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are” – Anaïs Nin
In the short time I have officially spent in the real world, I have observed the public health frame provide considerable strength to environmental initiatives. This frame engages audiences in ways the environmental frame does not. Lets face it; the environment is not of inherent concern to each and every one of the 7-billion people on this planet.
The effectiveness of the public health angle was most apparent to me when the Star Democrat published an article on the high presence of Vibrio on the eastern shore. With 825 likes and the exposure of 220 shares on Facebook, the article received an incredible online response. I combed through each and every comment and share that I could within the limits of Facebook privacy settings. Surprisingly, at their core, the comments and shares were all the same – general alarm and concern for public health. It is not uncommon for environmental articles to get the comment wrath of the Negative Nancy’s of the community, but those dissenting views could not be found for this article. The community even went so far as to say the article did not go far enough.
I monitored social media in the days following the article’s publishing. For an article that received so much online attention, there was not a single peep, like, share, comment, smoke signal, or carrier pigeon from any of the local NGOs. This was such a great opportunity for engagement and it went ignored.
Fortunately or unfortunately, public health threats from water quality are popping up left and right in the news. The coverage is creating what appears to be an opportune time for a greater dialogue on the health and water quality nexus. Just last week 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio were left without drinking water due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB) contaminating their water supply. This bloom was a direct result of excess phosphorus caused by pollution sources like agricultural runoff, stormwater runoff, overflowing sewers, failed septic systems, and lawn fertilizers. This specific incident may have happened in Toledo, but HABs derivative of excess pollution are nothing new. Vibrio even received national media coverage for its rise in Florida and other southern states.
The Star Democrat’s article may have gone un-leveraged by local NGOs, but the issue of Vibrio continues to attract attention from other organizations and media outlets across the state. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, South River Federation, and West/Rhode Riverkeeper have all weighed in on the bacteria, pollution, and public safety. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation even reissued their 2009 report on the rise of infections from flesh-eating bacteria that threatens both ecological and public health. This opportunity should not go un-leveraged.
When it comes to the nexus of water quality and public health, I often think of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC) and their demonstrative success with the public health lens. Responding to a water contamination crisis, the public health frame connected WVRC more deeply with their community. WVRC gained the support of community members with close ties to the fossil fuel industry who, before the crisis, never supported WVRC’s efforts. WVRC leveraged their strong base of community support to resolve the specific contamination incident and successfully pass new clean water legislation for the state.
There might not be an obvious call to action when it comes to naturally occurring Vibrio, but it does not make the opportunity for engagement any less real. Taking advantage of natural opportunities to engage and educate the community sets the stage for support when emergency issues arise. After reading the Star Democrat’s article, the public wanted more information. Local organizations could have filled this information gap and connected this citizen base into a larger conversation on water quality and threats to public health.
Part of successful organizing, particularly online, requires letting the community be the driver (Ward, 2011). The community was there, galvanized and ready on their own. Activism via social media does not stop at a “like” or a “share.” It is up to the NGOs and other related organizations to provide the right asks that move a community into more active roles both online and offline.
Groups should think of “likes” on Facebook as virtually raised hands (Ward, 2011). There were 825 people raising their hands concerned about the increase of Vibrio in the Talbot County watershed; 825 hands that went ignored.
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project studied “the Social Side of the Internet.” The project found that being social online means it is more likely you will be social offline.
68% of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members.
62% of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to draw attention to an issue.
59% of all American said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact society at large.
49% of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact local communities.
This is significant. Based on this research, it is clear the online response to the local Vibrio article presented an opportunity for deeper engagement. A chance to move those 825 “raised hands” into offline action. I doubt those 825 people would be ignored if they showed up at an organization’s doorstep.
The stars are aligning around the water quality and public health nexus. The public cares about this issue; they raised their hands. Now it is up to the NGOs to meet the public where it is at, acknowledge their interest, and leverage the opportunity that naturally presented itself from utilizing a public health lens.