New Community Leadership Programs for Climate Resilience Launched with River Network Support
Last November, River Network published part one of a two-part toolkit series on Equitable Climate Resilience. This first tool, titled Fostering Community Leadership, introduced community leadership development programs as a way to center equity in conversations, decisions, and community impacts related to climate change. We put the tool to work at the beginning of 2021 by granting three organizations funds, planning resources, and direct consulting time with River Network staff to support the design and planning of their own leadership initiatives. While these organizations had different ideas in mind for their proposed programs, they all shared the common goal: build community members’ skills and confidence to actively participate in their local decision-making landscapes.
As we approach the end of summer, our grantees are excited to share their progress in developing relevant, responsive, and accessible programs to foster emerging leaders in their communities.
Defensores de la Cuenca (Cheverly, MD)
With a clear idea of their program content and structure in mind, Defensores de la Cuenca (Defensores) focused on building partnerships and securing resources to pilot their program this year. “La Academia de Defensores de la Cuenca” incorporates culturally responsive content and stewardship opportunities, as well as culturally competent presenters and local experts. With a goal of engaging the Spanish-speaking community in learning and shared experiences, Defensores is building a dispersed network of leaders in the Latino Community. Participants are learning about specific topics like tree planting and canopy cover, watershed health, and biodiversity alongside their peers, while also gaining confidence to participate in civic engagement opportunities or a variety of other community leadership opportunities.
Defensores de la Cuenca presented at the Mid-Atlantic Climate Change Education Conference in June 2021 and shared their approach to offering culturally relevant and equitable programming, focused on La Academia.
Wellington Water Watchers (Guelph, Ontario)
Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) originally planned to build a stand-alone leadership program to serve the many communities they interact with across Ontario. However, input during a series of focus groups grounded the WWW team in adapting existing programs instead. This shift builds on WWW’s success supporting grassroots action campaigns in communities that face water threats, with a strategy to inject the campaign support process with some formal training and capacity-building opportunities for local residents.
This approach will utilize a justice-oriented lens to move community members into a more relationship-driven space. It also adds technical training components such as understanding local and provincial government, communications strategies for action campaigns, and water-related content relevant to the campaign goal. Adjusting the programming in this way alleviates potential burdens related to time commitments and transportation to specific training sessions outside of the local campaign. This strategy also allows for vast amounts in flexibility in training topics, providing space for the training to be personalized to each campaign or each community group’s interests and needs.
Partners for Environmental Justice (Raleigh, NC)
After a successful pilot of the Raleigh Watershed Learning Network in early 2021, Partners for Environmental Justice (PEJ) is gearing up for a second cohort this fall. PEJ learned a lot during their pilot program, and is making adjustments to the program structure to better accommodate the diverse needs of future participants. The pilot program met (virtually) on a weekly basis for six weeks, and concluded with a capstone project to demonstrate learning; it also featured live interpretation services for Spanish-speaking participants and two in-person sessions where participants were able to partake in stewardship activities.
Meeting virtually and offering a bilingual space proved to be extremely difficult, and future cohorts will be participating in-person only, with specific programs for English speakers and Spanish speakers to increase active participation. This decision was made based on feedback from the Spanish-speaking participants, who encountered barriers despite live interpretation services. This structural transition was confirmed by cohort peer Defensores de la Cuenca, who explained that even with skilled interpreters, up to 25% of content can be lost during translation in real-time.
Virtual engagement resulted in a variety of technological problems and decreased attendance at sessions throughout the course of the program. The $400 stipend provided to participants was a key component in alleviating potential barriers to participation, and honored participants’ time and energy invested in the program. PEJ co-presented along Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association at the Carolina’s Climate Resilience Conference in May 2021; both organizations presented their leadership development programs, side by side, and shared lessons learned with peers in the Carolinas.
Advancing Climate Resilience Through Local Leadership
River Network is excited to announce that we will have future opportunities to support organizations in building their own leadership development programs, both with grant funding and dedicated project consulting time with our staff. As we examine the changing landscape of decision-making, resource allocation, and policy in response to climate change, it’s continuously clear that there is not enough community-level perspective and expertise at the table. Local programs that build confidence and skills in emerging leaders, and support networks to ensure their continued success, are critical components in ensuring the advancement of community-identified and community-driven solutions to climate change and other threats.
To learn more about the organizations above and their respective programs, please join us later this month for a peer call highlighting their efforts to elevate local leaders. Grantees will be sharing their successes, lessons learned, and future plans for their leadership development initiatives.