Environmental Initiative places value on an abundance mindset based on our talented team, strong partnerships, and generous sponsors. As we move into 2021, we asked four of our board members to share their thoughts regarding their hopes for us, the pandemic’s positive impacts, and the launch into our new identity. Anita Urvina Davis, Darrell Gerber, Levi Brown, and Michelle Stockness have held different terms on the board and come to this work with a broad range of experiences and perspectives.
The new strategic plan is top of mind. Carrying momentum and creativity from the strategic planning process into the first stages of bringing the plan to reality will take courage and patience. We are encouraged to increase the viewpoints, wisdom, and cultural frames drawn upon to shape organizational and policy decisions. With growing cultural awareness in mind, Anita Urvina Davis offers, “I am particularly excited about the expansion of outreach and engagement of Minnesota’s Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. My greatest hope is that Environmental Initiative is successful in reaching its goals.” Some pandemic-era changes offer hope to create trusted space for diverse perspectives, deep conversation, and respectful disagreement by increasing our connections and encouraging more robust participation.
“I think the pandemic has humbled us all. It’s okay not to always know the right answer, but we need to keep trying to move forward the best we can,” said Michelle Stockness. Many of us have found it challenging to learn new methods of performing work and outreach. Fortunately, once connected, there is often an outcome of reinvigorated conversations, with diverse voices, and participants on equal footing. The increased use of technology to connect over distances can be a good leveler for non-metro and non-professional participants in Environmental Initiative meetings and events. However, we have a way to go to widen the tent. Environmental Initiative is creating a trusted space for all views to shine through on digital platforms. Before the pandemic, many people, including English-language learners, were not aware of the opportunities through online meetings and communication. Today, we are encouraged to set aside time for storytelling, meet new people in online forums, and host meaningful conversations in break-out rooms. Expanding the use of pandemic-era digital convening to youth and Minnesota’s immigrant communities is an opportunity to harness.
The creation of a new identity is important, but Levi Brown sees more, “As an organization we were able to adapt to changes in our society. That is an amazing thing to do and we should be proud of it.” An exciting commitment to inviting those previously excluded from conversations and achieving equitable outcomes is a shift from the status quo and necessary work. “The conceptually simple, yet profound, change to place impacted communities at the same level in the organizational focus as environmental nonprofits, businesses, and government and to value justice and equity explicitly is incredibly exciting,” shared Darrell Gerber. As we become more aware of environmental justice concerns, how they affect at-risk and low-income urban and rural communities and act, all Minnesotans will benefit.
All of us at Environmental Initiative see the possibilities ahead of us as we walk with strength in partnership into a year sure to be filled with gifts and challenges—as all years are.
Anita Urvina Davis, Darrell Gerber, Levi Brown, and Michelle Stockness
In their words
- What is your greatest hope for Environmental Initiative in 2021?
- What pandemic-era changes do you see as strengthening the organization?
- What most excites you about the new identity?
- My greatest hope is that EI is successful in creating safe places for all views points to participate and which will allow the humanity in any disagreement or differing in opinions to shine through.
- EI will need to be more active in virtual and internet based platforms to compete in a pandemic era this includes getting information to audiences that normally aren’t ours.
- It’s not the idea that we have a new identity that excites me it’s that as an organization we were able to adapt to changes in our society that is an amazing thing to do and we should be proud of it.
- My greatest hope is for EI in 2021 is that the momentum and creativity from the strategic planning carry over to the first stages of bringing the plan to reality. Use the new connections made, and expand them, to increase the viewpoints, wisdom, and cultural frames drawn on to shape organizational and policy decisions. Recognize EI’s leadership role and responsibility in the environmental community to help other organizations who want to begin or have started the equity journey.
- The increased use of technology to connect over distances can be a good leveler for non-metro and non-professional participants in Environmental Initiative meetings and events. We added teleconferencing options to EI board meetings prior to the pandemic to make it easier for non-metro to join the meetings. Participation was still a challenge as it was difficult for them to engage in the meetings to the same degree as the in-person attendees. The pandemic-era move to hold all of our meetings via teleconference put everyone on equal footing and reinvigorated the conversations and work as more diverse voices could participate. Additionally, even though I live in the metro, teleconferencing allowed me to attend meetings (or portions of meetings) that I would have otherwise had to miss due to tight schedules and buses.
- The conceptually simple, yet profound, change to place impacted communities at the same level in the organizational focus as environmental nonprofits, businesses, and government and to explicitly value justice and equity is incredibly exciting. These changes permeate the mission, values, and theory of change giving a clear direction and intent for the EI’s future work. Environmental justice is not a new idea or new work. People from impacted communities and environmental justice leaders have been working on these issues for years in Minnesota with little support or recognition from EI’s traditional environmental nonprofit, business, and governmental partners. EI has traditionally worked at the points of conflict between its NGO, business, and government partners. I look forward to the changes and opportunities from EI’s ability to explicitly include impacted communities and the need for equity and justice and rely on the leadership and expertise of their members.
- I hope that we have courage and patience to implement our strategic plan over the next few years. It will be hard work!
- 2020 has been a hard year for everyone, and it’s been a very divisive year of opposing views and stark inequities. One change I’ve noticed is that I see more people being more honest about what they need and what they are struggling with. A huge strength of EI is relationships across boundaries and power structures. I’m hopeful that we can leverage these relationships to advance environment and climate outcomes and more equitable solutions for all of us, based on what we each need. And I think the pandemic has humbled us all. It’s okay to not always know the right answer, but we need to keep trying to move forward the best we can.
- Personally for me, EI’s commitment to equitable environmental outcomes and to include and support stakeholders who have been excluded in past environmental efforts is a definite shift from the status quo, and its necessary work now. I’m excited that we are committing to that hard work. We know it’s going to be difficult and uncomfortable and create more conflict and might not always directly benefit us, but that’s okay. I’m proud of that commitment.
Anita Urvina Davis
- I am a new Board member, coming at the start of a new strategic plan for EI. I am particularly excited about the expansion of outreach and engagement of Minnesota’s Black, Brown and Indigenous communities that have not usually been aware of, or connected with EI. I have worked closely with multicultural and immigrant communities for many years, and I have been made to feel welcome to share my life experiences as a Latina, and my experiences in working and sharing with our diverse communities. My greatest hope is that EI is successful in reaching its goal and I will do whatever I can to help us achieve them.
- During the pandemic, many of us became proficient in using video conferencing instead of face to face meetings around a table. Before this occurred, many non-English speaking residents were not aware of how to use this method. EI can create more opportunities to engage, such as setting aside time for sharing and stories. The use of break-out rooms is an opportunity to get to know others, and have meaningful and open conversations. Tutorials in other languages, or are understood by non-English speakers can be created. And, by engaging youth through the expanded use of technology, EI is able to listen to and use the ideas of the young, as it moves forward.
- As I mentioned, I am excited about EI doing more engagement and outreach to communities of color and Indigenous communities. Particularly as we become more aware of Environmental Justice concerns and how EJ largely affects at risk and low income urban and rural communities. As we become more knowledgeable about climate changes and its effects on us all, Environmental Justice initiatives and education can benefit Minnesota residents, no matter where they are living. By reaching out and engaging residents, business and government, Environmental Initiative can be a leader.