Community organizing in climate, a case for early career professionals
By Fady Azmy
Building a community for myself and for others to work on climate issues was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only did I find my tribe, but I also helped others do the same all while gaining experience and picking up skills that were relevant to my career.
Much has been written about the benefits of volunteering to early-career professionals; however, little has been written about the advantages they have when it comes to community organizing. In fact, early-career professionals can both benefit from and add value to mission-driven communities.
What is community organizing?
Community organizing, defined loosely, is about bringing people together towards a common mission and empowering them to take action to achieve that mission.
A community thrives when its members:
develop their collective knowledge
communicate their needs to organizers
make progress towards their shared mission (e.g., work on climate issues)
Why do we need more community organizers in climate?
Although mitigating climate change is becoming increasingly urgent, working on climate-related issues is still far from mainstream. Many people just don’t know where to start.
Take the example of Mary (not real name), who joined the Work on Climate community in 2021. At the time, she was working at a well known consulting firm but was very eager to move into the climate space. She recently shared that if it were not for the community, she would have never moved into the climate-related role she is now in.
The Work on Climate community helped her find out about the position and — perhaps most importantly — helped her build the confidence to make the move. It provided her with a place where she could share her doubts and questions with people who can relate to her struggles such as people in the same place as her as well as those who were there previously and have since successfully built their careers in climate.
This is only one of many examples that illustrate the power of community organizing in climate. Until working on climate change issues has become mainstream, we urgently need more people to create such communities. And, as I will discuss below, you do not need to have worked in climate before to become a community organizer. In fact, you may even be better placed to build a community than more experienced folks.
Why are early-career professionals an excellent fit for community organizing?
When starting a career, people develop a standard set of interests that include:
Growing a network
Building domain knowledge
Developing skills aligned with their professional ambitions
Gaining relevant experience
By becoming community organizers, early career professionals can build on all of the above interests. And that’s not all. Communities can also benefit from being led by such early-career professionals, as they tend to:
Be less opinionated than senior professionals and more likely to encourage mutual rather than top-down knowledge-sharing
Have more time to dedicate to the community
Be more invested in the community given that they still have to prove themselves
Grow communities in a more organic and sustainable way given that they cannot rely on a pre-existing network
Are there limitations to community organizing if you are an early-career professional?
While this piece frames community organizing from a professional development lens, this should not be your only motivation. You may lose interest in the community mission once you have achieved your professional goals, which can be damaging to the community in the long run.
There are also some challenges that come with being an early-career professional in community organizing:
You don’t have a developed network, so you’ll rely on other people and their networks
You are not an expert (yet!), so you’ll need to constantly be learning about the industry
You may not seem credible to your community members so you’ll need to invest more time in building strong relationships with them before they trust your asks
From my experience though, I believe that the benefits of community organizing as an early career professional far outweigh its limitations.
My experience with the Product Managers climate community (700 members)
I joined the Work on Climate community because I couldn’t find role models and answer to my questions as a PM eager to work on climate issues. While I found the community helpful, I quickly realized that there was a lack of resources specifically tailored to PMs. The closest thing to what I needed was a small sub-community called PMs in Climate, but it was inactive. So I decided to revive it. And that was the start of my journey as a community organizer.
My biggest goal was to create a simple resource for PMs looking to work on climate issues. We created a PM Climate Guide, which captures all of our learnings and answers the most popular questions we’ve received. Since launching it, we’ve noticed that fewer of these questions are being asked in discussions. We also continue to welcome an increasing number of new members via word-of-mouth.
Looking back, I am so grateful that I got involved in community organizing. Not only did it help me further my knowledge in climate, I also made new friends, built an incredible team and honed skills that I intend on using in my career.
How can I get involved in community organizing?
Most of the climate communities I’ve seen are volunteer-run, so odds are that they are growing slowly and they are running lean. Reach out to the organizers (if any) and volunteer to help create resources/run an event that you wish existed. You can also offer to create a new subgroup that is underserved and fits your interests, or lead an inactive one as I did. Keep in mind that the organizers are likely stretched thin, so try to make a simple offer, which doesn't require too much support from them.
Some communities to consider joining to get you started are My Climate Journey, Work On Climate and Climate Action Tech. You can also choose to start your own community if you do not find any existing one that meets your needs. Best of luck!
📢 Climate Action of the Week
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This past week, MCJ and Climate Changemakers put on MCJ Action with Adam McKay, an hour-long fireside chat and climate action session with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker who brought us the climate change-inspired satire Don’t Look Up in addition to The Big Short and Vice as well as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Winning Time and many more films and shows.
During the event, McKay spontaneously committed to making a climate action phone call every day for 30 days, and he followed up with the same commitment on Twitter. Want to join Adam on his #30DayChallenge #30DaysofClimate effort? Our friends at Climate Changemakers have a great guide to make it easy to call your Senator with a personalized ask at https://www.climatechangemakers.org/call.
Here’s the full 60 minute video of Wednesday’s MCJ Action with Adam McKay:
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