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Joining MCJ as a Partner: My "Why Now" Story
By Yin Lu
When my mom went into labor in the summer of 1983, my dad brought her to the hospital on his bicycle. He walked it — with her on the companion seat — ever so slowly the three kilometers from our fifth story walk-up to the labor and delivery ward, stopping to take breaks when her contractions got intense.
That’s the China I was born into: more bikes than cars, more blue skies than gray, more quadplexes than high rise-apartment towers.
Eight years later, our family immigrated to the US. As our plane rose above the Shanghai airport, I saw more cranes than I could count. China had been undergoing a rapid economic transformation. Special economic zones spurred a torrential influx of capital, materials production, and growth. The next time I would go back to China in 2001, it would be unrecognizable.
[one of my many weekend hiking trips with my parents, 1994]
I spent my formative years in the foothills of Los Angeles and fell in love with nature: nearly every weekend, we’d hike Chantry Flat where I looked forward to devouring the tea-leaf eggs my mom would bring for lunch, with the sound of Sturtevant waterfall as our backdrop. As I entered high school, these trips were less frequent as wildfires became a regular occurrence.
One summer night, the fires got so close I recall staring at the embers burning in our yard while ash rain blew into my eyes.
In my 20s, I returned to China for work. I would be reminded by my aunts and uncles to “tell the taxi drivers to turn on their car air purifier when in transit” and to “make sure to bring N95 masks” because it was December in Beijing and daily AQI always hovered above 120 PM2.5. Accompanying the decades-long economic boom was the palpable environmental impacts that everyone was forced to live with.
The turning point
[my daughter, at Barkley Field Park in Redwood City, CA during Summer of 2020]
Environmental sustainability has been part of my identity since a young age. However, it wasn’t until I had my own kids that I fully grokked why it was so critical for me to go “all in” on climate.
My aha moment came to me at the park on a Thursday afternoon in early September of 2020. COVID was raging and the August Complex Fires of Mendocino County brought with it a 3 week-long high-AQI marathon. My older daughter, who had been stuck at home for weeks, begged me to take her to play outside. Begrudgingly I said yes, but under the condition that we both wear our respirator masks. As I watched her blissfully swing on the monkey bars against the hazy air, the respirator covering half her face, it dawned on me that if we don’t act this will be her norm, and the norm for generations to come. This cannot be her new normal.
Ongoing learning journey
Prior to making the decision to focus on climate, I spent the last dozen years working on ways to democratize the global education system at Google, Coursera, and Khan Academy. Having held leadership roles in BD, marketing, growth & international expansion, my superpower is helping companies build strong operational foundations that scale, while responsibly shaping organizational culture. Leveraging these strengths brings me immense joy and I knew I wanted to apply them wherever I landed next.
To use a trekking analogy, I started my career transition expedition last year — with a goal to understand the climate solutions spaces more deeply and gain clarity on where I can make the most impact. Project Drawdown’s emissions framework served as my compass and the MCJ community became my hiking crew, with so many kind and smart people helping me wayfind across the many trails I explored. As I talked to waste facility managers, electricians, farmers, doctors, therapists, researchers, engineers, truckers, etc., I saw the power of breaking down silos of knowledge in informing the solutions people are building.
Climate isn’t a new industry; it’s a new economy and everyone is interconnected in this ecosystem. We each can be a contributor to and recipient of the strides we make in shaping this economy to be sustainable, robust and just.
Thanks to the Climate Draft initiative (a project born out of OnDeck + MCJ), I was able to meet Cody and the rest of the MCJ team. I hopped on board to help with a few projects on a part-time basis and it soon became clear that my operational expertise could be leveraged in helping steward & grow MCJ’s most important asset: our community, which is built on the thesis that knowledge sharing begets authentic connections, greater perspective, and leads to more effective action. I’m delighted to have the chance to continue to support this work when I join the MCJ team full-time as a Partner starting in March.
As I reflect back on my work in education, what I’ve seen time and time again is that until the most underserved can have equal access to solutions, scale hasn’t been achieved. This holds true for the new climate economy as well.
For any system to succeed, it is critical that those who traditionally hold power — in deploying capital, shaping policy, inventing technologies, building companies, hiring, crafting media narratives — are acting proactively with inclusion & equity always front of mind.
As I continue my journey in climate, I’m stoked to work with and learn from the community, including (and especially) the brilliant underrepresented folks and our allies to ensure this isn’t just lip service.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to reach out: email@example.com, I’d love to learn from you.
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