Creating Your Narrative with Chante Harris, Co-founder of Women of Color Collective in Sustainability

Nexus PMG
Nexus PMG
Jun 8 · 9 min read

Chante Harris currently leads the investor network and corporate partnerships for Venture for ClimateTech, a climate tech venture studio and accelerator sourcing the best climate tech solutions across the globe. She also oversees the For ClimateTech Global Innovation Challenge and is spearheading the exploration of a thesis for a new financial mechanism funding early-stage climate tech alongside the 2M Capital team. Additionally, she is the co-founder of Women of Color Collective in Sustainability (WOC/CS), a digital community for women of color to build their careers, create professional success, and advance their well-being.

Named by America on Tech as an Innovator and Disruptor in tech policy and Women Enews as a Pioneering Woman in Sustainability, Chante is passionate about urban innovation, building sustainable cities, cross-sector collaboration, and tapping into community to launch better solutions, initiatives, and technologies. She has worked to scale nationwide campaigns, technologies, and ideas for the Obama Administration, Fortune 500 companies, and startups. Most recently, she launched and grew two new practice areas at an urban and political strategy firm based dedicated to business strategy and sustainability. With deep expertise in developing go-to-market strategies for startups and established companies across the sustainability industry, she brings unique insight into building ecosystems with a shared vision for people and the planet. Chante is also a Venture Partner with Republic and Next Gen.

On episode 151 of the Bigger Than Us podcast, Chante talks about the importance of leadership and community in her day job at SecondMuse, and the WOC/CS. She also explains why she doesn’t want to normalize “being the first” for women of color, and the importance of recognizing your gifts to create your narrative.

By giving impactful ideas the support they need to succeed and helping women of color thrive in their careers and lives, Chante is having an effect that is Bigger Than Us.

Venture for ClimateTech Program

Excerpts from the Bigger Than Us podcast. These quotes have been edited for brevity and readability.

I currently work for a company called SecondMuse. We are a global innovation and impact firm focused on building economies of the future that are more regenerative, resilient, and inclusive. That looks like launching innovation programming across the globe. We define innovation programming as incubators, accelerators, venture studios, and challenges. We have a capital arm that is fairly new in comparison to all the work that we were doing before and are still doing around innovation programming. Our capital arm designs, manages, fundraises, and operates various funds, funding vehicles throughout the globe.

My role is particularly helping to spearhead our climate tech initiatives. Starting with New York into the Northeast region, we’re doing some restructuring now. And so that’ll look like actually tying all of our climate tech work across the globe. We have some not only in New York but also in Canada as well as Singapore.

I sit in between our capital team and our Venture for Climate Tech program, which is a climate tech venture studio and accelerator hybrid model that is sourcing and scaling the most promising climate tech innovators across the globe. It’s a six-and-a-half month, part-time program for founders and innovators, supporting them going from the proof of concept and idea stage to prototype. And we focus on building strong teams ensuring that they understand their business model, their product-market fit, and what it means to scale.

We believe in creating great leaders as well. So we are also incorporating things like social equity into our curriculum. What does it mean to be a great leader? To think about diversity, equity inclusion, not only internally but externally as you build your product and scale it.

The way that we think about funding mechanisms is, “Let’s create what we are hearing is of need. And if it hasn’t existed before, let’s create something new.” And so the future economy lab brings together corporations, governments, investors, and foundations to explore a specific economy. And we’re seeking participants at this time.

We share all of the data and insights at the end with those who participate. And then we go out and build something great, that’s going to solve a big problem. So again, I feel like it is reiterating this idea of community and sort of bringing people together to solve big problems. So I’m excited. We’d love to talk to anyone who might be interested.

Founding a Desperately Needed Space With WOC/CS

I started Women of Color Collective in Sustainability (WOC/CS) alongside one of my close friends and now co-creators Jordie Vasquez. We were attending an event at Climate Week, New York — a really big week in New York City where global leaders essentially come to convene in person and talk about key areas throughout climate. I decided to go to an evening event that was an all-women event. And it was an incredible event. I appreciated the space made for women, though the reality was that the room still didn’t reflect diversity.

Jordie and I were the only women of color in the room that evening and we said hi to each other, started chatting. She became a good confidante of mine, and we started sharing resources. And we met up one day, and we’re sort of like, “Hey, this is great that we’re doing this for each other. But the reality is that we know there are more women of color out there, we know that there are more women of color that want to be more involved or maybe even transition into this space.”

We couldn’t find a community anywhere online that was focused on women of color in particular. And so she and I spoke about it for a little bit. And we were just hanging out one day, and we’re like, “Hey, we’re going to create this space for other women who looked like us who are seeking community or seeking peer mentorship and resource sharing.” And so that’s really how WOC/CS was born.

WOC/CS today is a collective. It’s one of the very few — I think at the time we launched, it might have been the only — dedicated to black indigenous and women of color and the sustainability field, supporting them through creating access to opportunities, jobs, speaking opportunities, and then creating community amongst ourselves, which I think is important.

And then also we’re working on a campaign called This is What Sustainability Looks Like, which is kind of our tagline. Our goal there is to essentially shift and normalize that sustainability is diverse, that it is inherently made up of diverse voices and women of color. And so we were doing all those great things and then COVID hit. And so you know, in-person meetups died down. But what happened was that we saw immense growth over COVID. And I think that COVID has made evident is how important community is, especially in difficult times.

It happened quickly. We were just so grateful for the space. But I think, more importantly, it was very evident that what we were creating was needed across this industry and still is. We are dedicated to women who are building careers in the space and ensuring that they’re amplified, supported and have the resources they need to thrive.

Growing the Tent: How to Move a Movement Forward

If you look historically at how any underrepresented community has been able to obtain upward mobility, particularly upward economic mobility, it’s been from strategic planning within that community and sort of pushing the norms.

What I found as a woman of color is that if I don’t create a narrative around my abilities, my expertise, what I bring to a team, an initiative, or a company, and then that leaves space for other people to create that narrative or for there to be no narrative at all.

We’ve just gotten so many kind messages from women who are like, “I got a new job, I got a new resource, a new leadership opportunity, because of your Google group, because of your newsletter.” And for us, that’s a win because it shows that through the creation of a community committed to each other, we can open doors for one another.

On the flip side, ultimately, you know, I think corporations and companies and organizations have to commit to what it means to allow people, women of color, to be in an organization and a company and thrive and rise up the ranks. Yes, women of color need jobs, we want leadership opportunities, but we also want to be in spaces and workplaces that are healthy, that are safe, that are invested in who we are and allow us to show up as the leaders we are.

On Not Wanting to Celebrate Being the First

Sometimes I do feel like there’s this tension, particularly if you’re a person of color of paving the way or being the first which is certainly admirable and super important. But I’ve honestly been, as of late, very wary of being celebrated as the only or the first, because I don’t think that that’s something that we should be celebrating, or normalizing, to be frank.

I know that that’s how we create movement in society. Someone has to do it first. But in the next 10 years, I don’t, I don’t want to have to celebrate an Asian American woman or a, you know, Caribbean woman being the first. I don’t want to be the only young African American woman that’s invited to speak or to be at the table.

I wanted to change that, and I created WOC/CS just for that. I want people to know that there are so many other young women of color that are also doing great work in this space and committed deeply. I do feel like we have a duty to recognize that if we are the only or the first that we should be pulling other people in.

Big Visions

I think sometimes we tell young people to kind of follow the path of others. So I remember being younger, and someone saying, “Go to someone else’s profile.” I don’t remember what we were using at that time. LinkedIn was not as popular then. But go read their bio, and then kind of try to replicate everything they’ve done to get where they’re at.

I look back at that now, and I honestly think it’s some of the worst advice we can give people in their various journeys because what we do is limit people by saying, “Look at someone else’s journey and follow their journey.” I think that ultimately, we each have an ability to tap into what is our fullest potential.

It makes me think of a quote. I know, it’s a probably widely shared quote, but it was said to me by someone I just truly adore and respect. And what was said to me was, you know, I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of, “Sometimes other people’s ceilings are your floor. And that’s okay.”

There’s a duality of being able to say, I’m grateful for what I have now, and the opportunities that have been presented for me. And I have this desire to have an even bigger impact or do bigger things because I see bigger solutions and opportunities.

Don’t dim your light for other people. You know, don’t make yourself small. For other people. If you ever start feeling small where you’re at, that just means that it’s time for you to find a place that’s bigger for you. Staying humble is important. But so is recognizing your gifts and leaning into them. And wanting more when you feel like you’ve maybe outgrown your current situation is fine. It’s okay. And I think it means that we’re doing something right.

The Full Transcript

Read the full transcript here.

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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