Why have I been shortlisted as “Young Changemaker of the Year”?
It’s an honour to have been recognised for this award by the All-Ireland Sustainability Events 2023. The “Young Changemaker of the Year” is an “award focused on the outstanding efforts and achievements of inspiring young sustainability and environmental changemakers who drive positive change within their organisation, the community, the local environment and/or the low-carbon economy. The award is open to anyone under the age of 30.”
I’ve been shortlisted for my dedication to affecting change, locally through Climate Craic and the Green Party NI, and internationally with Vizzuality and LandGriffon. I’m so often caught up in the doing of all these things that I fall shy of talking about them publicly. I thought this would be a good time to stop and reflect on why I’m being considered for this award and to share some of my story.
As I allowed myself space to go into detail, this blog has turned out slightly on the long side. I’ve written a summary version for those curious but in a rush. If you’d like more details, read on!
Over two years ago, I embarked on a mission to find my role in the climate and environmental movement. I organised a local climate festival to burst the eco bubble, celebrate positive change, strengthen community connections, and inspire greater action. In under 5 months, with zero event management experience, I brought together a team and led us to host a festival for 2–3,000 people, full of eco-stalls, workshops, music and arts. We’ve run this festival twice, in September 2021 and 2022, attracting thousands each time. We’re always learning and improving.
I work at the intersection of sustainability, data, and design with Vizzuality. Our work informs better decision-making, from NGOs to policymakers and businesses. With LandGriffon, we help companies transition their supply chains sustainably, addressing both nature and climate impacts.
In May 2023, I ran for the Green Party NI in the local council elections, motivated by a desire for caring, informed politicians who prioritise people’s well-being, nature, and climate action. Despite not getting elected, the campaign brought attention to important issues and offered a forward-thinking alternative to divisive politics.
I’m grateful for the opportunities and look forward to continuing my role in the sustainability movement. The award ceremony is this Thursday, October 4th.
Invigorating joyful climate action and community; Climate Craic.
Over two years ago, I embarked on an exciting mission to find my role in the climate and environmental movement. I’d been involved for years, studying Earth, Energy & Sustainability at Leiden University College (BSc, Magna Cum Laude) and sailing the Atlantic with 35 changemakers on the climate action project Sail to the COP. I was always motivated by the movement, so added my energy anywhere I could, from going to marches, joining actions, sharing petitions, and writing to politicians. I was deeply inspired by what we created with the Sail to the COP campaign and experience, and wanted to bring that sense of community empowerment and joy to home.
In spring of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic was still lurking, but life was beginning to open up. I received £450 seed funding from the British Council and Co-operation Ireland for a climate action project and dreamed big; I’m organising a climate festival. The movement here feels disconnected; the pandemic had taken its toll on all of us, and collective action lacked sparkle and lustre. My experience of the movement was it felt present but subdued. So many great organisations and initiatives are happening across Ireland and the UK, yet you have to be deep in the know or have your ear to the ground to find out they’re happening. Basically, you need to be in the eco echo chamber. As lovely a place as it is to hang out, it’s not conducive to widespread action and support.
So, I embarked on creating a festival with some key goals:
- Make the movement more accessible
- Celebrate the world we’re creating
- Strengthen community and connections
- Facilitate people to support each other and collaborate
- Inspire greater action
I had just five months from the idea to the big day. It took me 2–3 months to lay the foundations and secure additional funding from The Climate Coalition’s Great Big Green Week before calling out for volunteers. I was blown away by the people who saw this idea and believed in it enough to offer their time. This team turned Climate Craic from an obscenely ambitious dream into an equally ambitious reality.
We successfully hosted our first festival on the grounds of our parliament building, Stormont Estate. Over 2,000 people registered for the event and more stumbled upon it there. We estimated a footfall of 2–3,000 over the day. We brought together over 30 stalls, from local NGOs and climate groups to sustainable businesses. We had 16 musicians and bands on two stages, many activities and workshops, such as art and nature therapy, a drum circle, and drag king storytime. We got media attention and a few handfuls of politicians to show up.
Reflecting on it now, it was a wild endeavour. During that time, I started my job at Vizzuality and experienced many changes and grief in my personal life. It showed me there’s never a “good” time for action, but it’s our only time. It felt like leaping out of my comfort zone and nose-diving into something bigger than myself. I learned it’s not about having all the answers but trying to do something anyway. To face up to humanity’s wrongdoings and choose to create a better reality. I had to constantly remind myself that action is more important than perfection.
Our festival had many flaws, but the positives greatly outweighed them. And for everything that was a bit tetchy — now we know better, we can do better in the future… I do love learning by doing.
Pushing for international impact; Vizzuality and LandGriffon.
Where local-level activism grounds me, Vizzuality and LandGriffon connects me across industries and countries. We work at the intersection of sustainability, data and design. Our work informs better decision-making, from NGOs and academics to policymakers and businesses. In one of our longest-standing partnerships, Global Forest Watch, the impact lies in the platform’s ability to provide real-time data, transparency, and a wealth of information about forests. This has increased awareness, policy changes, and on-the-ground actions to reduce deforestation and protect the world’s vital forested ecosystems. We work with Marxan for more effective, evidence-based, and efficient conservation planning and decision-making. It has been a valuable tool in addressing the challenges of biodiversity loss and habitat conservation, contributing to a more sustainable and resilient natural environment.
We work mostly with open-data and open-source technology. In a world where technology and innovation are booming, open source is a radical act of defiance to business as usual”. Open-source:
- Prioritises urgency over the ego.
- Shares accountability.
- Decouples making a profit from profit-driven.
- Refuses exclusivity and elitism.
- Recognises that societal transformation needs shared knowledge.
With LandGriffon, we are helping companies to sustainably transition their supply chains. We embed the technical approach in leading science, such as SBTN and TNFD guidance for measuring and reporting on nature and climate within your value chains. Widespread adoption of LandGriffon within companies would radically improve how we use land, decide on materials, and push for nature-based solutions in the most critical and at-need areas. The potential impact is huge.
Within a profit-driven system, making LandGriffon open-source risks competitors “stealing” our work to create new products. But when we view the ultimate goal of LandGriffon as helping as many companies as possible to become sustainable, that risk transforms into an opportunity. An opportunity to envision a new way of doing things and put that into practice. An open call for collaboration.
When urgent action is needed, there isn’t time for hoarding knowledge. That’s precisely why we’re trying to prioritise our mission while maintaining a thriving business model. Are we doing that perfectly? Unlikely. But once again, perfection is not the goal. Action is—action from many and action from the powerful.
Dipping my toes in politics; Green Party NI.
In 2023, I ran for the Green Party NI in the local council elections. My motivation was quite simple: we need people in politics that care. That care about people’s lives and well-being, nature and climate action, the long term, and have the knowledge and connections to make well-informed decisions. Over the years, many people had asked me to consider politics, but it was only when I was personally asked by the previous Green Party NI leader, Clare Bailey, to run in the elections that I made the leap.
Like in many places, politics in Northern Ireland can feel excruciating. I see politicians driven by ego and power condemning citizens to a political system designed to disengage, frustrate and divide. I see politicians making decisions without considering the environmental or social repercussions; whether that’s for lack of care or knowledge can be debated.
We ran a grassroots political campaign, putting in months of groundwork to engage people in my local community on green politics. Running this on top of a full-time job was no small feat. I was grateful for Vizzuality’s flexibility in allowing me to reduce to a 32-hour week for the months preceding so I could dedicate more time to the campaign. I was incredibly grateful to everyone who donated their time to support me on the campaign trail, from my mum and brothers to my friends and committed Green Party members.
I learned a lot from the campaign. From the beautiful reminder through speaking with hundreds of people across different political affiliations, the world is not as toxic as the negative news cycle can make us believe to the stark reality check that these invigorating one-on-one conversations are only a drop in the ocean when it comes to shifting the scales of mass public opinion. We found that out the hard way when the votes came in.
Despite not getting elected, there are a lot of positives to hold onto. I was one of the few young women in Northern Ireland who put themselves forward. I brought attention to integrated education through a TV segment on BBC The View and at a local hustings. I brought the topic of local climate and nature action onto the table, pushing other politicians to include it in their narrative — whether that will transpire into action we’re yet to see. I offered an alternative to those disengaged by divisive, short-sighted politicians. I learned a lot about running a campaign and am excited to return stronger in the next election.
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and to feel purpose in my professional life, both paid and voluntary. Much of what I’ve achieved has been thanks to the support of family, friends, fellow activists and Vizzuality. If the last few years are anything to go by, I’m curious how my path will continue evolving as I keep refining and exploring my role in the movement and how I can best help tip the scales for a reality we can be proud of.
Congratulations to fellow nominees Úna Barrett, Maebh Reynolds, Pádraig Meehan and Manuela Ross. The award ceremony is on Thursday 4th October.
More on the awards here: https://www.allirelandsustainability.com/