By Anna Larson, Policy Research and Evaluation Intern
After completing three of my four years of college, I wanted to intern with CFJC to dip my toes into the world of nonprofit work before graduating next June. In school, I have grappled with my conception of the environment, justice and social change under the growing shadow of climate change. I sorted through the morass of theories and worldviews, and began to cobble together my own, still evolving worldview.
This summer, as CFJC’s Policy Research and Evaluation intern, I worked on several projects involving Farm to Fork initiatives across California, fundraising, social media and messaging, evaluation and climate change. CFJC strongly believes in fully including interns in helping to further the coalition’s work—whether it be in internal meetings, meetings with partners, or preliminary grant writing.
I had the opportunity to see community-based participatory research and evaluation in action— I helped to develop interview questions for projects CFJC that coordinated, and also performed critical interviews with project partners. Through my work fundraising, I gained insight into the careful and precise language CFJC employs, and the politics behind this precise word choice.
In the realm of social media, I wrote posts for various platforms and collected monthly metrics from these platforms. I was initially skeptical of what could be “hashtag activism,” but grew to realize the importance of social media for staying connected with other organizations doing food justice work, and keeping a pulse on the movement.
Finally, my largest project was researching and writing on the connection between climate change and public health, with a focus on vulnerable populations.
From these projects, my worldview has continued to evolve and be expanded. In college, in the murky realm of environmental studies, I was initially drawn to food and agriculture issues because they seemed tangible and improvable. Climate change, on the other hand, seemed daunting, messy, and amorphous. Through my internship with CFJC, I realized that I was artificially separating these problems. Both of these problems have solutions, but they aren’t technical fixes.
While researching literature on the environmental movement, I came across a quote that resonated with me from Susan Clark, Executive Director of the Columbia Foundation. She says, “When we use the term ‘environment’ it makes it seem as if the problem is ‘out there’ and we need to ‘fix it.’ The problem is not external to us; it’s us. It’s a human problem having to do with how we organize our society” (Shellenberger & Nordhaus, 2004). Accordingly, food issues and climate change are not just “environmental” problems but are inextricably tied to human society.
Through my research on climate change and public health this summer, I recognized that climate change will indeed have substantial, concrete impacts on humanity. However, these impacts will not be distributed equally—they will disproportionately affect the poor, the elderly, those who depend on natural resources, communities of color, and those who live in ecologically fragile areas. Climate change cannot be solved by purely technical solutions, which often overlook the human impact factor. Science does not exist in a political vacuum. Communities must be included in decision-making in order to solve this human-caused problem.
At CFJC, I learned that the nonprofit world is also highly politicized. Individual nonprofits, government organizations and businesses can behave as academic disciplines do, isolated in their own work and approach. To address the upcoming challenges of climate change, there must be cross-sectoral collaboration. The collective impact approach is a promising strategy that organizations working across sectors can use to solve complex, ill-defined problems. Collective impact requires that the organizations involved develop common goals and a shared metric of success, and remain in continuous contact with each other (Kania & Kramer, 2011). Nonprofits such as CFJC have a key role in coordinating these efforts— CFJC already works to coordinate organizations across sectors, and to help people “connect the dots” around climate change, food justice, and public health. I believe that this kind of meaningful collaboration could lead to reflection on our implicit assumptions about the world and ourselves that our society currently rests upon. Perhaps, the impending crisis for this planet has one silver lining—the opportunity for humans to think deeply about how we want to live in this world.