NAVIGATING THE CLIMATE SECTOR – FROM AN INTERN’S PERSPECTIVE

launch of the Gamechanges report by the Green New Deal APPG

As part of Wen’s commitment to making our organisation more accessible to those who are currently under-represented in the Climate Sector, we teamed up with Queen Mary University on their 5-week micro-internships. Since 2022 we have supported and provided 11 interns with on the ground work experience on a variety of our programmes including the Just FACT programme, Food Co-ops, the Feminist Green New Deal, the Wen Forum and archive. 

We recognise the importance of gaining work experience in order to get your foot through the door. It isn’t alway easy if you don’t know where to start. These internships have been invaluable for Wen to recognise what barriers exist for those wanting to enter the sector and learning how to break them down.

The contributions made by the interns during their time with us has been incredibly helpful. We’ve learnt so much from them and have been blown away by their knowledge, commitment and passion towards addressing climate issues that will inevitably impact their future. Their drive to make a difference has been inspiring, and is a reminder that the younger generation are ready to action change for a kinder, greener and just future.

Here Hanan and Sadaf share their experiences and insights of working as interns at Wen.

 

Hanan Hassan

When I think of a climate change activist, I imagine someone who has done something significant: speaking at the UN, leading a campaign, writing a book, or having a large social media following.

However, my experience has shown me how small changes can create a domino effect and make a big impact. We often get overwhelmed by the facts and reports about climate change, but being on the ground provides a more human perspective. If you want to understand the issues and how to help, the best place to start is by talking to people and more importantly listening.

For me, working in the field of climate change was about supporting people who already had the knowledge to support themselves and their families. It was about helping to collect food vouchers, listening to their latest challenges, sharing stories about our families and quick hacks we’ve found.

 

My Time at Wen

Although I have volunteered before, this was my first experience being immersed into a charity and seeing the operations side. I always wanted to understand what it takes to run the projects and campaigns you see.

At first I was working with the Feminist Green New Deal, as I have never really been exposed to the policy side and wanted to understand more. My first day began with attending Parliament, for the launch ofGamechangers for a Green New DealReport. Feeling nervous was an understatement, but looking back now I am grateful for this opportunity to step into an unfamiliar environment. I had the chance to speak to people from different organisations and have insightful conversations. Overall, this provided a glimpse into how different people could come together to rebuild and reimagine our economy, with the environment and people at its heart.

 

Wen Forum

Along with my fellow interns, we also assisted at the Wen forum. It was quite funny because when we were tasked with registering people at the start of the event, I didn’t realise how helpful it would be later on when I came across people during my internship. The talk was especially impactful, as I listened to different speakers and their inspiring stories. An important lesson I learnt was how prioritising care, valuing unpaid work, and recognising the importance of women’s roles in caregiving is crucial for developing equitable and effective climate solutions.

 

Wen’s projects

One thing I realised however was that I missed being on the ground. With the amount of projects Wen had on offer, I knew I had to take initiative to try something new. Volunteering at the food co-op has been one of the biggest highlights of my internship. Volunteering in Tower Hamlets, brought to light the critical issue of food insecurity and limited access to healthy and nutritious options in communities. I was also fortunate to meet new people, make friends and be part of a larger effort in making healthy food more affordable.

With the current cost of living, the work led by Sustain, Leaders in Community and Wen, bridging the gap between farmers and low-income communities is more important than ever. By making affordable, organic and sustainable produce, these organisations are ensuring people don’t have to choose between putting food on the table and paying the bills. As a result, everyone wins: farmers get fairly compensated, communities have access to nutritious food, and the environment is protected through sustainable practices.

 

Importance of internships

Internships can play a key role in social mobility. They offer an opportunity to break barriers, gain exposure, and secure a foothold in industries where we may face challenges.

While research highlights disparities in educational outcomes and unemployment rates for people of colour, it often overlooks the potential and talent within these communities. For someone like me, internships are more than just a learning experience. They showcase our potential and capabilities, even if the numbers tell a different story. That’s why they’re so important – they help level the playing field and create new pathways.

Internships bridge the gap between theory and practice. We get a glimpse into the actual workings of a sector, helping us to understand the practical aspects of our field of study. It provides valuable work experience, networking opportunities, and a chance to demonstrate our capabilities to potential employers. More importantly, it opens doors to places that before felt unattainable or exclusive.

 

Expectations vs Reality

Before the internship, my goal was to understand the logistical side of running a charity and understanding how to best provide support to the community.

On one hand I wanted to dedicate time to the policy side and understand the intricacies of advocating for an issue. My other goal was to spend time on community engagement and work on the ground, as working alongside the community is something I truly cherish. 

Looking back, I can confidently say I achieved these goals but I also stumbled upon valuable insights and encounters. If I didn’t have an open mind or tried new things, I believe my experience would have gone a different way. It offered me the opportunity to engage in meaningful work and meet new people from different walks of life.

 

Looking ahead

During this internship, I was able to accomplish my goals, which were to gain a more in-depth understanding of the charity sector and to learn the necessary skills to manage projects that truly address people’s needs. I found this experience deeply rewarding and enlightening. I had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of these projects on the communities they serve.

One of my passions is sustainability, and this internship has further solidified my desire to continue working in this field. It has provided me with valuable insights and experiences that I believe will be beneficial in my future path. The knowledge and skills I gained are not just limited to project management, but also include understanding the nuances of the charity sector, the challenges it faces, and the strategies to overcome them.

Beyond the work experience, I had the privilege of meeting amazing individuals who share the same passion for making a difference. Their dedication and commitment have been truly inspiring. I plan to maintain these valuable connections as I move forward in my career.

Another amazing outcome of this internship has been my return to volunteering at the Teviot Centre Food Co-op. This wasn’t something I was originally planning to do, but it has turned out to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of my summer. I am thrilled to contribute to a cause that I deeply believe in and to be a part of a community that is striving to make a positive impact. 

Kate, Hanan and Roshini at the launch of the Gamechanges report by the Green New Deal APPG

Sadaf Shahaba

Working on the Just FACT (Food and Climate Transition) internship has been an enlightening journey, offering me an invaluable experience that has significantly expanded my understanding of climate change and food justice. Interning with the Wen has provided a unique perspective on community work, climate action, and the crucial role of food in these discussions.

 

Developing Skills: Organisation and Timeliness

One of the most important skills I developed during my internship was the ability to be timelier and more organised. Working for St. Hilda’s Food Co-op, a community centre in Shoreditch focused on providing affordable food, required meticulous planning and time management. Preparing for the Food Co-op to start sales at 10 am required organisation from 7 am. This experience has taught me to prioritise tasks effectively, ensuring that all responsibilities are met promptly. Some tasks included setting up displays for organic and in-organic foods, pricing non-perishables, and designing health leaflets promoting seasonal fruits and vegetables. These skills are valuable for both professional growth and personal development, as they instil a sense of discipline and structure.

 

Insights into Community-Based Organisations

The internship provided an inside look at how community-based organisations operate and how their work culture differs from other sectors. Unlike the often rigid and hierarchical structures seen in many corporate environments, Wen emphasises collaboration, inclusivity, and grassroots involvement. This was particularly visible at Limborough Hub, where Wen worked directly with community members to grow culturally valued food not available in regular markets, for example Bottle Gourd or Koddu, as referred to by Bangladeshi’s or Sylheti’s, was particularly sought after. This participatory approach fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment among community members, encouraging active engagement and sustained commitment to the cause.

 

Expanding Knowledge on Climate Change and Food Justice

One of the most profound insights I gained was the intrinsic value of food within communities. Food is not just a source of sustenance but a powerful tool for initiating conversations about climate change. Through various activities and discussions, I learned about the accessibility challenges many communities face, such as food deserts, and the innovative solutions being implemented to combat these issues. For example, urban gardening (i.e. Limborough Hub) and local food co-ops (i.e. St Hilda’s) are practical steps that can significantly improve food accessibility and sustainability.

 

Networking and Community Engagement

Networking was another highlight of my internship. Attending events like the Wen Forum and the Winter Gathering allowed me to connect with professionals and activists passionate about climate action and food justice. These interactions provided a platform to exchange ideas, share experiences, and build relationships that could support future initiatives. Additionally, meeting local community members in Shoreditch was particularly enriching, as it gave me a firsthand understanding of the local context and the specific challenges (i.e. accessibility to affordable organic produce) faced by residents.

 

Areas for Improvement

While the overall experience was overwhelmingly positive, there were areas where improvements could be made. For instance, the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities such as planting and gardening at Limborough Hub was hindered by unfavourable weather conditions. These hands-on experiences are crucial for understanding the practical aspects of climate action and community engagement. Ensuring that such activities are possible, perhaps by having indoor alternatives like using the greenhouse more, or weather-proofing some aspects, could enhance the internship experience.

 

Meeting Expectations and Eager for More

The internship met and, in many ways, exceeded my expectations. My primary goal was to learn about practical steps that could be taken to address climate change at a local level. This goal was thoroughly addressed through various activities, workshops, and discussions that provided a deep dive into community-based climate action. I now feel more equipped and eager to participate in these initiatives, armed with the knowledge and skills gained from the internship.

 

The Importance of Internships

Internships are vital for students and emerging professionals, offering a bridge between academic knowledge and real-world application. For someone like me, the Just FACT internship provided a platform to explore the climate sector firsthand, understand its challenges, and contribute to meaningful projects. Internships also create opportunities for networking, skill development, and gaining insights into specific fields, making them an essential component of career development.

 

Opportunities Created by the Internship

This internship has opened several doors for me. It has not only broadened my understanding of climate action and food justice but also connected me with a network of professionals and activists in the field. These connections could potentially lead to future collaborations and opportunities to engage in more significant projects. Moreover, the practical experience gained will be invaluable as I continue to pursue a career in the climate sector.

 

Pre-conceptions vs. Reality

Before starting the internship, I had certain preconceptions about the climate sector, primarily viewing it as a field dominated by policy discussions and scientific research. However, the reality I encountered was much more diverse and inclusive. Community-based initiatives, grassroots activism, and practical solutions play a significant role in driving climate action. This integrated approach was a refreshing and inspiring revelation.

 

Reflections on QMUL’s Internship Programme

Participating in an internship set up by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has been a rewarding experience. The programme’s design, which facilitates work experience for students across various sectors, is commendable. It offers a structured pathway for students to gain practical insights and apply their academic knowledge in real-world settings. There is always room for improvement, such as providing more hands-on activities or ensuring better weather contingency plans, but the core framework is robust and effective.

 

The Success of the Just FACT Internship

A successful internship is characterised by several key elements: meaningful work, opportunities for skill development, effective mentorship, and a supportive environment. The Just FACT internship excelled in all these areas. The tasks were relevant and impactful, the learning opportunities abundant, and the mentorship from Wen staff invaluable. The supportive and inclusive environment fostered a sense of belonging and encouraged active participation.

 

Looking Forward

As I look forward to attending future events and volunteering with Wen and its partner organisations, specifically St Hilda’s, I am deeply grateful for the opportunities provided by the Just FACT internship. It has been a transformative experience that has not only enhanced my skills and knowledge but also deepened my commitment to climate action and food justice.

In conclusion, accessibility to the climate sector is about creating pathways for diverse participation, offering practical experiences, and fostering inclusive environments. Internships like Just FACT play a crucial role in this, providing the next generation of climate leaders with the tools, knowledge, and networks they need to drive meaningful change.

 

Main photo: Kate, Roshini and Hanan with Caroline Lucas at launch of the Gamechanges report by the Green New Deal APPG in March 2024

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