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51: Intersectional Environmentalist: Harnessing the Power of Interdependent Community with Diandra Marizet Esparza

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“(Environmental Intersectionalism) not only acknowledges these human interdependencies and links and connections but brings them to the forefront of environmental activism without minimizing or silencing covert, discreet forms of oppression.”

– Diandra Marizet Esparza
Episode #51

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

When an online community goes from 10k to 500k members seemingly overnight, there’s definitely some secret sauce involved. In this episode of What the Fundraising we learn from Diandra Marizet Esparza, the co-founder and Executive Director of Intersectional Environmentalist (IE), about why the platform has resonated so profoundly. It starts with understanding the way that cultural identities shape nature and nature shapes cultural identity, and that the two cannot be disconnected. At the core of IE is a commitment to activating community among those whose voices have been long ignored – the very citizens most deeply and directly impacted by environmental injustices.

First breaking down the historical context and meaning of “intersectional environmentalism,”  Diandra goes on to explain the organic evolution of IE and its mission to revolutionize business as usual among environmental decision-makers, educational and political systems, and the non-profit industrial complex. Starting with a micro-budget and tiny team, the group has shared its message and galvanized support by crafting thoughtful messaging and reaching out through a broad range of social media. 

Environmental and conservation groups of all sizes have something to learn from the way IE promotes a high-profile value proposition for brands seeking both to do good and be good. And their platform is full of resources and networking tools available to all! 

In this episode, you’ll learn tips for strengthening partnerships and get a glimpse into how this social media powerhouse keeps everything going. “This (new language of intersectionality) has been a beautiful tool for calling on the environmental movement as a whole to completely shift the narrative,” says Diandra. Millions have been drawn to this vibrant new platform, a place that invites everyone to be seen and heard. 

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into understanding this new approach to environmental healing, IE has an informative book available in print and audible formats: “Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet,” by Leah Thomas. You’ll also want to check out IE’s new podcast, The Joy Report.

And the learn more about how to raise money from the right funders in a way that is aligned and in integrity with the work of your organization, make sure to check out the Power Partners Formula and register for my free masterclass here.

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Get to know the Intersectional Environmentalist’s Mission:

We hope to empower + instill joy in people of color and historically excluded communities by amplifying the incredible legacies of diverse people in the environmental space throughout history and in the present – because we believe in representation, and an understanding that they have always been part of environmental history, we’ll empower a new generation of environmentalists and reshape the future of environmentalism to one that is rooted in equity and inclusion.

We seek to bridge the understanding gap and provide accessible educational resources for those who want to learn and guidance and direction for organizations looking to shift their narrative. We are also movement connectors, leading people to initiatives and organizations they can support in their local community.

Learn more at: https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/

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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

MALLORY ERICKSON

episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Welcome Everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Diandra Marizet Esparza. And thank you for joining me for this conversation. 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Thanks for having me. I’m so excited.

Mallory Erickson:  So let’s just dive right in. Tell everyone who you are. What brings you to this conversation today. And just a little bit about your background.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Oh my gosh. Yes, absolutely. Hey everybody, thanks for tuning in. My name is Diandra Marizet Esparza, as we said, and I am a co-founder and currently very humbly serving as the executive director of Intersectional Environmentalist, which I’m sure we’re going to talk about. But over the past few years, I have been creating a lot of space for conversations and gatherings to build community around all things sustainability across fashion and tech and agriculture outdoor spaces. 

And I am just really passionate about the ways that our cultural identities really shaped the relationships that we have with nature. And likewise, the way nature shapes our cultural identities. And the work that I do really is to showcase that the study of all of this ultimately shows how connected we all are to nature and to each other. And it’s been a wild ride over the past few years, and I’m super, super stoked to be here. 

Mallory Erickson: Can you start maybe by just telling us a little bit about what that means, the intersection between culture and the environment, and maybe even in your own learning journey around that, what’s been the biggest surprise.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah, so I recently wrote a fun little poem that took me a really long time, but more so in a good way. I was just being intentional with it. I was having so much fun with it. I wrote a poem for Bonnie Wright’s  new platform, which was super fun. I was super jazzed that she reached out and asked me to write it.

But I naturally gravitated towards, I was thinking about all these research pieces I could write. And then I was like, you know what? No, I recently last year learned all these really beautiful things about butterflies. Particularly butterflies in relation to Mexican culture and identity. And as I was unpacking the way that Mexicans revere butterflies symbology, and not even just Mexicans, because that’s obviously a somewhat newer identity in the grand scheme of time, right? Like Mesoamerican, traditional cultures and identities have held butterflies as this beautiful symbol for how life is so fleeting. And there’s a lot of ways to unpack that. But I started learning later down the line. So closer to maybe just a few months ago, how so many cultures have interpreted butterflies similarly, which blows my mind. It blew my mind. I was like, oh my gosh, these people from forever ago that had no contact with each other or relatively little, would have had no internet to know how these symbols in nature were being interpreted by them similarly and created lessons and cultures and heritage and traditions around the way nature was speaking to them and educating them.

And I thought that was just the coolest thing ever. And so what I did was I wrote a poem about some of the elements within nature that are really important to me and my culture. And I spoke to them in a way that I thought would really speak to a lot of cultures. So just one further spoiler to that poem and that little research moment that I had deep diving into it as I was like man, masa, which is like dough right, was so important to me growing up. And there are so many lessons to be had with that. Dough is so important to so many cultures, right. Like I feel like it’s one of those things that everybody can relate to. So that’s what I think of when I think about nature, really informing what I said in the beginning, like nature, informing our cultures and our cultures informing the way we interpreted steam nature and just all the beautiful connections that are within that. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I have a million like very selfish questions that I want to ask that I’m going to pump the brakes on. But I love that story and that is actually also something I’ve always been fascinated with in terms of even the development of religion and how that has happened in so many different places simultaneously when there was no connection. And some of the similarities that were happening in the patterns that emerged. So I am also really fascinated by those components. So thank you. 

So maybe this actually leads us really naturally into what Intersectional Environmentalist is, what that means in terms of both the organization. But you also have this really large platform. And even based on what you just said, I have some ideas about sort of its importance, but will you tell me what it represents to you in the form that it’s in today? 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah, absolutely. So I think one of the best places to start there is just with the word intersectionality, it’s an easy word for a lot of us this year.

And I will be the first one to say. When I was talking about my background and really centering diversity in the conversation of sustainability, I didn’t have that language yet. And where we got that language from was a professor named Kimberlé Crenshaw. If you don’t know who that is, you should absolutely go look at her glorious work.

But a lot of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work in defining and intersectional theory and was more traditionally, I think, or at least more recently applied to feminism. And that was really a way to call out how a lot of the efforts and initiatives that were informing feminism, weren’t actually addressing a lot of the ways that people of color experience feminism or might advocate for feminism, or I guess vice versa to be more specific, the ways that a feminist narrative wouldn’t actually address them as people of color.

So for example, if you were a black woman during the feminist era, the first wave of feminism would not have been speaking to you as the black woman. It would have been speaking to you as a white woman. So intersectionality really helps to center all identities and point out when narratives or frameworks or systems aren’t taking that into account. So an intersectional lens would be applied to things like the civil rights movement or feminism to point out that, Hey, we’re actually leaving really important parts of this narrative out and not centering people who are most impacted by this issue. And so in the summer of 2020, our founder, Leah Thomas basically just took that concept and applied it to environmentalism.

Which created Intersectional Environmentalism, which is an inclusive form of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of all people on the planet, by identifying how injustices affecting marginalized communities and the planet are very interconnected. So it not only acknowledges these interdependencies and these links, these connections, but it brings them to the forefront of environmental activism without which we know is so prevalent, without minimizing or silencing over discrete forms of oppression. 

So that’s just a starting point, is how are we even thinking about intersectionality? How do we even apply it to intersectional environmentalism? And we took that and we really wanted to make sure that we were able to take that message, that moment, that a lot of people, it was a really powerful language that I think like I’ve mentioned earlier, we just didn’t have before, or at least many of us didn’t have before. And now that we had it, it was such a beautiful tool and vehicle for kind of just calling on the environmental movement as a whole, to completely shift the narrative. And that’s when we decided to launch the IE platform. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I love it. And I think what’s so amazing about the work that you all do and the growth of your platform over time is that immediate evidence it provided around, this is the way, like, this is actually the way. This is what co-liberation looks like. This is what it looks like for us to actually solve these problems instead of performative opportunities, to pretend like we’re solving these problems. And so talk to me a little bit about sort of the evolution of the organization and particularly what you all saw with the growth of your platform and what you feel like that sort of demonstrated around the appetite for this massive narrative shift.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah, absolutely. I think that kind of just going off of your thoughts a little bit too, historical legacy and keeping those stories alive is so important and that’s informed a lot of the work that we do. So even the feminist movement a lot of people don’t know this, but Kimberlé Crenshaw was actually initially inspired, I’m sure had many inspirations, obviously, because she has her own super robust civil rights background. But initially inspired by the Combahee River Collective, which is a black feminist lesbian collective in the 1970s. That served as a really good example. They were calling attention to how they felt they were being left out of feminist and civil rights movement because they’re overlapping identities as black queer women were facing additional forms of discrimination due to these overlapping identities. 

And one of the one of the coolest takeaways from that, that I think should spark a lot of and hopefully give people a sense of that direction is the learnings from the Combahee River Collective that if you liberate those who are the most depressed or the most vulnerable, and maybe that is a result of these overlapping identities that they have that are rendering them as the most vulnerable in that given context. If you liberate those people you ultimately will liberate everyone. And that’s the direction, that’s it right there. So if your question is, how, where do we focus? Like, how do we solve this? What do we do? The root cause is usually coinciding with those who are most vulnerable. And if you focus on them you’re only going to create prosperity and peace and nourishment and healing for everybody.

So I did really love going through that learning process. As we were unpacking the Combahee River Collective, Kimberlé Crenshaw Intersectionality, and really just applying all of those learnings to the status of today’s environment movement. So that definitely informed a lot of IE’s early days. And I mentioned historical legacy IE in its evolution has tested so many things. We have tested, showing up in so many different ways, but these two themes continue to stay so constant for us, and we’re really leaning into them. 

And like for the future of IE, and one of them being centering and celebrating our historical legacies in revolution, in environmentalism, in progress. And making sure that people don’t forget those legacies, especially when it’s from your own community and your own background. These are things that have been pushed out of environmental narratives. These are things that have been pushed out of academic narratives, even when they’re pertinent to the history of that topic. And so that is something really centering and celebrating the ways that our cultures have been showing that for the environment and continue to today is the work that I think just nourishes and heals, not only the IE team, we love it, but our community really loves it too. And that’s gonna play a huge part in the future of IE. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. Do you feel like that piece, even, just as you say that, I can imagine how seen people feel. And of course, like at the root of all, this is like inclusion, but do you feel like that is why that is part of what sort of had the movement catch on like wildfire that folks could just see themselves really quickly in the variety of narratives and stories and historical contexts that you all were providing 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: A hundred percent. I think you’re exactly right. In the first iteration of IE if you will, like our early little baby organization days. We really weren’t even this huge resource development platform yet. We weren’t really set on being an educational platform the way we think about things today. It was truly just, Hey, here is a showing, right here is evidence, here is proof for all the brands that are like, where are the black surfers? Where are the  latinex hikers? It was just to show we are here and we have been here. And then, because that was something that made people feel so seen. I remember feeling even myself after spending so many years in the fashion industry and feeling as though cultural implication, cultural artistry, just like our communities. It was always a fun afterthought and checklists like, oh, look at our beautiful new campaign and bonus points because we’re making it cool and culturally relevant. And I always walked away from big fashion moments like that thinking we’re talking about sustainability and fashion with culture as an afterthought. 

And that was so disconnected to me. And it wasn’t until I found the work of Dominique Drakeford who was basically just walking around into every room, being like, you know what? Y’all got it so wrong. Our cultures are the blueprint for sustainability and if you’re treating it like an afterthought, it’s just because you do not know your history, you do not know your science. You do not know like, her work just completely changed my whole perspective on the role that I could even play in the fashion industry. I ultimately left the fashion industry probably because I’m here at IE. But yeah, I think that story in and of itself that me finding Dominique and Dominique making me feel so seen in the fashion industry.

That’s exactly what we did for a lot of people through the IE platform. I think in the early days and what a lot of organizations that we love have been carving out space to do because the mainstream narrative doesn’t do it.

Mallory Erickson:  So I have two questions related to that. One is I’m curious, did you guys have a moment as the platform was growing, as you were doing that storytelling, did you have a day or a minute or an hour where you like, whoa, this is big, we’ve hit on something and tell us a little bit about that.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah, honestly since day one, it always felt like we were trying to catch up to how big it was. Because at first 50K felt like a lot to us, even 10K felt like a lot to us. We were like, oh my gosh. Wow. And then now we’re almost at half a million followers online. And I think that we are just now in 2022, getting to a place where we feel so grateful obviously for the size of our community. The past two years, the journey of it, we’ve been able to gather so much learnings and feedback from the community as it was growing around things that bring our community joy. What makes people feel seen. What makes people feel empowered because the environmental movement was changing and we were, I think, pretty key players in helping that happen, but it’s really hard to do when you’re also learning along the way.

Like you’re leading the way, but you’re also learning along the way. And that was really freaking hard, but I think now in 2022, we’re finally in this place where we know what is going to nourish our community. And that’s the work that we really want to lean into, optimism and really harnessing joy in a lot of the things that we do and just carving out space for people to experience joy in this work is really important to us.

Mallory Erickson: I think you actually answered this other question that I think is really awesome. And maybe I want to check my assumption here about something else, which is that what strikes me about what you’re talking about a lot of people, and I’m not the fundraising coach for like, how do you build this social platform? But I certainly see that question a lot. How do you build a following? How do you increase your following? And what I hear you talking about is that your focus was always on how do we show evidence of this thing?

Like, how do we educate around this thing? How do we create content that helps people feel seen, that your focus was on your community. And whether that community was 500 people, a thousand people, a half a million people, that is what led you to it sounded like to try each piece of the puzzle. And then the following was the result of that, but I don’t hear a lot of language around and then we tried to do this to see what the response would be, and so I’m curious.

Tell me like, how does that feel true? Do you feel like you all were being really intentional around trying to build a following as a part of this movement. What were some of the things you tried. Just talk to me about that a bit. 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah. I honestly, I think that in the beginning, when we were somewhat smaller than we are now, let’s say maybe 30 to 50K area. We just felt okay, at that point, we’re just creating a little bit of space for the people that we know like us are frustrated with their industry maybe, or their favorite, like hobby, like surfers, let’s say you have a hobby, like surfing, or let’s say you were actually like an ocean engineer.

So whether it’s your hobby, whether it’s your career, that’s what we thought we had. We were like, oh yeah, just a little community of people who are talking about sustainability and are annoyed and frustrated and heartbroken that there are other sustainability and environmentally minded communities, and refuse to center those who are most impacted by it. 

And that’s what we thought we had in the beginning. And from that we would find ways to work together, find ways to do research together, find ways to advocate for policy change or things like that together. So it was almost the idea that it was going to be this little network, and today it’s still very much is. A lot of the work that we’ve done through IE has been a super organic partnership with fellow organizations, people who advocate for intersectional environmentalism, which is obviously not a concept that we own. A lot of that partnership and collaboration has been within the IE community.

But now that we are as big as we are, we get to do that and more. We get to partner with fellow organizations, but we also get to create space alongside a lot of those organizations and add activists and advocates for the rest of our community to just feel seen, to feel heard, to be validated, to be reminded, Hey, no dooms, girl, go drink some water, go take a walk. You need some fresh air. You need to be around trees because we truly believe we’ve learned so much from core organizations like the Nap Ministry as well. That rest is such a radical form of resistance. And yeah, I think that if we can continue to collaborate with organizations within our little org that we’ve created, but also just work alongside those people to make sure that the rest of our community feels nourished. Then we’re totally happy with that. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. I’m curious, it’s striking in some ways talking to you how much value there is in the fact that you didn’t come through the nonprofit sector because there’s this piece of like collaboration of listening to wisdom outside of the sector, as you were talking. I was thinking about the Nap Ministry too, and how much I’ve learned from them. But for me, it was so much, and I’m sure for you too, like rewiring, but the nonprofit sector can be so scarcity driven, so competition driven, so bound to the old narratives that worked for them to meet their operating budget.

Not really succeed at what they’re trying to accomplish, but stay safe enough. Which we know is part of the narrative that perpetuates so much of the white supremacy, cultural norms. And so I see you and you are on the scene with this incredibly different approach, attitude, awareness, alignment. And I’m curious now that you all are venturing into sort of a new wave of development as a nonprofit and starting to think about funding and even grant funding or all of these systems that are oppressive How does that feel? Like how are you all thinking about, or making sense of what it looks like to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, but as an entity that I think fundamentally stands for such different things.

Diandra Marizet Esparza:Yes, so much to unpack there. To start, I will say that we entered the notion that IE was going to be a thing. We were like, oh, I guess we have to make it like an actual thing. We ultimately, or initially decided to make it a for-profit because we wanted to stay out of the icky world of nonprofit, industrial complex, all these things. Which was so hard, even though we had a platform that was growing, it’s not like we had any money, like people, you don’t actually have an Instagram bank account that likes deposits into your account as your following grows. That’s not a thing. So in the beginning that was so tricky to navigate. And then as we started getting interest from partners that just wanted to develop educational resources with us and also probably, save themselves a little bit from issues like narrative and comms and PR and things like that.

We started exploring with different partners and ultimately I think we ended up working with a lot of really great teams, but that was a funding source in the beginning. And we were like, okay, this is working. This is great. But then eventually as we started getting our foot in, we started to conceptualize because remember at first we were just a little blog trying to say, Hey, we’re just trying to show that we’re here. But eventually we were like, okay, now we have enough momentum to actually start thinking about engaging in work ourselves on the ground. But then as we started entertaining ideas around what that work could look like. And then trying to align that with funding, we came against this wall. 

It seemed where funders or partners, clients, brands, whatever you want to call them were saying, oh you’re a for-profit and we perceive that as you serving. We have these campaign needs, and we want your advice. Or we want to do this type of marketing, social app, like activation. And we want to do it with IE. And while all those things were good, and we learned a lot through those processes, all those things were good. It was really difficult to position clients and partners as people who should just be supporting the work that we want to do and the work that our community wants us to do. So we did decide to open the 2022 year as a nonprofit ,which you are absolutely correct, none of us have nonprofit experience. So you best believe that there were so many learning road bumps along the way when it comes to logistics and the legal and all these things.

So shout out to my team for helping me through all of that. But yeah, so we did ultimately decide to become a nonprofit. And to your point about setting a standard and thinking about it differently. I typically don’t believe most people when they say they’re doing it perfectly and that they like started this new thing and they were like, yep. We set the new standard. We figured it out. We did it. I’m like, oh, okay. Okay. Maybe, but most of the time having been through it for the past few years, I’m like, maybe not though. And I think really what it is being open and willing to face all the unlearning that we have to do from our hectic, awful stressful exploitation experiences and our careers on learning and unpacking that together as a team every single day. Because it finds new ways to wiggle its way into your team, your processes, your policies constantly. So I definitely think that it’s about facing those things as they come up every day. For sure. 

Mallory Erickson: I could not agree more. I really appreciate you answering that as thoughtfully and openly as you did. I expected that. I think also, but I think it’s just such an important thing for folks to hear, because I think the alternative of that space is the old school way of doing things and not looking deeply or giving yourself the space to learn along the way or say, oh, actually that didn’t feel good or there it did it creeped in again, didn’t it damn it. So what do we want to do next time? And so I just think, as you were describing sort of the growth of IE and you were saying you made some mention at some point about other organizations who are trying to rework their narratives, or maybe create more inclusive for intersectional narratives.

I was thinking about how sometimes, and there is no clear cut answer to this, but sometimes I wonder is, what this problem needs, this big organization to shift is that possible or is what it needs really like a new organization in this space who can build from the ground up in a more responsible, equitable just way.

I think it’s a big question in our sector because we have so many behemoths that  control a lot of the funds, but ultimately aren’t positioned. I think as many people believe to be changemakers perhaps any more, because they’ve just become another big bureaucratic institution in all the same ways.

And so it is just a lot of hearing your story and hearing what you all have done. I think it is also evidence to other organizations out there, I’m not a fan of everyone starting a nonprofit, like you have an idea, start a nonprofit. I’m a fan of, see what’s happening in the local community, on the ground, who’s already there. Who’s already doing the work, like all those things. And I think in a situation like this one, you all arriving on this scene was critically important to not only create that network in that space, but also push a lot of other institutions to open their mind to showing up differently too.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah, no, I think that you are absolutely right. There’s so much that you could speak to here. I think that one thing that comes to mind are brands and clients, talking to us about how well we should start this foundation. We should start this initiative. We should start this arm of our organization.

And usually my mind goes to, are you the best organization to lead this? There are so many beautiful organizations that are already and have been and are more deeply connected to this work that you like and want to be a part of. Why not cut the check for them to be able to do it. And I think that’s so important. In the nonprofit space I’ve been obviously becoming so much more friendly with a lot of fellow environmental justice organizations in the space that are underfunded, small and honestly, even IE being one of the largest organizations online, like from a reach standpoint, all of us are still so microscopic compared to like general conservation, environmental funded orgs, microscopic. 

And one thing I really want to encourage is small environmental justice nonprofits not being afraid to take up space. And then where I’ve envisioned a lot of the value in the work that we do and engaging with brands is connecting them, connecting brands with small organizations that are doing that work and telling them you need to pay these people to do it. If you want to suggest or say in any way, that you are promoting advocacy in the food justice space in ocean conservation space and whatever it is, do not start your own initiative with your team who is not connected to this issue, please. You need to pay these people to do it. 

And yeah, I don’t know if that answers your question exactly, but yeah, I definitely think as well, people not necessarily jumping to the conclusion, they should start something new. And that’s what I do really love about how IE has been able to just serve as like a connector in that point, it highlights a lot of the beautiful work that’s been done over history and a lot of the beautiful work that’s being done. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. How have brands been in terms of their responsiveness to things like that? Like how do you find in your work with brands, their sort of openness to partnering with the small nonprofit in particular, if it’s not going to give them the like brand recognition potentially that working with a larger organization.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Capitalism always gets in the way. That’s just capitalism, it just gets in the way period. But I really do think there are brands out there who really understand, like just speaking from the brand standpoint, they understand the value, the marketing value, the press value in being able to position themselves appropriately in the environmental justice movement and some brands aren’t there yet. They’re like no, we need to own it. We need to be in it. We need to help craft it and design it. And they haven’t really, they haven’t, those teams have not yet come to the conclusion that it’s antithetical to helping build things sustainable movements. 

And so that is, it’s very easy. I think within one call usually to see where a team is at and sometimes that’s also a reflection of who you’re talking to. Are you talking to the social impact team? Are you talking to the PR team, that’s literally within five minutes going to say, what is our PR moment? So there’s a lot of factors, but I think that what’s really great about some of the engagements that we’ve been able to have is being able to really nurture that, I’m learning.

I really like to approach every call with some, because I remember being in a hectic, busy, extractive, awful, stressful work environment that all I could think about at the front of my mind was making sure I deliver or else. Like that’s awful and so I really do appreciate that.

That could be what’s on the other end of my call at any time. And I really hate that. I really hate that people experience that. So having said that, helping people nurture that unlearning alongside us has been really fruitful in a lot of conversations with brands. 

Mallory Erickson: I think that is such an important point. I have had many conversations with marketing people where they feel or will say something to the effect of, I’m so sorry, but I have to ask this because I have to report on this up to my supervisor. And it breaks open this moment of, okay like you are being held to these certain ROI metrics, that nobody even really understands or knows what impact they have on your business, but they have been long institutionalized as meaningful. Okay. And I do think there’s an opening and conversation that I have found to be easier than expected actually around exploring other ways of doing and trying things.

And I found that when I, as the nonprofit leader, can have an open mind around the business needs, where I’m not just, don’t tell me any of that because it shouldn’t matter because all that matters is what we’re doing as a nonprofit. But I can be open to saying Hey, like what do you have to talk to your boss about? What are the things that you’re being held accountable to? And I can be more open and approachable. We actually can much more often than not find a win-win mutual benefit. That feels good to everyone. It sounds like that’s what you’ve really found too. 

Diandra Marizet Esparza:Yeah, absolutely. And I think that a lot of people even get scared to entertain that territory, right? Ooh, reciprocity with capitalism that doesn’t work. Well at bottom it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, environmental justice orgs need to get that check. And I don’t mean to sound so money-grubbing, but at the beginning of this whole wave of criticism of people, greenwashing and trying to be a part of the sustainability narrative. One of the things that a lot of waves and waves of environmentalists and content creators, and artists that were passionate about the sustainability movement, or like you brands, large brands, institutions, organizations, et cetera, you need to create sustainable pathways, economically sustainable pathways for people to do this work. 

And so now that we’re having those conversations, what are we going to do? Feel icky about accepting their response, which is to give money? No, we’re not going to do that to ourselves. We’re not going to do that to ourselves. And so I have really enjoyed finding organic ways to work with brands that help both of us achieve our goals, but it doesn’t compromise the work that we do. For example, if we have brands that want to engage sustainability, we might say, okay, we’re going to cut that sentence that says you’re the most sustainable, because what does that even mean? But we can speak really truthfully about this part. This is honest work. This is not, let’s us help you here. This part is not, but this part is, and let’s do that. And I think that just keeping brands really honest about where they’re at is so important. And that’s some of the work that from a com standpoint that we’ve been able to do, which I really appreciate. And in our first year, a lot of that work with these picky large organizations that sometimes are perceived as icky and gross allowed us to funnel anywhere from 10 to, I think it was 10 to 15% of all of the income that we had from our first year back into our community, whether that was through collaborative content creation opportunities or whether there was just straight up grants, like funneling it back in.

Which is way more than 1% for the planet. We love 1% for the planet, but we can do so much more. And if IE can do it, which is microscopic compared to so many of these businesses and other organizations, then they should be able to do it too. And I think that our work in our first year was a really good reflection. 

Mallory Erickson: And this other piece that you just said that I just want to double click on, one, is that it isn’t binary, right? I think we fall into a trap sometimes of fully shutting off things as good or bad. And it doesn’t leave a lot of space for degree shifts that lead us closer in alignment and integrity with where we’re trying to go. And so I really respect that. 

I also think in addition to the money you were able to move towards that work, you were also doing internal advocacy at those companies. And you maybe were an external player in that, but that’s wildly beneficial work, to have an impact on how a company communicates about their brand in a way that’s more honest and ethical. That’s important. And I think that’s also a role that we often shy away from inside the nonprofit sector, either because of our discomfort saying hard things, and our lack of feeling of power and autonomy in a situation or because we’ve completely cut off our willingness to engage, which like, I’m not saying that’s never appropriate. Sometimes that’s really appropriate, but I think there is just, I’ve done a lot of internal corporate advocacy where I’ve used a partnership that they want to be like. Okay, this is on the table, but only if you change this other corporate practice, like not just in terms of how you work with us as a nonprofit, but actually you can never ask a nonprofit to do X, Y, or Z again, period. And I think it’s something we just don’t give ourselves credit for a lot of the time.

Diandra Marizet Esparza: I’m going to take that by the way. I’m going to, I think we are in that place. I hope we’re in that place. We’re going to do that. No, but I totally agree with you. And honestly, I think that a lot of people assume that these massive teams within these large organizations don’t know anything about sustainability, don’t care about the environment, et cetera, et cetera.

There’s usually so many passionate people within the organization who, like the rest of us, are trying to pay their bills but hate the policies and the standards of the organization. And I can’t tell you how many people have on the low been like, I can’t say the words, white supremacy in my organization meeting, but you can.

And so there’s all these people that want to be able to advocate internally. And honestly, plenty of people that we’ve met that are just doing incredible work. Usually when it comes to funneling a message throughout the entire organization, that’s when sometimes us coming in or other environmental justice organizations coming in can be really helpful. 

Mallory Erickson: 100%. In fact, in this other interview that will be released before this one, with Whitney Clapper over at Patagonia. She actually talks about that specifically. She says, sometimes we put a deadline in front of a nonprofit, or we say, could you do this campaign with us? And she said, I’m secretly hoping they’re going to turn around and say, no way, that’s too fast. We can’t do that much in two weeks. And we had a little bit of a discussion about it because in some ways I feel like it’s a lot of pressure to put on the nonprofit with their funder.

And at the same time, I want nonprofits to flex their agency and power and recognize what a valuable asset they are to these companies. It’s nuanced both but I think it’s a really important conversation to explore.

So before we wrap up, I know that listeners will probably be very mad at me if I don’t ask you this question. So I’m just going to do it. If we have either a new nonprofit or if they don’t have to be new. They’re trying to grow their social media presence and community, because I think one of the core pieces of what you all have done is you’ve built a virtual community. Not just a platform, not just a page with a lot of likes and follows. What would be three social media tips that you would give nonprofits to build a really impactful and growing community. 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Okay. Three tips for growing an impactful community. I think that not every organization or pro account, right online account, goal is community. So I would say the first thing is really consider yourself a community before you consider yourself an organization or an account. If you consider yourself a community, then obviously everything you do is going to be informed by that. 

One book that I really love that I recommend is called the Art of Gathering. It’s a beautiful book. I highly recommend it. But it’s really, I think that book unpacked really well, how to be intentional, from literally beginning to end the way people engage with you or the thing that you’re building the space that you’re creating. So if community building is the goal that you’re going for, I think that really because we’re all doing so much on learning, just taking some time to research and reflect on why and how and where and when has so much intention been just stripped of us. 

I think sitting with that as a step one is really important. And I think if you do take some time to sit with that in the context of other people’s experiences, even reflecting on that in the context of your own experiences, your wheels are just going to turn like wildfire. When you start thinking about all the ways that you’d want to address that disconnect, I would say that’s a good step one. 

Another thing that I recommend is, and this is tough. This is always so tricky for everybody. And we struggled with it too at IE is identifying when you’re small and maybe don’t have any funding what a really nourishing and reciprocal ask is of somebody that you’re partnering with. Because you don’t need funding per se, to partner with other people, but you have to be really open to something making sense for somebody else, and then something not, you can’t expect for everybody to imagine that right here, right now, I have time, bandwidth, energy to support you. That’s not always going to be the case and those aren’t situations that you want to force anyway. So really leaning into things that feel organic, natural, reciprocal, and making sure that asks are super clear, especially when you’re in those early stages, because if you’re super intentional and loving and careful with people’s time and energy, they’re going to be like lifelong supporters of your organization. So that’s really important. 

And then I think maybe a little bit more of a boring logistical one, but I do think as a third and final step, that hindsight is really important. At IE, we were moving what felt like hundreds of miles a minute for the first two entire two years almost. I think that we didn’t really carve out a lot of time for slow intentional hindsighting.

And so a lot of the learnings that I was talking about earlier in this podcast were things that we really sat down as a team to assess just recently. Of course, we all had thoughts and learnings that we were learning along the way, but really formally looking at our analytics, really formally looking at the qualitative moments. Like maybe this wasn’t a reflection on something that hit half a million people, but maybe it was a reflection of a student that felt so seen by a piece of content, really taking time to define what qualitative and quantitative impact you’re having is something I wish we could all center. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I want to ask one more social media question. How much do you all prioritize engaging with DMs and comments on your posts and how does that decision relate to that piece about community? 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Yeah. So we have I think, one to two people at all times that are nurturing our comments and our DMs. We probably always have so many messages unread just because our team is really small, still. We are not a huge team nor are we a big, huge well-funded organization just yet. Even though it might look like that on the outside. So we do try our best to get through DMs, but I would say more importantly monitoring comments, especially when we get feedback on how to make narratives and communications more accountable or more inclusive.

That’s something that no single person could get all the time. And like I said earlier about unlearning a lot of workaholism for capitalism. Unlearning so many of the biases that we have, I think is and being able to face those things and adjust and be accountable is super important to the work that we do.

And yeah, I think that our community being so wonderful about just sharing where they want our narrative to go, what kinds of messages they want to see us build. And so we’ve just been really responsive and thankful, just super grateful for people who have been helping nurture what IE is and how we show up along the way so comments sections have been great for that. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. Okay. I’m gonna wrap it there with leaving it with community. Tell everyone where they can find you, where they can learn more about IE. And thank you so much for this conversation. 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Of course, if you haven’t checked us out yet, the first place would be on Instagram at Intersectional Environmentalist. We also have some really exciting new things that are coming along, such as a new podcast shout out, it will be called The Joy Report. You can check that out anywhere that you listened to podcasts. We will also be launching a new placeholder website for the whole summer, which will be really exciting. It’ll give everybody a little bit of a sneak peek behind all the beautiful research that our creative director has been doing on the visual legacy of revolution and movements within our cultures, which is going to be so exciting and we’ll plan to relaunch that website in the fall. And that is www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com

Mallory Erickson: Amazing. Thank you so much for this conversation. I’m really, I’m so grateful for the work that you do and yeah. And for who you are. 

Diandra Marizet Esparza: Thank you. This was so fun.

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