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Green Pathways Final Update

There have been many transitions that RVC has been working towards during the past year and we didn’t forget! We wanted to follow-up on the Green Pathways Fellowship Program and share our lessons learned.

In 2019, RVC and Got Green launched the Green Pathways Fellowship Program which aimed to create living-wage and entry-level positions in the environmental sector. We implemented a pilot fellowship through a pandemic, placed 10 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders in environmental organizations, administered over 175 hours of training + coaching, and facilitated a space for community building. In August 2021, we graduated our first and only cohort of fellows from this program!

RVC made a big decision to close the Green Pathways Fellowship program (GP) with this cohort. Pilot programs that fail in the first year of implementation are very common! The Green Pathways Fellowship Program had successes and failures. GP reinforced our belief that diversity can not be the only strategy to make meaningful change in the environmental sector.

Over the course of this fellowship, we shared our lessons learned about what worked and what didn’t, read them here: Green Pathways Winter 2019 Update & Green Pathways Fall Update 2020). As we concluded this journey, there was one thing that was abundantly clear: this program is still needed and can work. It is still important, effective, and essential to invest in leaders of color.

Unfortunately, RVC cannot continue the program. Instead, we hope sharing our reflections, lessons learned, and recommendations will help folks rethink their programming and how they invest in Black, Indigenous, and Leaders of Color.

The strategy of diversity alone is not only inadequate, but it’s also harmful 

It was clear in our research prior to starting this program and when fellows gave us feedback about the program – if the host organization is not willing, committed, and able to shift their organizational culture to honor and center BIPOC dignity and belonging, the experience will be difficult for everyone. In fact, the BIPOC staff are disproportionately harmed by diversity strategies. A diversity strategy does not include supporting or accepting the wholeness of BIPOC staff, it forces assimilation to organizational culture (most likely) steeped in patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy that ultimately targets and harms BIPOC folks. 

What does it take for this program to succeed? 

Our experience with fellowship programs so far have found the following to be crucial for the program’s success:

  1. The fellowship host sites have and embody a commitment for change to happen at the individual and organization level. A commitment to equity + shifting an organization’s culture is one of the most essential parts of this program that was under-resourced by RVC + the host organizations. This includes dollars, capacity, and alignment from the entire organization.
  2. A team of equity consultants with a 1:3 ratio (consultant:host organizations).  This ratio depends on how expansive and deep the organizations need to go to advance equity in 2 ½ years.
  3. Host organizations must be able to demonstrate their experience, commitment, and willingness to shift the organization towards being more equitable as a baseline criteria to participating in this program. The specifics of that criteria are to be determined!
  4. A team to support the fellows + fellowship program (1:6 ratio of staff to fellows). The ratio is focused on staff members providing coaching services to individual fellows throughout the two years. The expectation would be monthly one hour sessions
  1. Fellow supervisors are committed to receiving and utilizing coaching as part of their professional development alongside the fellows they’re supporting. As many people experience anecdotally, a good supervisor can be the difference between someone staying or leaving their job. This is an important focus of our program to include the supervisor and the organization in our partnership. Our recommendation is at least monthly one-hour sessions.
  2. Invest in all of your workers especially entry-level
    When organizations concentrate on what it means to value, honor, and grow their employees as the valuable contributors they are with resources, time, and coaching. This will benefit not just the employee, the organization, and the community they serve. Hiring and retention is important for any organization. RVC recommends the following: 
    1. A living wage with generous benefits – This must be adjusted every year and when responsibilities change – this doesn’t just mean adjusting for COLA or inflation.
    2. Professional development stipend of at least $1200/year
      • Build out a plan every 6 months with the employee, map out what they want to grow in and where they see themselves in the organization. This should be done collaboratively between the supervisor and employee.
      • Check-in on this every 6 months. It’s not often folks get asked this question and they should be
    3. Activating networks by linking fellows to a mentor or a coach for at least 1 hour monthly sessions
      • It’ll be up to you to think about how much flexibility you want to give to employees around whether or not they can opt-in or opt out of the program. We’ve found it’s important to have the consistency and opportunity to practice receiving and asking for support.
  3. The quality of this program needs at least $1.5 million in funding. This estimate should account for internal staff, consultants, program costs, supplies, and fellow salaries & benefits.
  4. A partnership with this type of program requires buy-in from the fellowship host org board, staff, and the community served. This is an important step in the process we have learned through our other fellowship program. Partners should check in with their stakeholders if this partnership will serve the organization and its programs (board, staff, community members, and partners).

How have these learnings informed RVC’s fellowship programming future?

A major decision was to close the Green Pathways Program at the end of this cohort because we cannot execute the program at its full vision and care necessary for all parties involved. Second, we’ve made some changes to our model that will serve our partners and fellows better. You can find more information on our website here.

Below are three lessons we want to emphasize that feel core to the Green Pathways Fellowship:

  • Fellows should be employed by the parent organization – The flexibility allows us to find a placement for fellows if either party finds that they are not a good fit for one another. There will be little interruption to their participation in the program when we can finalize a transition plan for the fellow.
  • Set expectations and address power dynamics early – We see this as an integral part of determining whether a partnership would work for both parties. This is an intentional grounding and not necessarily level power dynamics (if even possible) but to acknowledge and build trust. 
  • Build a more explicit onboarding process with partners and fellows. Activities will involve:
    • Relationship building between all parties (RVC Fellowship + Capacity Building staff, fellows, supervisors, and host organization staff)
    • Crafting job descriptions before fellows are recruited to apply to the fellowship and the organization, 
    • Building a 6-month work plan for the fellow to outline clear expectations, deliverables, and outcomes as they get to know their role, the organization, and the community,
    • Laying out expectations both parties are responsible for over the two years of partnership

The last two years have reinforced what RVC knows about fellowship programs, leadership development, relationship building with partner organizations, and our values. We’ve learned about our capacity, alignment with the environmental justice movement, and commitment to young people. This wasn’t an easy program and the challenges came with real harm to all parties involved. Our hope for anyone who decides to launch a similar program is to take things slow, be thoughtful, and center it on BIPOC leaders and their needs. 

If you are interested in talking to RVC more about the program, feel free to contact Florence Sum at [email protected].

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