Reflecting on my EcoTalent experience

10th Jun 21 by Shabir Noorzai

I want to be a journalist to help tell the stories that no one else has covered.

I started my EcoTalent internship after a six-month spell of looking for jobs, having graduated from University with a Journalism degree in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession.

The job title was intriguing – EcoTalent Intern Student Engagement: Food and finance. The application process for the job was as unique as the job title. It did not require a CV or a cover letter. I remember writing about how to diversify the environment sector in the UK, which is 98% white. In the application I answered questions about my enthusiasm towards learning about the environment. This is a great application approach especially for internships as this allows for people with passion and enthusiasm to work for organisations with the same values, and the skills training comes with the job anyway. My four-month internship could be divided into two parts: the biweekly EcoTalent days where I would be given coaching on soft skills and self-development, and student engagement work with Big Livestock vs The Planet and SOS-UK.

Learning about the big impact of Big Livestock

During my first week, I started learning about Feedback’s Big Livestock Vs The Planet campaign. I had read about deforestation in the news but never really grasped the scale and the impact it had on indigenous people and biodiversity. The image I had when farmland was mentioned to me was fields of crops. I thought the burning of the Amazon rainforest was being done to create farms to grow crops as a source of food for people, rather than as animal feed for industrially reared cattle. I believed it was a dire necessity for local food security. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that most of the land being cleared was not for crops for human consumption but for cattle ranching and cattle feed. The amount of forest and land that was disappearing on a daily basis for cattle farming was significantly more than what would be needed for growing food crops for humans. The connection between industrial meat and dairy companies and loss of land in the Amazon was made evident to me through the Big Livestock vs The Planet reports. The impact Big Livestock has on biodiversity, indigenous rights, and food security is an injustice created by greedy corporations: the fat cat corporates getting paid millions for jobs that lead to climate breakdown. According to  National Geographic Big Livestock together with other grazing animals contribute about 40% of the annual methane budget.

Expanding my knowledge

The issue of land use was not only exclusive to Big Livestock, vast amounts of land is also being used in countries such as Malaysia for palm oil. I found out about this after I was encouraged to join a Global Justice Recovery webinar. This was a great opportunity to meet and listen to activists from across the globe, from the Philippines, Japan, Nigeria, Brazil, America, and Britain. Each workshop and story had hundreds of people, all eager to engage and learn. This is where I found out about the impact palm oil has had on the Malaysian people, threatening food security and decreasing fertile soil land for food crops. The fertile lands in Malaysia that could be used to grow crops for the locals and indigenous populations are being used to grow palm oil trees. Like Big Livestock, massive corporations are abusing their power by snatching the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia while creating food insecurity problems.

What needs to change?

So, what needed to change? People’s attitudes. Change begins from within and has a ripple effect on others. Having seen the impact environmentally extractive companies have during this internship, I have had time to self-reflect on the choices I have made previously, such as choosing which bank to use or what products to buy. The environmental decisions and discussion I have with my close circle of friends and family has left an impact on them. We are eating less meat now compared to before. It has led to them making environmentally friendly lifestyle changes as well. These individual changes by people lead to a ripple effect that creates huge movements. The change comes from education and self-reflection within an individual. A success story which was highlighted to me was the fossil fuel divestment movement which has to date had over 15 trillion dollars pledged to be divested by financial institutions. This was done through individuals and organisations putting pressure on financial institutions to divest from Big Oil. Students came together and collectively called for their Universities to commit to divesting. Glasgow University was the first university in Europe to divest from Big Oil and in less than a decade 87 other universities joined to commit. It was individuals deciding they had enough of Big Oil investment and band together to make change possible. So why can’t we do the same for Big Livestock?

We came up with the idea to get university students across the UK involved in our campaign to call on their universities to divest from Big Livestock through a targeted email. This project would allow us to contact students involved with environmental societies and students’ unions to call on their universities to divest from Big Livestock. This was the very first time I had been involved directly with environmental campaigning. There was a lot of researching, writing and communications strategy involved. My very first task was to make a one-minute-long campaign video to be posted online which allowed me to use the video editing skills I had from university but also gain new skills in campaign editing and writing. The video had to be short and bold in text. I had to make sure the colour scheme, text size and font were matching the organisation colour and text style. This was all new to me so learning and gaining these skills has been extremely beneficial for future work in campaigning.

At the end of our project, we had universities reaching out to us to get involved with our campaign and asking for help with existing campaigns they were running. This felt like an achievement as it showed the impact of my targeted email. It allowed us to build relationships with young activists, help get our campaign idea on campuses and we were happy to help them with their own environmental campaigns as well.

My internship was not solely focused on the Big Livestock campaign. On my first week I was asked what Feedback and SOS-UK could do to provide me with the skills I wanted to learn. This is not something you often hear in a workplace. I wanted to learn more about environmental journalism and how charities can work with media organisations to raise awareness. I was given the opportunity of a meeting with Alexandra Heal, an award-winning investigative journalist who works at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and reports on the environment. It was a great opportunity to learn about the key skills that editors look for in young journalists and what to focus on as we move more towards a digitalised word.

Learning new skills & challenging my inner critic

EcoTalent days were run on a bi-weekly basis. The aim of these days was to help us enhance and gain soft skills. Creativity, communication, networking, and personality development were some of the few things we worked on. Every session was different and run by a leading coach in a specific soft skill. My goal was to gain confidence and to be able to articulate my opinion well enough so that my message is understood. It was as skill that I believed I lacked and for the type of communications jobs that I hoped to get into, these skills are vital. I want to be a journalist to help tell the stories that no one else has covered. By working on my confidence and articulation, I know I can do justice to these stories when covering them.

Each EcoTalent day was memorable for its unique reasons such as learning about permaculture, agroecology, or self-reflection. But the EcoTalent days that resonated with me the most were when public speaker and comedian Thanyia Moore. The coaching by Thaniya on public speaking was unique as she delved deep into the causes of our issues in public speaking and gave honest suggestions on how to fix the problem. The environment campaign coaches helped in our personal development of suppressing our inner critics and taking initiatives on our values.

Overall, this internship has been great in meeting likeminded interns like me working with other organisations. It has given me skills that are easily transferable to other job opportunities, widening my job prospects. It has also taught me to think critically about the environmental impact that government and corporate policies have on the planet. We don’t have much time; we must act now to make a change.


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