Changemakers - Ellen Sandell
23 April 2012 at 10:20 am
Ellen Sandell, National Director at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, is profiled in Changemakers – a regular column which examines inspiring people and their careers in the Not for Profit sector.
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition is entirely youth-run, representing more than 30 of Australia’s largest youth organisations and over 70,000 individual members. The AYCC aims to build a generation-wide movement to solve the climate crisis, through uniting diverse youth organisations around this common challenge.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
After playing a big role in getting the carbon price passed in 2011, this year we’re focusing on getting more support for renewable energy. We’ve just launched a big new campaign: Repower Australia. It’s about young people holding events are pubs, cafes and other community venues to raise money to ‘repower’ them with solar panels or energy efficiency. It’s a great way to create tangible change at the local level, but also send a message to our politicians that young people support more investment in renewable energy.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
I always wanted to do something creative and meaningful, as we all do! However, I was never sure what that was. I also had a strong passion for making change, and I got involved in a campaign to switch my University to 100% Green Power – which we won in 2007. This got me thinking about how else I could help with big issues such as climate change. Initially I worked as a Policy Advisor for the Victorian Premier on climate change issues, but from my experiences there I saw that big change happens through social movements and the public pushing politicians to change, and I knew I wanted to be part of that. Some of my friends were starting up the AYCC and I thought it was a really powerful idea, so I jumped on board.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
For about five years – in 2007 I was the Environment Officer in the Student Union at Melbourne University, then I started at the AYCC in 2008 and have been there, in a variety of roles, ever since.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
In 2007 I was the Environment Officer in the Student Union at Melbourne University. We did a range of projects, but I was lucky to be involved in a campaign where we successfully got the University go commit to carbon neutrality. It was a long, hard campaign, but winning made me excited to do more on climate change.
What is the best thing about working in the Not for Profit sector?
It’s so creative – every day I get to choose what I want to do. I have the freedom to do whatever I think is going to be the most effective to solve the climate crisis. I love the freedom and the ability to work on something I’m so passionate about. I also get to work with other passionate, talented people who inspire me every day.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
Working at AYCC I get to work with the best up-and-coming campaigners. My AYCC colleagues have gone on to found communications consultancy Make Believe, to work for Avaaz.org, GetUp!, for congressional candidates in the US elections and more. We also get to punch above our weight in terms of making change on climate change.
I consider my greatest achievement to be…
Getting the University of Melbourne to become carbon neutral, and also helping to grow the AYCC to over 70,000 members. Two of AYCC’s greatest achievements have been getting climate change on the agenda during the 2010 election with our ‘climate elephant’ mascot following Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott around, receiving national media attention, and playing a large role in organising thousands of people to rally in support of a price on carbon in 2011.
If not you, who? If not now, when?
I’m always being asked…
‘How can I get a job in the non-profit sector?’ My answer is always the same: volunteer for an existing organisation and put in the time to show how passionate and driven you are. Degrees or marks don’t matter nearly as much as proven ability to get a project or campaign off the ground.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
I’m currently into ‘This American Life’ podcasts – I love the quirky, crazy and funny stories about everyday life. And ‘The Flaming Sword of Justice’ which is a radio show by a friend of mine in the USA who interviews non-profit leaders about their stories and campaigns.
If you could have dinner with 2 people from history, who would they be?
My Grandpa – he died five years ago and he had a great sense of social justice. I wish I had have asked him more about his views on the world. And maybe William Wilberforce, who led the movement to end slavery – he was also trying to deal with a problem that had to do with changing the entire economy of the world, and he won. I’d like some tips!
My greatest challenge is…
Thinking up ways to help our 70,000 members make the biggest change they can on climate change. It’s a huge, global issue and sometimes it’s tough finding the most strategic points of influence. But ultimately, what we need is a movement of people all pushing in the same direction, and luckily that’s what we’re building.
School taught me…
That all big change throughout history came from social movements. It’s a key lesson from year 10 history that everyone should learn!
What does a typical day for you involve?
There is no such thing! I might be in Canberra doing a press conference about the carbon price one day, and painting a giant earth costume with volunteers the next.
What (or who) inspires you?
I’m inspired by stories of small groups of people getting together, dreaming about what’s possible and then actually getting stuff done!