Creating a climate for change
29 March 2021 at 5:31 pm
Jane Stabb is the new co-CEO of Climate for Change, an organisation fighting for an Australia that sees climate action as a top priority. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
For Stabb, dedicating her career to fighting climate change is a personal one.
Growing up in rural New South Wales, she has seen the devastating impacts of climate change on the area – from lengthy droughts, to catastrophic bushfires, and more recently, floods that have left towns submerged under water.
She has worked in the climate change sector for more than a decade, and when the opportunity to lead Climate for Change emerged, she jumped at the opportunity.
Climate for Change’s flagship program [is] Climate Conversations, [which aims] to facilitate discussions about climate change in people’s homes, among friends. This model of engagement is unique within the climate movement and has proven effective in engaging new audiences.
Stabb hopes that by equipping everyday Australians with the tools and knowledge to create a social climate for change, political leaders will take the necessary steps to stop, and ultimately reverse, global warming.
But she isn’t doing it alone. Working alongside her as co-CEO is Lena Herrera Piekarski, who is bringing years of experience in the climate space to help grow and strengthen the organisation in this pivotal time for action.
In this week’s Changemaker, Stabb discusses the strengths and challenges of being a co-CEO, the advice that’s guided her career, and being an optimist amid a climate crisis.
How did you first get involved with climate change?
For me, climate change is personal. I grew up in a bushfire town and I watched the mega fires unfold a couple of summers ago. My sister lives in a town called Nambucca Heads up on the north coast of New South Wales, and I remember the bushfires coming within 10 minutes of her town in the space of a couple of hours. These fires are just getting worse and worse, and right now, half of the town is underwater. They’re experiencing their second one-in-100-years flood event. The climate is changing. Climate change is personal for me, but climate change is personal for all of us, and now is the time to act. And so with climate change, we know that politicians don’t lead, they follow. So what we’re doing is we’re working to get our communities ready to take the actions that we need to take to deal with the impacts of climate change.
When I looked at this job, I thought that this is the organisation within the climate movement that has that magic, that has that tool that is perfect for this moment where we need to reach out to demographics who are more than just the usual suspects. This is a tool that we can use to get into the right communities and the right demographics to really have those helpful conversations that will get our whole society to a point where we need to be to be able to shift.
Can you talk me through some of the strengths and also the challenges of having two CEOs?
Lena and I have quite a different set of skills, expertise, experience and relationships across the sector. Lena comes from a fundraising background, which, of course, is crucial to any CEO position in the NGO sector, and I come from an organising, partnerships, and strategy background. There’s a couple of parts of the CEO role that are crucial to making it work. One is, of course, bringing in the money, [then there’s] directing the strategy and building and fostering a really positive culture that will lead to a really strong organisation. And between the two of us, we actually have a really complementary skill set and also a complementary leadership style, which we’re both really excited about.
I think the tricky thing is we’re both going to work three days a week. We’ll have one day in the middle that is an overlap to try and structure all of our decision making moments and our big picture strategy thinking on one day of the week, which is going to be challenging. It’s going to require really fastidious notetaking and really tight communication between the two of us, because we’ve asked our staff to think of us as one person and we’ve committed to being really well briefed across all parts of the organisation.
What’s a piece of advice that’s guided you throughout your career?
So whenever I have been in a position to achieve something incredible, it has been achieved by picking the right people and supporting them to do incredible work themselves. And so I see the job as a leader as really guiding other people to thrive, figuring out how they want to grow in their role and supporting them to do it. Often that means getting out of the way, but also just playing that role of mentor and coach.
We’re at a pretty pivotal moment of the climate change conversation. How do you manage this overwhelming task ahead of you and make sure you stay focused on the task at hand?
It’s often said that if you’re not a pessimist and you think about climate change, you actually don’t understand the data. But if you work in the climate space and you’re not an optimist, you don’t have a pulse. There are such incredible people working in this space and the human in me and the optimist in me just can’t think that we do not have the capacity to solve this. We have the tech solutions, we have the policy solutions. What is stopping us is politics, that’s the blocker. And we know how to achieve change because there have been massive transformational societal changes in the past.
We’ve still got a long way to go, but if you think about the feminist movement, if you think about the land rights movement here in Australia, there’s been incredibly strong community driven social change, led by incredible people. It’s really humbling to be able to rely on past leadership to give us guidance in how to craft that change ourselves. And I just think that this is the moment to make the change on climate and make those strong, hard decisions.
And when you’re not at Climate for Change, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I have a 12-month-old and a four-year-old. So I’m either loving their company and revelling in them or I’m trying desperately to get away from them because they’re screaming at me. I also love bushwalking. I’m lucky enough to have a bush block out in Macedon where we spend a lot of time right on the southern end of the Great Dividing Range and the Wombat State Forest. I also love reading books, and just making time for a work life balance.