Kellan Lyman; Economic Development Volunteer; Philippines
The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. NWF EcoLeaders staff has interviewed this group of change-makers and rising stars that we call “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”
Economic Development Volunteer
David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Fellow help shape your career path?
Kellan Lyman: The NWF Fellowship gave me the opportunity to pursue my interests in sustainability, while enabling me with resources like top-quality leadership training, the knowledge and know-how of NWF staff and the inspirational network of my fellowship class. Seeing how their projects creatively addressed the environmental issues in their communities helped me to see how sectors of the environmental movement could in tandem. Learning about work in other environmental sectors also gave me fresh inspiration for addressing environmental issues in my field. Not only did I develop my project management and leadership skills but also gained the confidence to continue to lead sustainability projects in my career.
DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
KL: Project planning! The fellowship program staff were so helpful in getting us thinking strategically about our project’s context and creating a step-by-step plan of action, skills which I’ve since used in projects I’ve managed which has been key to their success. Also, through the leadership training, I honed some effective communication techniques and also explored the idea of “leading from within” and being grounded in our values as we lead towards sustainability.
DC: What are you up to these days? Where are you working now, and why did you choose to work there?
KL: Currently, I’m in the Philippines with a Filipino-founded sustainable grassroots development organization which promotes organic agriculture. My work involves supporting our partner communities through creating trainings for them to develop their skills, marketing their products, and exploring opportunities for them to improve their economic livelihood.
We partner with communities around the Philippines, most of which are agricultural, to first help them identify their existing strengths and assets that they can use to improve their economic livelihoods. They may also avail of funds to do projects, like small-scale food manufacturing or building water systems and agricultural infrastructure. Then, they pass these funds onto another community, so while they initially receive, they become empowered to give. This model not only builds a community’s long-term capacity for self-sufficiency, but also breaks the post-colonial mindset of foreign dependency.
Our organization continues to do trainings with our partner communities on topics such as natural farming systems and project management, works with them to transition back to organic farming, and coordinates tree-planting projects to capture carbon and earn carbon credits.
DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
KL: To work to promote international economic development alongside environmental sustainability, advocating for grassroots-led solutions for developing communities to improve their livelihoods and to be good stewards to the earth.
DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
KL: As a kid, I spent a ton of time playing in the woods, learning about and developing a bond with nature, and also witnessing the rapid urbanization and water pollution in my hometown. Since then, I have long felt that my purpose was to promote environmental sustainability in some capacity.
My senior year of high school (right around the time you decide what to study in college), I did a project on Nigeria’s political systems and learned of how so many communities struggle against the oil industry for survival. Since then, I began keeping up with international affairs and grew interested in the multilateral nature of many environmental issues. International environmental work became my career path of choice through conversation with friends also studying public affairs. Having a group of friends in a similar career pool has been a great asset for inspiration and peer-advice.
Once I had my first internship with a social enterprise promoting sustainable development in Africa through coffee was really when I discovered the field and career possibilities within it.
DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
KL: My first (and continuing) inspiration to work in international environmental advocacy was Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian advocate for environmental justice and rights of his people against Shell Oil. The degradation to the Ogoni people’s land and lives was the most extreme environmental injustice I’d ever learned of at that time and showed me how deeply connected environmental advocacy and human rights can be. His bravery inspires me to take action to promote environmental advocacy simultaneously with human rights, holistic wellbeing, nonviolence, and peace.
My most recent inspiration has been Macliing Dulag, an environmental hero from the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines, where I’m based now. He was a tribal leader in the 1970s who organized the peoples of the region in opposition to a mega-dam which would drown hundreds of villages and ancestral lands. He ended up being assassinated by the Philippine army during the period of martial law, but his work unified the indigenous peoples of the region to advocate for their rights and the project never passed. Our partner communities in this region still fight to overcome marginalization, and his spirit still serves as an inspiration for people power over rights abuses.
DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
KL: Yes! I’ve been fortunate to have bosses who took a sincere interest in my professional development and have become a mentor. It’s been useful having mentors with a wealth of experience in the field, who know the different sectors, have a comprehensive understanding, and share their personal work experiences. But it has been equally helpful in other ways to have a mentor who was just a few years ahead of me in the field, who understands this professional level in the field in this day and age and can share relevant and recent experiences. These relationships have been essential in connecting me with like-minded people or well-suited opportunities as well as someone to help you discern your path in advocating for sustainability.
DC: What made those mentorship relationships work?
KL: Open communication. In those relationships, it’s key for me to be honest with myself and my mentor about what I want and need. When I do ask a mentor for advice, I always check myself to make sure that I’m approaching the conversation with humility and an eagerness to truly learn what she thinks. I have to be ready to listen and give it careful consideration. The mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street, so I try to support my mentor however I can. For example, I attend or volunteer for an event they may host or drop a card in the mail to say thank you.
DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
KL: Any leadership experience, and in a project context in particular, is a great asset to bring to a first position. Not only does it develop a key skillset of being a leader in sustainability, but it also demonstrates commitment to the cause and gives the opportunity to learn so much about a field.