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Centering communities for an enduring climate movement

Nico Valencia of Intuit and Paisley Smith of Unity on listening to communities — and uplifting their stories — for resilient climate action.

Nico and Paisley

Nico Valencia of Intuit and Paisley Smith of Unity Technologies

Part of a series produced by Drawdown Labs featuring people without "sustainability" in their job title who fold climate into their roles and embody the different ways one can take climate action in the workplace.

Harnessing youth passion

Nico Valencia works for Intuit, leading innovation and programming for its corporate responsibility team. As part of Intuit’s commitment to leveling the playing field for those historically with limited access to educational programs and job opportunities, Nico’s core work focuses on opening doors for low-income and underserved students of color by providing enhanced access to educational tools and workforce training. Nico specifically facilitates entrepreneurship education through project-based learning, getting students to build their own businesses to grow real-world skills.

In his work, Valencia finds that while making a buck is appealing, the students he works with are much more interested in learning how to create businesses when an element of sustainability is core to the project. "Instead of saying, ‘Build a business,’ if I say, ‘Reduce carbon emissions or create a sustainable water system,’ the students are more excited to go deeper in the project than if it was anything else reminiscent of traditional business."

Valencia’s students reflect a heartening mindset present in younger generations: 93 percent of corporate employees under 30 believe they will become more motivated and loyal to their employers as their companies become more socially and environmentally responsible. By listening to his students’ interests, Nico is helping build the next generation of sustainability entrepreneurs, advocates and practitioners.

Valencia’s students’ attraction to sustainability — and the nurturing of that interest — is vital for creating a durable climate movement for the long-haul. As such, he understands how crucial it is to close the opportunity gaps his students face so that they can be part of the solution in a system that hasn’t always worked in their favor, especially during the pandemic.

Many of his students were forced to attend school virtually from their homes when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, subjecting many to unfit learning environments (unstable home dynamics, food insecurity, unreliable internet connection, to name a few).

Valencia actively works to bridge this digital divide and ensure his students, who deeply care about social impact and sustainability, can pursue those passions now and in the future. When solutions are implemented in a way that actively uplifts the wants and needs of a community — such as a group of young people — they not only benefit the community itself, but they also create resilient and lasting systems for climate action.

Sustaining solutions for the long term

Paisley Smith advances climate action through the Unity for Humanity program at Unity, fostering a community of social impact creators who are using real-time 3D technology to drive innovative storytelling. She’s quick to note that her job "is not as directly engaged with climate and sustainability as the sustainability team." In fact, Smith's work is very much tied to climate, encouraging people to get involved with sustainability by identifying social impact creators and supporting them through grants. This year, her company’s grant program specifically identified creators taking action on climate and environment.

Smith sees "a lot of projects that deal with climate change impacting community and culture" — projects that tackle the heartbreaking reality that the climate crisis is impacting ways of life, today.

There are projects from all over the world, all using immersive technology and powerful narrative to share how climate change is disturbing their corners of the globe. One notable project "explores the impacts of urban oil drilling on community health and how systemic racism and environmental injustices intersect," while another follows Indigenous peoples of the Amazon to show how climate change is hurting both their cultural and ecological communities.

Not only do community-focused stories stand out to Smith, but she also specifically looks for projects that are embedded in and will serve a specific community. When a proposed project has a strong community connection, Smith notes "it will have a lifespan, and it might inspire other folks in the community and beyond to get involved."

When climate solutions — and their stories — come from and are ingrained in a community, they can ripple out to have a larger, longer-lasting impact, across people and generations.

2050 in their own words

2050 is a critical year for the climate crisis: It is the latest year by which the world must reach net-zero emissions to stay below a warming increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of the Paris Agreement. When asked to envision a future in which the world has met this goal, and what must happen to get us there, Valencia and Smith highlight the importance of influencing others for change.

Valencia: There will be healthier, happier people and more community. And the only way to get there is for individuals and corporations to think beyond themselves. Everybody needs to think about what they can do to affect the world outside of just their own lives and realize their spheres of influence are bigger than they think.

Smith: I would really like to see a sustainable world in 2050. And the way to get there is by empowering creators — really taking a look at how we can use all the incredible tools that we have and making them as accessible as possible, to as many creators as possible, so that people can share and experience multiple, different perspectives.

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