Spotlight Series: Q&A with Environmental Charity Partnerships Manager, Poonam Gill

We caught up with Poonam about her insights working in the environmental charity sector, as WWF’s Corporate Partnerships Manager

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My ethnic background is Indian, my family are from the Punjab. I also identify as a British Indian woman. Iโ€™ve always had an interest in social and environmental justice so studied Geography undergrad and a Masters in Sustainability. I now work in corporate partnerships for one of the largest global environmental charities.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

We used to go on family holidays to India every few years and as I grew older I started to recognise the impact my life has compared to that of my cousins living in the village. It inspired me to learn more about sustainability, and understand the relationship between different cultures and lifestyles and how they regard the natural environment.

Can you tell me about your current role? How did you get into the charity sector?

I work in corporate partnerships for one of the largest environmental charities, working with businesses to reduce their environmental footprint and engage with their supply chains, employees and customers on sustainability initiatives. This is the first green charity I have worked for, as I was applying for lots of roles after taking a career break to do some solo travelling, and was lucky enough to land the job!

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

My biggest success โ€“ landing the jobs that I have had so far! After I graduated, I found it difficult to get a job in sustainability and at the level for my qualifications. But it has been a great learning opportunity and each role helped me develop skills and confidence to succeed in the workplace. I especially appreciate all the friends, colleagues and mentors that help broaden my worldview, provide support and encouragement, and those who accompany you to the pub after a challenging day at work!

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/unfamiliar career path? Has it been challenging?

My parents still donโ€™t fully understand what I do, and worry that working in the green sector I will not be as financially comfortable as my siblings, who work in the legal and pharma sectors. They tried to encourage me to take a more traditional professional route, but being 2 of 4 children, I was able to persuade them that this would be a good and fulfilling career path.

Itโ€™s been so great to build a network of fellow South Asian environmentalists, who have a similar story. The challenging part is being a minority in the sector, but this is slowly improving.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I have โ€“ I now eat mainly a vegetarian diet and make conscious food choices as the global food system has the biggest impact on climate change and biodiversity loss. I also try not to waste where I can โ€“ whether that be food, energy, resources and buy environmentally conscious or second hand clothing and products.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think the culture of consumerism has a big impact on understanding the climate crisis. Having easy access to anything you could want at affordable prices by a click of a button is still novel, and not many people will understand the multitude of impacts. I think it’s up to businesses to be more responsible so they can help to influence everyday life choices. 

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

If you eat meat, try to cut that down to 2/3 meals a week choosing good quality options – share veggie and vegan options with family and friends. Buy second hand when you can โ€“ it means they come preloved. Donโ€™t waste energy โ€“ turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Make gifts instead of buying them, and ask your workplace what they are doing to be a sustainable organisation. Sustainability is accessible to everyone โ€“ you just need to know where to look for information and support. 

You touched on representation and developing a POC (people of colour) network group with other charities. Can you tell me more about this and why itโ€™s particularly important for there to be more representation in the environmental industry?

The environmental crisis affects everyone on a local and global level, which means all voices need to be heard.

Itโ€™s hard to engage with issues when you donโ€™t see yourself reflected, and having diverse thoughts and perspectives, particularly in the charity sector which has a history of paternalism, is so important in taking the movement forward.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

Keep fighting. No matter what age you are, you can be an activist. Also the importance of self-care when learning/working on these issues, as they can weigh down. Lastly, your voice matters and is your power!

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

Recently, it has been the lack of response to racism. It really made me aware of power and privilege, and how it shows up in your life. More than that, it was just deeply saddening to see the effect it had on my friends, family, colleagues and community. 

Connect with Poonam on Instagram and LinkedIn

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