Environmentally, My Dear Watson:  Exploring Effective Contemporary Grassroots Environmental Advocacy  In Contemporary Social, Spatial, Economic, and Political Relationships

by Jaclyn Adelson

Provenance of the research: 

  1. Title of thesis/research question: Environmentally, My Dear Watson:  Exploring Effective Contemporary Grassroots Environmental Advocacy  In Contemporary Social, Spatial, Economic, and Political Relationships
  1. Type of thesis: Masters
  1. University affiliation: University of Sussex
  1. Research timeframe: May – August 2022

1. Abstract/Summary: 

Canada lacks contemporary research into the role of nonprofits and charities,  formally known as the third sector, as agents of social change. This is  particularly relevant in the context of climate nonprofits and charities, who face  dwindling resources and social trust concurrent to increasing need. Neoliberal decentralisation describes this changing relationship as a reduction of the  state in social welfare and the emergence of decentralised municipalities in  their place.  

The third sector absorbs these new responsibilities under these systems  without sufficient autonomy or resources. Through competitive and rigid  funding processes that require quantitative returns to validate their efficacy  through this external funding, the third sector is not always well-suited to  provide non-qualitative results when the impact is social. This does not  diminish their overall value, but does not align with neoliberal goals that are  often explicitly numeric and financial.

Findings showed that the third sector must manoeuvre around restrictive  funder-specific requirements which risk mission drift. To support the third  sector’s efficacy and sustainability, grants and their requirements must allow for  qualitative evaluation and be adaptable to organisational priorities. Collaboration between government, funders and third sector organisations must increase to achieve understandings of capacity and aid adequate  resourcing. Decentralisation must support, not limit, autonomy for  municipalities and their actors. Lastly, governments must provide more information about funding and tax implications of its regulatory requirements  for effective decision making and sustainability planning.  

Full paper: https://docs.google.com/document/u/1/d/e/2PACX-1vS0TFm1P6EGR6C9jSd7ztfhnz7tjvkhbD2rGWeOs60OfHj7-coPk-WoyA3UFvLDpGQ1an4xmRluJjem/pub?urp=gmail_link

2. What were the most important or surprising findings of your work?

Despite the dependence from the state on the third sector, the study of  nonprofits and charities in climate action is and remains understudied. While  there is research pertaining to the third sector and social values, the primary  focus has thus far related to global freedom movements. There is sufficient  research to show how government dependency is increasing, but not enough  to show the best way to support these agents of change in climate action. 

The lack of formal academic discipline dedicated to the third sector and  climate action became more evident as the dissertation evolved. Similarly,  the lack of broader social inquest pertaining to the role of service deliverers  and the implications this will have on climate change mitigation

3. What did you struggle with during the research and/or writing process, and how did you overcome these issues?

Aside from getting my ethics approved to allow me to conduct interviews,  there was significant difficulty in narrowing down the core components of this  dissertation. As the field of nonprofits and climate mitigation is under-researched, there were many important findings that ultimately had to be  excluded before publication. 

Additionally, Toronto and Ottawa introduced strong mayor powers as I was researching, changing the nature of councillor-mayoral relationships, a focal point of my dissertation. Due to the timing of this political decision, I was unable to include it in my broader research despite its relevance. I suppose changing political circumstances are often experienced during academic inquest.

4. What are you doing now, and what are your plans for the coming year?

I am currently a Project Manager for Students Organising for Sustainability UK, a student led environmental education charity. I support UK-wide partner  universities on Student Switch Off, a program encouraging personal climate action within university accommodations. This program is impactful thanks to its targeting of water, electricity, and heat consumption and their relationship to  carbon emissions.  I recently completed my mentorship for Climate Future Labs, a program run  by Youth Challenge International helping youth across Canada execute  climate-focused community-based initiatives. I mentored one Calgary and one Halifax team on sustainable lifestyle programming and clothing swap coordination respectively. I look forward to continuing working in community climate mitigation to support  and help those who want to act.

5. Following the above, did your research impact those plans in any way?

My academic and personal interests have traditionally involved society and activism, although these goals have evolved and changed concurrent to the changing needs of our time. In addition to my masters dissertation, I focused on environmental politics during my undergraduate degree and earned a Certificate of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Management. As such, my current role blends my personal and academic interests, allowing me to continue interacting with these climate spaces.

6. Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking this type of research?

I firmly believe that the role of nonprofits in climate change and beyond is increasingly important to understand. These actors, agents, and collectives of change continue to make important impacts and need more formal academic support to help identify the efficacy of their existence.

Author Bio: 

Jaclyn’s professional and academic interests are fuelled by climate action and  change-making. She has earned three degrees which have all heavily focused  on the role of nonprofits and charities, global development, and climate change which have blended into her research topic. She is excited to continue pursuing a career in the environmental non-profit  sector and is interested by the relationship between global and local politics  and climate action.

Categories Student Work

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