After five years at the London Environmental Network, Executive Director Skylar Franke heads off to maternity leave this week. Here are a few of her reflections on the experience.
What drew you to the opportunity to work at the London Environmental Network?
I had been working in the environmental sector in 2017 at ReForest London, and had already grown to love the high-impact work and people from the sector. When the position became available at the London Environmental Network I was excited by the prospect of a new challenge. I would be the only staff and had to figure out how to make the Network thriving and stable with one year left of funding. I jumped in with two feet, and thanks to the strong connections in the sector and great mentorship from other environmental leaders we were able to build the organization to the stable nonprofit it is today.
How has the London Environmental Network grown over your 5 years of leadership?
The idea for the London Environmental Network came from ReForest London and Thames Talbot Land Trust, two very strong groups, who wanted to see the sector connected and thriving. What started off as 24 groups has grown to over 45 members, and the programming has exploded in the past five years. I’ve seen a real commitment locally to reducing emissions, improving biodiversity and engaging Londoners in the environmental sector.
There’s definitely been some ups and downs - COVID-19 impacted our sector greatly, and changes in governments have left agencies scrambling for funding. Overall though - our sector has steadily been emerging from the pandemic, and the general public has seen the huge value that nature has on their lives.
What are you most proud of about the London Environmental Network?
Shared leadership, growth and new collaborations.
Our strategic pillars are to Lead, Grow and Sustain the Network, and I think our team has excelled in all three areas. Our staff members lead by example, with personal commitments to net-zero homes and commutes, household waste and water reductions and greening our properties. We have committed to a Living Wage standard, implemented an equity, diversity and inclusion strategy and all staff undergo strengths based professional development training. We live what we preach - and I find the work of our team inspiring.
Our team has also grown our Network, programming and budget - and there’s always more projects to be completed than there is funding available. This demonstrates the need for more funding for the environmental sector if we are to truly move the needle on climate change.
As well - our team is constantly collaborating with new groups and sectors. We recently expanded our Green Economy London program into new regions because of the business appetite for sustainability. We also have started new energy reduction programming with Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and local residents. We completed two Depave Paradise projects this year - one with the Thames Valley District School Board and then another with the St. Thomas EDC. We know we need to work together to address our climate crisis - and we are eager to form new relationships to achieve this.
What is the most important thing you learned about leadership?
When one shines, we all shine. Our team is very supportive and we are always excited for each other’s successes. We use a strengths-based approach for our work, ensuring we have the right person with the right strengths completing various tasks - and this makes it easier for our team to get their work done.
What did the role teach you?
We can’t do this alone. Every success we’ve had as a team has been shared with other staff, Network members, funders and partners. We need more help and to continue working together to address the climate and biodiversity crises.
What is your greatest hope for the future of the London Environmental Network?
Our mission is to see London become one of the greenest and most resilient cities in Canada. When I tell people that - some are skeptical of that ambition. At the same time - when people interact with our staff and programs they leave feeling a sense of hope that such a future is possible. We offer practical solutions - and support Network members who make game changing projects happen.
I’d like to see the Network and our members continue to bring hope to our community - and help people envision a thriving, vibrant and sustainable city. It’s not only possible, it’s our only option.
Any last thoughts?
I’m very excited for this new chapter for the London Environmental Network. Marianne and Leah have been staff with the Network for the past 3 years and have shown their commitment to the environmental sector and strong leadership of our team. There are new projects coming down the line shortly - and I think the community will be really impressed what’s to come next.