The NationSwell Council is made up of social impact-oriented leaders and changemakers who are committed to pioneering solutions in order to better their communities — and the world around them. In NationSwell’s latest series, “Five Minutes With…,” we sit down with members of our community whose exemplary leadership deserves a deeper dive. Here’s what Jonathan Stott, Executive Director at EcoRise, had to share with us on biomimicry, youth leadership on climate, and community-based environmental alliances:

NationSwell: What does the future of nature-inspired innovation look like, and what can we do to ensure that that future is as equitable and inclusive as possible?

Jonathan Stott, EcoRise: There are so many different ways to answer this one, but for today, I’ll focus on organizational culture. Nature-inspired innovation invites all of us to critically examine our workplace cultures and consider how we might look to nature to reimagine what a healthy and inclusive organization can look like. It’s taking principles of biomimicry, for example, to reimagine decision-making as at the periphery of an organization, where decisions are informed by the stakeholders/customers/users/etc, rather than having centralized control and command structures, which concentrate power in ways that inhibit innovation and contribute to inequity.

NationSwell: How does the work you’re driving today help to build that future?

Jonathan Stott, EcoRise: We’re doing a lot of work at EcoRise to put this concept into practice, with one example being our new partnership screening process. Historically, like many non-profits, we didn’t have a tool or process to truly vet potential partners and evaluate the degree to which they are aligned with our organizational values, like equity. After many conversations with board and team, we created a rubric to guide us through this review and a new working group that uses the rubric to review — and, importantly, make decisions — on partnerships. As a result of this work, we’re being super intentional about who we work with and, in some cases, where we need to respectfully decline funding. I’m looking forward to sharing our rubric and approach with other non-profits in the months ahead.

NationSwell: What inspires or motivates you — personally and professionally — to do this work?

Jonathan Stott, EcoRise: At EcoRise, we engage K-12 youth as climate justice and sustainability leaders through a variety of educational programs. I’ve had the opportunity to see our students in action this spring in communities across the country. Recently, I was in San Antonio for our Youth Council for Climate Initiatives showcase, where students shared their policy proposals and projects to advance climate and resiliency goals in the region. One student group examined how the city could streamline its website and better target support services as part of the residential weatherization assistance program to reduce San Antonio’s climate footprint and promote housing equity. All of the student groups were amazing — I could have sworn I was listening to a team of consultants or graduate students. I left feeling hopeful and inspired — and eager to do more to support youth leadership on climate.

NationSwell: What are some promising signs from the impact you’re driving?

Jonathan Stott, EcoRise: We face an existential threat with climate change, and so it’s easy for me to go negative. But there are so many promising signs in the work we’re doing at EcoRise with the support of our partners. One project I’m particularly excited about is our systems change efforts, whereby EcoRise is working with local, regional, and national partners to advance the environmental education movement through large-scale data collection and visualizations. This project is called Gen:Thrive, and is publicly available here:

NationSwell: Finally, what are some of the challenges you’re facing? How can NationSwell’s social impact community of practice help you with those challenges?

Jonathan Stott, EcoRise: We’re not a huge non-profit, but we’re not tiny either. As a result of being somewhere in the middle, there are times when we need support in specific areas we are working in, where we don’t have the internal expertise (e.g. technical support for our GIS mapping work, human resources and legal expertise). We’re also seeking board members who can play the role of Community Connectors and Champions, helping advance our impact and build program alliances with community based non-profits in key regions including New York, Washington D.C, and Atlanta.

Jonathan Stott is the Executive Director at EcoRise, a nonprofit working to mobilize a new generation of leaders to design healthy, just, and thriving communities for all by elevating youth voices and advancing student-led solutions to real-world challenges. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch.