Melinda Kramer graduated from WashU in 2003 with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Studies. In addition to working with various NGO’s, such as CARE International, Pacific Environment, and the Natural Capital Institute, Melinda is best known for her founding of The Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), a nonprofit that seeks to foster sustainability while also empowering women and indigenous populations around the globe.
Jacob Plotkin, an intern with the Office of Sustainability, spoke with Melinda to learn more about her professional career and gain further insight into how WashU has helped bring her to where she is today.
This is the final section of a three-part interview with Melinda on her journey through the world of sustainability. You can find the first part of this interview series here. In this section, we discuss the impact that we can all make in our daily lives.
How can everyday people living in America help efforts to support the rights of women and indigenous peoples?
One of the biggest hurdles to creating and supporting movements for change is awareness. Women have been leading our movements to protect the earth and our communities for generations. Learn about their leadership, and why it’s critical that we all act now to stand alongside them to face some of our most pressing ecological concerns. Some of my favorite reads and resources on women’s leadership and environmental issues include : Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, Wonder Girls: Changing Our World, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Drawdown and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
- Connect: Start a club or teach a class at your school that focuses on the critical intersection of women and environment. Grow the movement. Invite speakers like Vandana Shiva, or local Indigenous women leaders in your region, to share about their journey, leadership, and ways they could use your on-the-ground support.
- Share: Social media is a powerful tool that we each have at our fingertips. Use it to build bridges across communities, engage in local efforts, and share inspiration and knowledge. Recently, we’ve been loving this interactive report that came across our feed from UN Women on how climate change is a women’s issue.
- Create Community: Attend local events. Attend national events if you’re able. From gatherings in community centers and city council meetings, to movement-wide events like the People’s Climate Movement or the Women’s March. Make your presence count. And when you go, listen closely for ways you can take even further action.
- Support Women-Owned Businesses: One of the ways we create sustainable change in our work is by training women to be environmental entrepreneurs. Research shows that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families. Where are you purchasing from? Use your buying power to support women-owned businesses in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s one idea to get you started: buy produce from small-scale farmers in your region.
- Go Green: Do what you can to understand and reduce your ecological footprint. Then try to do a little more. These seemingly small steps trickle down to have a huge impact by letting corporations know that you don’t support single use plastic bags or bottles that pollute our water and land, GMO seeds and dangerous pesticides that poison the earth and harm small-scale farmers, or fracking and oil pipelines that endanger both the earth and Indigenous women. Wondering what your carbon footprint is? Check out this cool tool to calculate it.
- Join the team: Many local women-led organizations that are doing great work need a lot of help. Do you have graphic design skills to offer? Are you a social media savante? Or maybe you have every afternoon free? Donating your time and skills can do a lot of good, and get give you an insider’s look into the issues you’re passionate about.
- Work at the Intersections: Consider ways that your career path can serve, or does serve, women who are on the frontlines of environmental crises. The intersection of issues these leaders find themselves at is often invisibilized — struggles that are considered “women’s issues” go unaddressed by the environmental movement, and struggles are considered “environmental issues” go unaddressed by the women’s rights movement. But as Audre Lorde said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
- Know when to speak up and when to step back: Most of all, it’s important to center the voices of women, particularly frontline women and women of color. Let them take the stage. Or, if you are a woman from a frontline community, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your story.
What is your advice for WashU students interested in pursuing careers in sustainability?
It’s all about sustainability right now. In fact, it’s all about regeneration. The work of our time, the work of your generation, will be to find the best ways for humans to live on this planet so that its bounty can provide for generations to come. We are on a dangerous path as a species, entering uncharted territory in terms of climate disruption, habitat destruction, and species decline. We are already seeing the social unrest that surfaces when land, water, and food are insecure, and if we don’t act–from every vantage point, from every sector, from every nation– it will only get worse. There is no career path that doesn’t require building in sustainability. It is the most important work we can do, and it will define what this world looks like faster than we think. If you wonder if your small actions will make a difference, think of Wangari Maathai who started with a small tree farm and a burning passion to transform destruction into beauty. We are all on the frontlines of climate change, and we all have what it takes to turn things around.