An Inside Look at the Green Corps Fellow Program

Jan 29, 2020
Joshua (front row, far right) with his cohort at the State Capitol in Denver, CO, where they participated in lobbying meetings advocating for a bill that would ban polystyrene containers

The Green Corps Fellowship Program is the country’s most respected training program for environmental organizers. Green Corps offers a yearlong, paid training program that prepares young professionals and recent graduates for a career in environmental organizing. 

The program involves eight weeks of intensive classroom training with environmental organizers and leaders and offers hands-on experience with 3-5 real campaigns across the country. After completing the program, fellows will be connected to groups that are looking to hire full-time staff. Thanks to Green Corps’ rigorous training program and the great need for trained organizers in many social change organizations, Green Corps organizers are often able to find professional positions immediately after completing the program.

We enjoyed talking to Joshua Swift, a current Green Corps organizer, who gave us an inside look at the program and some great application tips.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Green Corps Fellowship?

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for the outdoors and felt a special connection with the environment. I grew up on a farm, and I spent much of my early life outdoors and around animals. As I got older, I continued to love being outside and admiring the wildlife. I started hiking, camping, and taking a more active role in learning about the environment. With that learning came the scary realization that much of what I loved in the natural world was under threat because of the various impacts humans have and continue to have on their surroundings. Right away I knew I needed to be part of the solution, and I started to get involved at my high school and in my community to organize events and initiatives that could help promote awareness and positively impact our environment. 

During my time at university, I continued to get involved in efforts to educate, advocate and promote sustainability. I always acknowledged that I could only make a limited impact on my own, but I believed if I could inspire others, our impact could grow. It was during that time in university that I realized the power that a group of people can have when they work together. When I heard about Green Corps, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for: an opportunity to learn how to strategically build a campaign from the grassroots up that would have a real impact on some of the greatest issues we face. 

2. What is a typical week like for a Green Corps Fellow?

One of the things I have enjoyed the most about Green Corps is that there really isn’t a “typical week.” Each part of the campaign is different, which allows you to learn a lot of different skills and gain a wide variety of experiences. However, there are some basic components of each campaign:

  1. You start with the recruitment drive and enter the community. During your first few weeks on the ground of a new campaign, you will be researching and learning as much as you can about the community you will be organizing in. You will also start to spread the word about your campaign. This includes meeting with community leaders, attending and speaking at meetings of local or like-minded groups, making class presentations at local universities, petitioning and tabling in the community, phone banking, and more. During this time, you will start to meet people interested in your campaign and discuss how they can get involved. This is also when you start to train your first volunteers and hire interns. It’s exciting to see the campaign grow every week!  
  2. After learning about the community, spreading the word about your campaign, and recruiting your first volunteers and interns, you will have your kick-off meeting to officially launch your campaign. The kick-off meeting lets people know what the campaign will look like going forward and how they can help. This is your opportunity to inspire a room full of people to get involved and to amplify the positive impact the campaign will have on their community and beyond. 
  3. After the kick-off meeting, you’ll be training new volunteers and working with your team to plan, recruit and run events and workshops designed to help spread the word about the campaign and get more people involved. Together, you will spend the next several weeks working towards your campaign’s goals. These vary by the campaign, but examples include getting petitions, coalition group sign-on, media hits, lobbying/advocacy meetings, training, workshops, and large events. 

Although no week may look the same during your Green Corps year, you can always expect to have weekly team calls with the other Green Corps Fellows working with your campaign partner, and planning calls with your supervisor. I really enjoy our team calls because I get to hear about what all of my Green Corps colleagues are up to around the country, which helps me realize how big of an impact we are all making! 

Joshua (third row from the top, first on left) with his Green Corps cohort in Denver, CO at the end of their August training

3. What types of campaigns were you involved in as a Green Corps Fellow and how did the program help you make a positive impact?

One of the best aspects of the Green Corps program is the variety of campaigns you get to work on and learn from. In a typical year, each organizer works on 3-5 different campaigns in different cities. 

My first campaign was in Washington State with the Audubon Society, a national organization that works to protect birds and their habitats. In 2016, the “Birds and Climate Report – Climate 2.0” was released. The scientific report showed that two-thirds (389 out of 604) of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. In Washington State, the single biggest emitter of carbon, at about 46%, comes from the transportation sector. In order to combat that, my campaign aimed to build grassroots support for a Statewide Clean Fuel Standard. It was a public engagement campaign in one of the most politically important regions of the State, Snohomish County. The campaign taught me a lot about the importance of coalition building, specifically with local organizations and small businesses. Together, we were able to run events, and activist training, and spread our message in the media. 

For my second campaign, which I am currently working on, I moved to Philadelphia to work with the Climate Reality Project, which I have been organizing on campus at the University of Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania is such an important state in the upcoming federal election, our aim is to engage as many students as possible and to spread the word about how important 2020 is for the climate. Together, we will be engaging hundreds of young people to act on climate change and register to vote. 

4. What have you enjoyed most about the Fellowship so far?

The first thing that comes to mind is the impact it has allowed me to have on others. Looking back on my first campaign in Washington State, what I was most proud of was empowering people. Green Corps allowed me to go into a community, and listen, learn, and work to identify the skills and tactics I could train others on. During the campaign, I had interns, volunteers, and coalition partners from other organizations thank me for the training and organizing techniques I was able to share that would help them work on this campaign and future ones. 

Another part of the Fellowship that I have enjoyed is the mentoring I receive from my supervisor. I have to admit that when I started the Fellowship, I was worried that I wouldn’t have the skills or know-how to properly apply organizing tactics to be successful. The training we receive have been amazing, and my supervisor has constantly been there to help me use the skills I have learned strategically. I have no doubt that my supervisor has helped me improve as an organizer and has increased the impact I’ve been able to make during my campaigns. 

Joshua with other fellows at a lobbying meeting in the office of a State legislator in Denver, CO

5. What tips would you give others applying to the Green Corps Fellowship?

Do your homework:

If you want a career in the environmental or social change movement, there are lots of types of jobs you can do. I think it’s important you understand what being an organizer is like and ensure you want to do it. Read up on Green Corps and reach out to someone in the organizing field or alumni to hear from them what the job is really like. 

If you’re going to organize, you need to know why you are organizing. Personally, I applied to Green Corps because I knew the scientific argument had been won, I knew the solutions were available, and I believe that what we are missing is organizers – people who know how to inspire and build support from the grassroots up that changes the political and economic equations for people in power. By doing so, we can create the change we need. 

Be adaptable:

For others applying to the Green Corps Fellowship, I suggest being open to doing things you may have never done before or doing things differently than you’re used to. There were times when Green Corps taught me to do a tactic differently than I would have when organizing on my university’s campus. I quickly learned that doing something differently or something new may make me feel uncomfortable at first, but end up being more effective than I could have imagined. 

Joshua Swift grew up in the small town of Baxter, Ontario, and went to Western University, in London Ontario, Canada. He graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Environment and Health with a minor in Political Science and now works as a Green Corps Organizer. 

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved