April 27, 2011 | By wonkum |
Congratulations to our May IMPACT Leader of the Month: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Chief Executive Officer of Green For All. Under her leadership, Green For All has become one of the country’s leading advocates for a clean-energy economy, and one of its most important voices on the intersection of economics and environment.
Phaedra has led Green For All to several groundbreaking policy victories at the federal, state, and local levels. At the federal level, she led a successful effort to include two key provisions in the House’s climate and energy bill: securing funding for job training, and guaranteeing broad access to clean-energy jobs.
Under Phaedra, Green For All has helped states like Washington and New Mexico pioneer state-level green jobs and energy-efficiency programs. And the organization is helping cities like Portland and Seattle craft groundbreaking energy-efficiency home retrofit programs that use innovative financing mechanisms and community agreements about job standards to cut energy bills, create green jobs, reduce pollution, and expand business opportunities.
Green For All is redefining the face of environmentalism. Through partnerships with popular artists such as The Black Eyed Peas, Drake, Wiz Khalifa and Wyclef Jean, Green For All is reaching new audiences about the benefits and opportunities of going green.
Prior to joining Green For All, Phaedra was a leader in California’s labor movement, heading both the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA. This has given her a unique perspective that has enabled her to bring labor, environmental, business, grassroots, and government leaders together in common purpose. Her ability to speak to all of these groups has made Phaedra one of America’s preeminent leaders on green jobs and green pathways out of poverty.
The scope and scale of Phaedra’s many achievements have won her wide praise and recognition. In 2011, The Grio recognized Phaedra as one of their 100 History Makers In The Making. In 2010, for the second year in a row, Ebony included her in its Power 150 and Essence named Phaedra one of the 25 Most Influential African in 2009 and one of the 21 Leaders of the New School in 2010. Black Enterprise Magazine honored Phaedra as one of their 2010, 40 Next: Emerging Leaders for Our Future. She has been featured in various outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Huffington Post, and on ABC, BET, CNN, MSNBC, and NBC.
Phaedra leads on numerous boards including serving as the Chair of the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, the Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change for the Joint Center, the Economic Policy Institute, the Leadership Council of California Forward, the Tipping Point Community Board, and the Partnership for Working Families. Phaedra serves as a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum.
INTERVIEW | Getting to Know Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
What inspired you pursue a career in environmental justice?
I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in a little town called Suisun which is in the SF Bay Area. Although my community was full of love and support, it was a tough place to grow up, in part because it was surrounded by industrial plants and refineries which polluted our air. Children throughout the neighborhood — including myself — suffered from asthma, yet our parents couldn’t move us to a cleaner and healthier environment simply because they couldn’t afford to.
I saw up close how poverty and pollution are linked, so rather than saying I pursued a career in environmental justice, you can say that it pursued me. I saw injustice on a daily basis. And now, I’m really fortunate to be in a position to do something about it.
After years in the labor movement, I got this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become CEO of Green For All, where I dedicate myself to helping build a clean-energy economy, one that both makes our communities cleaner, and creates new jobs — especially for those most in need.
I frequently think back to my upbringing, and work every day to ensure that children and parents don’t have to go through the same experiences that my community did when I was growing up.
What is the key to balancing your professional, philanthropic and social commitments?
The key for me and I think most who work in non-profit organizations is to remain focused on why we go to work every day: to help those who are shut out of the rooms where the deals and decisions are made. Too often, the circles of power get so caught up in who is winning and losing that they forget about the issues facing people in need. That’s why it’s so important for organizations like Green For All to serve as the voice for forgotten families and fight for their issues. We can’t leave any communities behind.
What is the biggest mistake young professionals make?
My biggest mistake came early in my career; I thought that being smart and being prepared were the same — they’re not. It doesn’t matter how capable you are; if you’re not ready to seize life’s moments, you’ll get nowhere. As people always say, success comes when preparation meets opportunity.
What advice would you give other young professionals who desire to excel in the nation’s capital? Specific ally, for other young women of color?
Creating networks are essential for success. That’s why it’s important to get out there and not only build relationships, but also build a community that supports and lifts each other up. It’s not enough for young professionals to get in the room; you’ve got to also help others follow you down that same path. That’s how true progress evolves.
What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding)?
I judge my success by the impact that Green For All has on others. There is no more rewarding experience than helping put a person back to work in a quality job that helps the environment. It simply doesn’t get better than that.
What’s next for you in your career? What should we look out for?
I will continue to help others make an impact. I’m proud to be working with so many agents of change and, together, we’ll ensure that the next chapter of the American story is greener, healthier and full of equal opportunity for all.
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Phaedra.