Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Collins.
Hi Olivia, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am the Senior Director of Programs at the CLEO Institute. Born and raised in rural Canada, an hour north of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains, I’ve lived in many places before settling in Miami in 2017. I have over 15 years of experience in the environmental field. My career has taken me all over the world doing everything from natural building projects in New Mexico, to grassroots community development in Oakland, California, to sustainable development in Africa, to community education in India and more. I received my bachelor’s degree in Social Justice & Sustainability from San Francisco State University in 2010, and in 2014, I completed my master’s in Environmental Impact Assessment at Concordia University in Montreal. As Senior Director of Programs, I help oversee and execute most of CLEO’s outreach programs that reach a diverse audience. I also provide a lot of climate trainings to help people understand how the climate crisis is impacting their daily lives and what steps they can take to better prepare for future challenges.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The road has never been smooth. It’s been a winding journey, not always knowing where I would land or whether I was making the right move. Moving from Canada to the US, then back to Canada and back to the US again, I’ve had to uproot and start over many times. This creates many challenges but also helps build confidence and strength without even realizing it. With an incredibly supportive family and by following my own instincts along the way, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The best thing about the work I’ve been able to accomplish is that it’s touched on so many different aspects of environmental work. I’ve had the privilege of engaging with people all over the world on so many projects, each addressing a very unique issue in the context of the climate crisis and the environment. So even though there were many challenging times where I found myself in between jobs, not knowing where what my next step would be, through grit and determination, I’ve managed to gather a wealth of knowledge. Now that I’m a little older and have more perspective, I see my diverse background as a huge asset to the work I do. Every little piece contributing in its own way to my daily work.
Working in this field can also be challenging for one’s mental health. It requires a sustained effort to stay informed while also staying positive. Everyday, we have to find ways to balance hope and good news with the devastating news around climate change. Knowing when to tune in and knowing when to tune out becomes a delicate dance. I think working with an incredible team and an incredibly inspiring community has taught me valuable work lessons, but also life lessons. And it has contributed to helping create that balance that is so needed.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
The CLEO Institute is the only nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Florida that is exclusively dedicated to climate education & advocacy. Our mission is educate and empower communities to demand climate action, ensuring a safe, just, and healthy environment for all. Founded in 2010 by Caroline Lewis, for the past decade CLEO has been at the forefront of the climate justice movement as one of the first organizations to shed light on critical climate justice issues as well as the science behind climate change such as rising sea levels, extreme heat, etc. Our programs engage different audiences with the goal of moving the needle on climate policy and seeing positive, equitable change in our communities both at the local and state level.
My role has changed significantly since I first started at CLEO when I began as a volunteer, but as Senior Director of programs, I help oversee all of our programs, and I help manage our program managers. I also spend a lot of time on multi-partner collaborations. My favorite part of my job is being a part of these incredible partnerships that CLEO is engaged with. We work across sectors with universities, other nonprofits, municipalities, community leaders, etc. and each of these collaborations is doing incredibly important work at the forefront of the climate crisis, mobilizing action around serious issues like extreme heat, the expansion of clean renewable energy, mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions and helping our communities become more resilient in the face of climate impacts.
My role has allowed me to connect with so many people in our community, working at the intersection of climate and related issues. My network is huge and I think this collaborative approach really reflects not only the interdisciplinary nature of the climate crisis but the fact that there is no “one solutions fits all” when it comes to global warming. We have to work with a suite of solutions and approaches to combat climate change, given the intensity and gravity of the problem. And that is precisely what makes my job interesting and so rewarding. I get to work with people from diverse backgrounds, different ages, different professions, different political viewpoints, all of whom have very different life stories; each as important as the next, in making sure that we are on the right track when it comes to pushing equitable climate solutions and equitable climate policies.
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Image 1. Me holding the t-shirt with the little girl: Jorge Castillo Photography Image 2 Me at the Rally holding the climate justice sign: Mikey Adams Image 3 me and the two little girls with CLEO shirts on: CLEO Image 4 Selfie at the rally: CLEO Image 5 Me with female participant holding solar puff light: Jorge Castillo Photography