Origin Story Interview W/ Clover Hogan, Force of Nature

Origin Story Interview W/ Clover Hogan, Force of Nature

Brighter Future

 / 

Jul 5, 2023

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #climateleadership #youthempowerment #climateaction #climateactivism #YouthActivism #ForceOfNature #ClimateCrisis #ClimateAdvocacy #EnvironmentalActivism

Brighter Future

We’re joined by Clover Hogan, founder and director of Force of Nature.

Thank you so much for being here, Clover. Do you think you could introduce yourself a little?

Hi, my name is Clover Hogan. I'm a 24-year-old climate activist and the founder and executive director of Force of Nature. We’re a youth non-profit mobilising mindsets for climate action.

What are you trying to achieve with Force of Nature, and why does it matter?

I started the organisation a little over four years ago, intending to help young people navigate their climate anxiety and understand how to translate that into action. At Force of Nature, we've conducted research and found that over 70% of young people experience climate anxiety— or eco-anxiety, as it’s sometimes called.

We also co-led the largest-ever study into youth mental health and climate, interviewing 10,000 young people in 10 countries. We found that 56% of young people believe that humanity is doomed. What this research shows us is that young people everywhere care very deeply about the environment and the direction of global action toward it.

In 2019, we saw young people taking to the streets in huge numbers for climate strikes. That means something. But it's nonetheless extremely easy to feel powerless in the face of the climate crisis— and, particularly, our inaction toward it.

What we have is a situation where people are increasingly falling into despair, and decision-makers are just trapped in denial, sleepwalking through the ways of the old system even as science tells us categorically that we are hurtling toward a cliff of climate collapse. At Force of Nature, we help young people turn this extremely rational climate anxiety into action. We do that through programmes which we run for free around the world.

But critically, we recognise that it's not enough to help young people feel empowered. We must also equip them with the skills and expertise to take action. And we do that through training pathways: we train young people on how to speak in public, how to facilitate programmes that help their peers, and how to advise decision-makers.

When we've helped young people develop those skill sets, we place them at the heart of decisions affecting our future. We even help them directly engage with decision-makers through youth advisory boards within companies. Already, we've had some of our graduates begin to directly advise and counsel heads of state.

We place young people on global stages. In entering these spaces and giving voice to young people, in platforming them, we're changing the institutional mindset. So, if you want to think of Force of Nature's work, it's like two hands clapping. The left hand empowers this movement of young people prepared to take climate action, and the right hand brings those young people into spaces where they can mobilise mindsets and challenge the old business-as-usual thinking.

What part of your work is most fulfilling?

It’s extremely fulfilling just to see our vision turned into reality. I recently worked on our 2023 strategy with the director's team at Force of Nature and came across an older plan of action— one from four years ago. It was incredible to see that we had achieved everything we had set our minds to, and how much our thinking had evolved in how we can approach the problem, serve young people, and operate internally as an organisation at Force of Nature.

It was a one-woman show for the first year, and now we are an 11-person team. That growth has been incredible: not just in terms of numbers, impact, and how many people we're reaching, but also in terms of the individuals who make up this organisation.

We like to describe ourselves as a young, scrappy team, but we’ve all had to step up and learn so much about ourselves and each other. That’s also true of the broader community, which comprises over 850 young people worldwide. It’s just incredible to see.

What were your biggest challenges when you started, and what did they teach you?

On a personal level, I grew up in tropical North Queensland, Australia, where I fished frogs out of toilets and dodged snakes that hung from the ceiling. Fortunately, I had a deep connection with the natural world from a very early age. But the rug was pulled out from under me— and my perception of nature was seriously changed— when I discovered the world of documentary films about the human impact on the environment.

At age 11, I stumbled upon The Cove and An Inconvenient Truth. I was glued to my computer screen, watching footage of million-year-old forests getting bulldozed to produce palm oil and the results of ocean acidification, turning the Great Barrier Reef white with mass bleaching events.

I saw graphs projected by Al Gore that showed how rapidly we were consuming the earth and how adept we were at pretending otherwise. I felt an intense mix of rage, grief, frustration, and confusion. I couldn't understand why I hadn't learned about the climate crisis in school, or why we didn't discuss it at the dinner table when my parents watched the news. But more than anything else, I felt inspired by the people on the front lines reporting on these issues and taking action to solve them.

All I could think was, “I want to be one of those people. I want to dedicate my life to fighting these problems alongside others who share my passion.” The fire in my belly made me declare at every dinner that I wanted to become an environmentalist.

But then, I faced a real challenge: I didn't know what that meant. At that age, I didn’t have the experience, and I still needed to figure out what I was good at. When I thought about environmentalists, I thought about people riding zodiac boats out to stop whaling ships or climate scientists measuring data. But I thought I wasn't brave or smart enough to do those things.

My first challenge was understanding my role in this movement and what I could contribute. I found my passion in communication and started making films and telling stories. Then, I began public speaking. Through communication, I realised I could influence how people thought about environmental issues, and my passion and skill grew from there.

What I learned was that being an environmentalist requires a variety of skills and roles. We need a diverse range of people working in this movement. That was the first lesson I learned, and the first challenge I overcame.

When have you experienced your greatest “Aha!” moments?

Starting and running an organisation is a constant learning experience every day. It's a great crash course in understanding others and learning much about yourself.

One hard moment for our organisation came last year after COP 26. In Glasgow, our team was very burnt out and exhausted. We realised that the way we were working needed to be more sustainable. When I was in Glasgow I was doing six speaking engagements a day on average, and I made myself so sick that I lost my voice for weeks. I was out of energy, and we all returned to work feeling demotivated— particularly with the Glasgow conference not having delivered the desired results.

This was an important moment for us because we realised, coming together as a team, that we wanted to avoid inadvertently creating the patterns of the very system we're trying to change. We're trying to change this extremely extractive culture and exploitative system that tells us our value is in our productivity rather than simply being and existing as individuals. That is still a belief I'm trying to wrestle with and overcome within myself daily.

But we realised we could follow various templates of what a business should look like and how an organisation should be run. From those conversations emerged the concept of the four-day workweek, and our amazing team started to research it, looking at other organisations that had tested it out and what they had learned.

We did a whole research period that lasted about three months to prepare ourselves, then decided to pilot it. Sure enough, there were some challenges, as we didn't account for bank holidays. We fell flat on our faces when we tried to fit a five-day working week into three days. But all in all, we realised that the team was feeling better, more motivated, and had more time in the week to just be themselves and have lives outside of work.

We had the opposite problem of many organisations, as we weren't trying to motivate our team to be productive. As activists, we're also passionate, making it almost impossible for us to all switch off. It never feels like a nine-to-five. It always feels like our entire identities. So we had to think, “How do we build instructions to safeguard each of us as individuals?”

We decided to adopt the four-day work week permanently. The team is more effective, frankly more productive, happier, and in a much better place regarding well-being than we were coming out of Glasgow. So that was a big “Aha!” moment for us and an example of when we could take action on that moment.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur starting in the climate industry?

My piece of advice is this: impact comes from focus.

We can get a feeling of being overwhelmed in the face of the climate crisis. This feeling often stems from the belief that we have to tackle everything. Unfortunately, social media also reinforces this thinking, as we’re bombarded with information about various issues worldwide, like coral bleaching in Australia, wildfires in America, and droughts across the African continent. Knowledge of these disparate crises can be incredibly distressing, and we may spread ourselves too thin trying to address them all.

But if we look at any change maker in history who has truly influenced the world, we can see that their impact came from focus. Instead of tackling everything, they honed in on one issue and focused their efforts there. I cannot stress enough how important this is, especially when starting an organisation.

When I started Force of Nature, I thought we could run programs with young people, work with businesses and policy, run activist retreats, and produce a podcast all at once. However, this approach stalled me from being able to do any of those things effectively. We've since gone on to do all those things, but how we got started was by running school workshops to help young people move from climate anxiety to agency. We measured the impact of these workshops by running surveys at the start and end and then trained others to deliver them.

By focusing on one thing and doing it well, we expanded and grew Force of Nature into what it is today. So again, my advice is to avoid overwhelming yourself by trying to do everything at once. Instead, find a singular focus and aim to do that one thing exceptionally well. By doing so, you'll be able to create a proven case study that you can use to bring others on board or obtain funding or investment.

If there were one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

My message would be that the climate crisis is a symptom of many interconnected problems, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat and how we get around the places we live. And as with every problem, we need a solution. There’s no shortage of problems and solutions, but there is a shortage of people putting their hands up and doing something to solve them. We need people from all walks of life, all ages, and experiences to put their hands up and say, “This is the problem I want to wrap my hands around and do something about.”

I would invite people to ask themselves, “What is that one problem that ignites a fire in my belly? Is it food, fashion, the energy system, prison reform, or girls' education?”

There’s no shortage of problems. So, ask yourself that question and remember that you don't need to be perfect to start. We don't need a hundred people taking action perfectly, but millions of people doing it imperfectly. The pressure to be perfect or to have all the answers is a barrier to action that I see particularly among young people— but we need all of us.

We need to lean into our inconsistencies and imperfections and know that the most important prerequisite for taking action is not being an expert, having a degree, or even having experience beyond your own lived experience. Instead, the most important prerequisite is simply that you care.

That’s a great way of looking at things. To close out, I’ll ask this: Where did the name “Force of Nature” come from?

I've never told this story outside of my team, so this can be an exclusive for you: we still needed a name about two months into starting Force of Nature, and I was throwing things around, but nothing was sticking. Finally, my sister and I were talking about what we wanted to be remembered for, and I remember saying to her, “You know, I'd like to be remembered as a force to be reckoned with.” She sat up and said, “That's it! That's what you should name your organisation! Force of Nature.”

That's how it was born. I can’t take credit, of course. My sister, a writer and editor, came up with the name. But I love the name so much. It captures the essence of everyone in our team and every young person in our community, and we're going to inspire and catalyse into action.

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Clover, and elaborating on your mission to empower young people to solve the climate crisis. You and your organisation are the agents of change we need: if anyone’s going to save the world, it will be people like you.

If you’d like to learn more about Clover’s efforts, please visit Force of Nature at www.forceofnature.xyz.

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