The Classy Awards Fellowship Program gives those interested in social entrepreneurial endeavors a chance to engage with top leaders and innovators from around the world. Classy Awards Fellows work with the Collaborative and Classy Awards team to gain expertise in their sector and then apply their newfound knowledge, unique perspective, and creativity as a voting member of the Leadership Council.
When I arrived in San Diego for the 2014 Classy Awards ceremony, I was very excited to meet the other Fellows. We had communicated for months through email and Skype sessions. Although our conversations were brief, I was able to read the blog posts that each Fellow had published. I read about issues and innovations within various social sectors such as Environmental Protection, Human Rights and Social Justice, and Educational Advancement.
For example, I was moved by Rebecca Naliaka’s article, “Addressing Solid Waste Management: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Respond.” Rebecca, the Environmental Protection Fellow, included a personal dialogue about her experience in Nairobi where she spearheaded the Eco-Women for Sustainability project, designed to empower women in slum areas of Nairobi through sustainable waste management initiatives. The concept of addressing social and environmental issues with the aim of long-term sustainability is commendable. In the past, I have encountered passionate individuals, including myself, that attempt to “solve” a social problem but lack a crucial component—sustainability. It was refreshing to learn about Rebecca’s approach and consider it for my own future projects.
In my time as a Classy Awards Fellow, I was introduced to projects that positively disrupt current systems and sustain long-term change. From my perspective, these projects seem to share a common “resilience factor.” Individuals involved with such projects take a significant amount of time to carefully analyze the social issues at hand. They consider the complications in our society that create social, environmental, or in my case, animal injustices. They consult all stakeholders impacted by the issue, and develop a plan that can function in a feasible and sustainable manner, and adapt to future perturbations.
Furthermore, they connect agencies within different social sectors to collaborate and address common concerns. I believe professionals, students, and volunteers within the animal welfare sector have come to recognize the need for inter-collaboration to progress the state of non-human animals. For example, Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and 2014 Leadership Council member, suggests a need for a partnership between animal protection and environmental conservation.
“I’d really like to see people who are interested in animal protection work closely with those who are devoted to environmental and conservation issues to promote the rapidly growing interdisciplinary and international field of compassionate conservation.” — Marc Bekoff
The Classy Awards provides a platform for individuals of different sectors to connect and discuss potential areas of collaboration. This builds interdisciplinary connections within social spheres that will strengthen and evolve existing projects, in addition to sparking new ideas.
The voice of youth is typically ignored or overlooked for many reasons. However, recent movements inclusive of youth opinion, such as the Classy Awards, are challenging this pattern.
During the Classy Awards, the Fellows and Leadership Council brought this concept home for me. For example, Ahtziri Gonzalez, the Hunger and Poverty Relief Fellow, and I discussed the connections between food insecurity and animal welfare issues. I was truly humbled by her interest in my sector, and realized that my future as an animal advocate should involve plenty of discussions with individuals external to animal issues. The Classy Awards weekend provided me the opportunity to engage with professionals, both in and outside of animal welfare.
As any student or young professional can relate, there are many barriers to involving your voice in certain discussions. The voice of youth is typically ignored or overlooked for many reasons. However, recent movements inclusive of youth opinion such as the Classy Awards are challenging this pattern. During the round-table event, I can recall discourse with Leadership Council members, such as Dr. Aysha Akhtar, Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and 2014 Leadership Council member. Dr. Akhtar not only introduced me to the crossover between animal well-being and public health, but also welcomed me to share my experiences as a student and a woman in science. It was encouraging to have my opinion valued, and learn that accomplished individuals (with regards to advocacy and education) are not immune to encountering obstacles.
Since the Classy Awards, I completed an MSc in Animal Welfare and Behaviour at the University of Guelph. I sought this academic institution as it houses the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW), which is described by director Dr. Tina Widowski as, “drawing strength from having people with different perspectives, different talents, and different approaches to the consideration of non-human animals.” As the Fellowship and Leadership Council highlighted, it’s important to involve several perspectives when generating new ideas and developing innovations. I believe future Fellows will find their plans altered to some extent by their experience with the Classy Awards Fellowship program. Whether it is considering graduate studies, gaining new insights, or taking time for self-reflection, participation in the Fellowship guarantees a thought-provoking process.
Lindsay Nakonechny has a Master’s of Science (MSc) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare from the University of Guelph and was a 2014 Fellow.