Simran Sethi - Environmental Activist at The Green Brain

[quote style=”boxed”]I bring ideas to life by identifying what I can bring to a tension or challenge, finding the community of people who can support, teach and challenge me about said issue and putting in the sweat and tears to make my vision happen.[/quote]

Simran Sethi is a journalist, strategist and educator committed to an expansion of environmentalism that includes voices from the prairie, inner city and global community. Simran has served as guest faculty at the Presidio Graduate School and Poynter Institute and as an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. She also works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on brand development, social media training and citizen journalism outreach.

Simran is the founder and curator of the beta website Metamorphose, an interdisciplinary exploration of the personal and cultural dimensions of transformation. Named one of the top ten “eco-heroes” of the planet by the UK’s Independent and lauded as an “environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair and an “environmental woman of impact” by Daily Variety, Simran has contributed numerous segments to NBC Nightly News, CNBC, PBS, The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show and has been featured on the Sundance Channel, MSNBC and the History Channel.

Simran is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, winner of the bronze 2008 Axiom Award for Best Business Ethics Book. She has written about sustainability for The Huffington Post, Metropolis Magazine, Mother Earth News, and the Guggenheim Museum. She has been featured on NPR and is the host of the Emmy award-winning PBS documentary “A School in the Woods.” Simran has presented at institutions ranging from the Commonwealth Club to M.I.T.; keynoted conferences including the 140 Character Conference, the North American Association For Environmental Education conference and TEDx Plaza Cibeles; and moderated panels for the White House sustainability symposium GreenGov and Clinton Global Initiative University.

Simran has served since 2008 as an associate fellow at the Asia Society. She was also a fellow in the Poynter Institute’s Sense-Making project, a Ford-Foundation-funded program studying the integration of new media and democratic values. Simran holds an M.B.A. in Sustainable Business from the Presidio Graduate School and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Smith College. She is the 2009 recipient of the Smith College Medal, awarded to alumnae demonstrating extraordinary professional achievements and outstanding service to their communities. She is also the 2010 recipient of the American College Personnel Association Champion of Sustainability award for leadership on sustainability in academia, as well as the 2011 winner of the National Education Association Mobile Project Award.

What are you working on right now?

My background is in environmental journalism, and I am currently working on a fellowship proposal for a book on seeds. Seeds are so small, so buried, people don’t think enough about them. But they are the building blocks of our food supply, and they are being increasingly privatized and consolidated. My mission is to make seeds sexy.

Where did the idea for The Green Brain come from?

My reporting and TEDx talk on The Green Brain were borne out of my frustration and confusion over environmental engagement. I couldn’t understand how farmers and ranchers in the Midwest didn’t identify themselves as environmentalists. They grow our food!

The Green Brain explains this disconnect through an exploration of the psychological barriers to environmental engagement. My talk gives people tools on how to reach people who may not share their same political, geographic or socioeconomic backgrounds.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m embarrassed to admit I start my workday in bed. I check email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook while my head’s still on the pillow. It inspires me and gives me a head’s up on what the day will bring. Then, I turn on NPR, brew tea and take a few minutes to reflect before the headfirst plunge into the rest of the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I love this question because I am committed to engaging with the issues that I care about. I bring ideas to life by identifying what I can bring to a tension or challenge, finding the community of people who can support, teach and challenge me about said issue and putting in the sweat and tears to make my vision happen.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I don’t know if this qualifies as a trend, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of trust in relationships. I love digital platforms that go beyond sharing information and use community, culture and personal engagement to bring people together. Feastly and Good Eggs are two great examples.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I am fortunate to have had an amazing career. I would say as a journalist, I was a lousy cultural fit for academia. I learned that a fancy title, job security and status didn’t translate into happiness and job satisfaction. I am a freelancer now. I make less money and have no job security but go to bed every night feeling like the work I did mattered.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Absolutely nothing.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I make lists. Lots of lists. They help me clarify short-term and long-term goals and are incredibly revealing to reflect back on. I see what I roll over and eventually drop from lists. I learn what I spend my time doing and where my priorities really are.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I tried to teach a course on social media at a fancy journalism think tank during a time when many were still questioning the news value of Twitter and other social networks. Instead of holding my ground, I spent most of the seminar justifying my beliefs about the journalistic value of emerging media. I missed a great opportunity to educate educators who could then teach and empower young journalists. That awful day taught me to trust my skills and own what I believe in.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I make my living telling stories and helping empower non-profits to tell their own stories. In order to engage people, you have to understand what they care about. I don’t just mean figuring out your target audience. I mean understanding the psychology of how people process information.

We exist in “a finite pool of worry” (a term coined by Duke researchers Patricia Linville and Gregory Fischer). There is only so much we can worry about at one time. So if you want me to care about what you care about, you have to work within my existing cares or displace one of the concerns in my psychological pool of worry.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would return journalism to a place of fact-gathering and truth-telling. Information has the potential to change governments, move markets and transform culture.

I would start by reminding media outlets that their primary role is to serve the public interest, not shareholders.

Tell us a secret.

I can name almost every Real Housewife on every show.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?

I do a lot of international travel and work from my phone, so mobile apps are really important to me. Compass helps me make sense of Google Maps, Instagram allows me to document everything beautifully and WhatsApp keeps me connected to loved ones through free SMS, image and audio messages.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Investing: The Last Liberal Art talks about how investing can be enhanced through an understanding of disciplines including philosophy, sociology and fine art. It’s a terrific template for seeing modern business practices through various lenses.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Yesterday. My friend Matt makes me laugh every day.

Who is your hero?

I’m writing this on the death anniversary of my grandmother. I can’t remember a time when she didn’t assume the best of people. I strive to follow in her footsteps.

You’ve been a journalist, a consultant, a doula, a professor, a yoga teacher…What ties all these jobs together?

They’ve never felt disparate to me because my only touchstone has been to do what I love. One job informed the next. Being a yoga teacher made me a better college professor. And so on.

What drives you?

I think we all have a responsibility to do what we can to make this world a little better. I am fortunate enough to do what I love. So I will do it to the very best of my ability. Always.


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