Many of us like to dream about changing the world and having an impact on public goods. But how do you take the first steps towards turning that honourable goal into a reality?
To answer that question, the EWOR team spoke with Eleonore Poli, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, and her role in public goods. With a background in mechanical engineering, Eleonore has explored a variety of interests, ranging from sports to climate change. She’s an expert in materials and metallurgy and serves as an analogue astronaut. In recent years, she founded several projects including EcoFashion, COVID-19 Crisis projects, CHASM, and the Climate Clock Project.
Behind Eleonore’s many credentials are two core values driving each of her career choices and initiatives: the importance of sustainability and creating a positive social impact. She told us, “If you can impact one person in your life, you’ve already been successful.” That attitude combined with the required know-how make for an effective recipe to tackle societal problems.
In this article, we will discuss three of Eleonore’s projects to illustrate how to contribute to public goods, otherwise known as products and services for society, in meaningful ways.
Get Involved in Scientific Research
As someone with an interest in aerospace, Eleonore joined a Swiss aerospace association in 2011. Her post-graduate studies led her to Cambridge, where she stumbled upon an ad about becoming an analogue astronaut.
But what exactly is an analogue astronaut? What’s their purpose and responsibility?
Eleonore explained that analogue astronauts take part in simulated space missions here on earth. They’re isolated from society in unusual habitats for an extended period to conduct experiments and be assessed biologically and psychologically. The idea is to better prepare processes and equipment for space missions.
This involvement in science, even if it’s not typically part of your professional career, is a great way to contribute to public goods.
Enter and Create Spaces with Peers
There is strength in numbers. It’s a simple truth that applies to activism and contributions to public goods as well. If you don’t know where to start, look towards others who share your interests and goals. They will help guide you towards resources, solutions, and boost your motivation.
One of Eleonore’s recommendations is for young people to join Global Shapers. It’s a network of young activists with nearly 500 hubs in cities around the world. She’s been a part of this organisation for years and described it as a network to help you turn ideas into reality.
Young people join Global Shapers’ hubs to tackle local problems linked to sustainability and equality. There are initiatives to empower women, encourage sustainable clothing and merchandise, combat poverty, and much more. In times of urgent crisis, Global Shapers speeds up initiatives to help those in need; for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Global Shapers community serves as a beginner’s introduction to the relationship between social impact and business, according to Eleonore.
However, she shared her insider’s perspective on young entrepreneurs who want to join the organisation and expect swift start-up support. “If you arrive at the Global Shapers with a business idea, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to contribute,” she said. “It’s just not the right structure.”
That structural challenge doesn’t mean young activists with brilliant business ideas won’t benefit from this network. Some initiatives can be turned into start-ups later on. By tackling local problems with an experienced team by your side, you’ll learn useful skills and deepen your understanding of the challenges of a charity-based initiative.
If you’re a young person fighting for social justice and sustainability, the Global Shapers are an excellent place to get started.
What if you’re passionate about something, but there isn’t a community or organisation for it yet? Eleonore’s CHASM project illustrates one simple solution to that issue. If it doesn’t exist yet, create a network yourself.
After joining the analogue astronaut programme, Eleonore met other participants in analogue missions around the world. However, she identified a lack of public information and databases that connect analogue space missions.
That’s how CHASM, or Community of Human Analogue Space Missions, was born. In collaboration with the Mars Society UK, Eleonore advocated for a community where analogue astronauts could connect. With workshops and an accessible database, CHASM is a practical and effective solution to improve efficiency and make an impact in the aerospace field.
If you’re motivated and possess leadership skills, consider this path of pushing for communities of like-minded people. “If you have an idea, and you believe it’s the right thing to do, just go for it,” Eleonore stressed. “You will find amazing people around the world that can share this vision and help you get up in the morning because you’re fighting for something you believe in.”
If you identify a problem or a way to improve a situation that would contribute to public goods, create a space for peers to work together.
Start a Non-Profit
Climate change is a divisive problem that affects everyone. Yet, there are climate change deniers, those that have given up hope, and others who succumb to climate anxiety. Eleonore is part of a fourth group of people who feel that anxiety and use it to fuel their active fight against climate change.
Concern for our future drove Eleonore to create Climate Clock, a non-profit project to provide education and spread awareness about climate change. It’s designed to be accessible to the public and share information from reliable sources.
Eleonore described her experience with Climate Clock as something that shows how a project can grow organically. She mentioned an urgency and passion for something bigger than the team working on it.
If you’re looking for a challenging but rewarding project to create a positive impact on social goods, start a non-profit initiative like Climate Clock.
For an in-depth conversation about non-profits with Eric Steinberger, visit our article “How to Start and Scale a Non-Profit Organisation.”
Start-up vs. Non-Profit
As someone who’s been involved with both start-ups and non-profit initiatives, Eleonore has learned valuable lessons on the difference between the two.
Start-ups are product-oriented instead of addressing a local or societal problem. This core goal is the main difference in her approach of the two. “You are driven by social impact, not by market,” Eleonore said about non-profit initiatives. “It’s a different mindset.”
During her work at a start-up with a geologist, Eleonore gained insights into the different roles within a project. She shared her findings about the team relationships with us: “At a start-up level, it’s really important that you become friends. You can’t just be colleagues. You need to trust each other and learn about each other on a different level.”
Whether you’re interested in founding a start-up or non-profit, it’s important to know the different motivations. In both cases, you and your colleagues work towards growing together as a team to meet your goals.
Eleonore’s Advice on Leadership and Teamwork
If you want to change the world, it’s a big plus if you have leadership skills and strive to be a good teammate. Eleonore learned those lessons during the various projects she’s been a part of. With Climate Clock, her manager position demands guiding the team as the leader. “Sometimes as a manager, you have to realise when your team is losing sight or losing motivation,” she explained of her responsibilities. “You have to give them what they need so that a project can come forward.”
Whether it’s Global Shapers initiatives or independent projects, Eleonore knows the value of democratic processes. Teamwork is part of each of these projects, and being a good teammate or leader determines your success. Trust in each other’s abilities and qualities is crucial, according to her. “You can use the brain of other people to create a better project,” she said. “You alone cannot do everything – you need other people’s resources and ideas to succeed.”
As a leader, Eleonore also realised the importance of knowing exactly what you demand of your employees or team members. She built the Climate Clock website herself at first, with little to no prior knowledge of web design. It was a circumstantial necessity. This experience taught her the challenges of a task that she would usually delegate to someone else. A good leader understands the demands and details of every task to a degree, according to Eleonore. Without that hands-on knowledge, there could be efficiency or communication problems.
Given her experience with the Global Shapers, this principle is present in their initiatives and hubs as well. Local problems present unique challenges and demand creative and unique solutions. Only locals with hands-on experience and knowledge of the circumstances can find the best solutions.
Final Thoughts for Improved Society Through Public Goods
Eleonore’s projects showcase how someone can channel their passions into impactful initiatives that help a local community or public goods at large. Still, she remains a realist and knows that success isn’t guaranteed. “Your project will not always come to completion,” Eleonore reminded us. “But the fact that you started it gives hope to other people.”
Beyond creating hope, Eleonore believes in every conversation about your passions having the potential to inspire others. If your thoughts contribute to somebody else’s initiative, that’s a win in itself. This attitude not only helps deal with roadblocks and failures, but it also inspires motivation to continue fighting.