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Trailblazing: Building a Culturally-Relevant, Sustainable Business

We first met Atiya Wells when we visited her site to learn more about the BLISS Meadows Project. We were blown away at the progress she had made, especially considering she has a full-time job as a pediatric nurse! Atiya's commitment to sustainability at the ecological, economic and cultural levels is nothing short of inspiring.

We loved taking the time to ask her a few questions about her journey to date, and invite all of our readers to get involved in her incredible mission! Be sure to check out her latest spotlight feature in this month's En Root!

Happy reading.

What does sustainable business mean to you? As a non-profit, environmental, community-based organization, sustainability takes on many forms for us. For a non-profit, a sustainable business means a business that can maintain without grants or other financial support. As an environmental organization, we focus on ecological sustainability, and ensuring our business practices are Earth-friendly. Finally, as a community-based organization, we aim to ensure that our neighbors are educated on the impact we have on the environment, and how can have reciprocal relationships with nature.

At OutGrowth, we are committed to giving access. Talk to us about your take on the importance of creating and supporting sustainable businesses, and how you believe this concept of access plays a role. Historically, the environmental movement has always been dominated by the privileged White majority. “Giving” access to someone means you know you hold the power to grant it. What we are doing at Backyard Basecamp, as a Black-led organization, is working toward shifting that power dynamic in relation to the environmental sector. Our work focuses on centering and amplifying the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and empowering them to reclaim their space in environmental landscape. Rather than promoting patriarchal capitalism that continues to exploit the planet and people in the name of profit, Backyard Basecamp aims to create a business model that dismantles the construct of exclusionary power structures, and replants the seeds to our ancestral indigenous ways of knowing.

Tell us about a pinnacle point or moment when your experience with a sustainable business had an impact on your personal or professional life. Learning about organizations like Soul Fire Farm, who farms in relationship with the Earth, and Off Grid In Color, who homesteads from a tiny house, and Indigenous ReGeneration made me cognizant of small organizations doing this work, showing me that it is feasible for POC groups to own and operate a sustainable business.

How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook? I had not come across culturally-relevant sustainable businesses prior to them, and it fueled my fire to be the face I felt was missing in this realm.

What are your top three pieces of advice for students and professionals who are looking to find ways to support sustainable businesses? How can they approach engagement thoughtfully? 1. Sustainability is so interdisciplinary that you can’t come from one silo. Engagement must be approached holistically.

2. Don’t come in with a savior mindset. Ask what we need, and allow a few conversations for us to tell you where you are most needed.

3. Make sure that your values are in line with our organization's core values.

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? Don’t follow the beaten path, blaze your own trail.

What is your favorite quote? “The white man, preoccupied with the abstractions of the economic exploitation and ownership od the land, necessarily has lived on the country as a destructive force, an ecological catastrophe, because he assigned the hand labor, and in that the possibility of intimate knowledge of the land, to a people he considered racially inferior: in this debasing labor, he destroyed the possibility of meaningful contact with the Earth. He was literally blinded by his presuppositions and prejudices. Because he (The White Man) did not know the land, it was inevitable that he would squander its natural bounty, deplete its richness, corrupt and pollute it, or destroy it altogether. The history of the white man’s use of the earth in America is a scandal.” – Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound, 1989

Based on your professional experience, what are the top three career competencies that you believe can be gained/developed from more fully engaging with sustainable businesses? In other words, sustainable business are ideal spaces for developing which types of transferable career skills? 1. Community Leadership

2. Interpersonal Skills

3. Systems Thinking

What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2020? As a fledgling organization, our focus for 2020 is on establishing our social capital and maintaining a stable ecosystem on our land. At this time, we’re not focusing on scaling up for economic or organizational growth. Rather, we are focused on scaling out to maintain our presence in and meet the needs of our community.

Atiya Wells is a pediatric nurse and the Executive Director of Backyard Basecamp, whose love for nature was sparked on a spontaneous hike. She has since dedicated her free time to ensuring Black and Brown people feel empowered to reclaim green space for their communities.


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