Fatima Ibrahim is an activist and organizer for grassroots climate awareness and direct action. Awarded the 2020 Global Citizen Prize: UK’s Hero Award, she is the co-founder and director of Green New Deal UK, a youth movement fighting for transformation of the economy to address the climate crisis and build a world in which all can thrive. She has worked with Avaaz, a web-based activist network, EU citizens movement WeMove Europe, and was one of the lead organizers of the People’s Climate March. Her writing has been published on the VICE platform, in Time magazine, The Independent and other media outlets.
During the Virtual Experience Series (VES), Ibrahim discussed the challenges of launching a new youth project during the pandemic and how to build team cohesiveness that stays on mission for greater impact.
PMI: What is the most challenging project you are managing right now?
Ibrahim: I am launching a new program called Green New Deal Rising, which is empowering young people between the ages of 16 and 35 to get involved in climate activism and demand action from their politicians. It's very challenging because we're doing this during a pandemic. We're also doing it only 18 months into the organization’s existence and we just rolled out two weeks ago. We have about 500 young people joining every week, which is more than we could have hoped for.
PMI: What's the most significant project you've ever worked on?
Ibrahim: That's a really great question because I've worked on some pretty incredible campaigns. The most significant project that I have worked on was in the run-up to the Paris Agreement, which is the only internationally binding agreement on climate change. Just before the conferences, I worked on the Global Climate March in 2015 that was getting people out into the streets around the world to put pressure on world leaders and make sure that they didn't come home without a global agreement signed. I was leading the London project and, at the end of it, we organized the biggest March in British history on climate change which was replicated across the world. It was complicated because it included many people, lots of coalition partners, complex budgeting and global coordination. The outcome we achieved was that leaders felt they had the eyes of the world on them as they walked into those negotiations.
PMI: While working on the Global Climate March, what was a key lesson learned?
Ibrahim: A key lesson I learned from the Global Climate March was that a major part of project management is building relationships with people, and it can be quite challenging, especially when you're working with people who have different objectives and it detracts from the work. Whenever there were problems, what unlocked those problems was to ask, “What is the best decision for us to take to achieve the metric of getting the most people out onto the streets?” The only way that you really work with people around projects is being aligned on the mission.
PMI: Now that the world is slowly recovering and re-emerging, what have you personally discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before?
Ibrahim: During the pandemic and even now, one of the things that I've realized about myself is that I'm quite resilient and my team is quite resilient. There's no way that in 2019, if you'd told me, “You will in a few months start an organization, there's going to be a major election, a pandemic, and you're not going to be able to leave your house for months on end,” I would have been able to say that I would have survived that scenario. We've been so much more resilient than I would have expected. Our organization has grown massively in that time and it's probably been the most successful year professionally that I've had so far. I learned that there isn't a challenge that I can't find a way through.
PMI: Can you give us one piece of advice to help our community manage projects better?
Ibrahim: One piece of advice I'd give to people is don't let unimportant things get in the way of impact. I'm definitely the type of person who is focused on output and finding the shortest route to our destination. We don't need months of planning; we just need rapid fire action. And I think that comes from my campaigning instincts—the world doesn't wait for us to be able to change things. There are actual events going on that we need to engage in. In project management, you need to take that same attitude where you're not doing things that are a time-suck, like unnecessary meetings. Focus on thinking about the most critical tasks and what is the shortest route to the destination. And once you've got outputs, you can test and you can tweak, but there's no need for long conversations about things that are basically assumptions. You can only really deal with things once they're out in the world. That's my approach to project management—let's be more agile and tweak when things are live.
PMI: What is your moonshot idea that you would love to assemble a team around and make reality?
Ibrahim: My moonshot idea takes inspiration from the school climate strikers. I want to organize a global day of strikes that includes adults who take action from their workplace. I believe this will have a meaningful global impact on the economy. There are many reasons why that would be difficult, but if we could withhold our labor power, I think we could really change the trajectory of climate ambitions from our leaders.
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Make Reality: Questions With Fatima Ibrahim (2021).