5 unexpected lessons: volunteering to help save The Atlantic Rainforest

Over the past year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my values and purpose, having had an amazing opportunity to work on defining this with Executive Coach Clare Robinson as part of The Marketing Academy.It really helped me take a broader perspective and gain an understanding of what truly mattered to me.

Values of passion, authenticity and impact shone at the top and we worked together on how to channel these values through all aspects of my life.

I decided in 2021 I wanted to take action to do something that had a positive, purposeful impact on the world. Driven by my love of the natural environment, I wanted to find something that would burst my bubble (it can feel like a very small and cushy one sitting here in Tamarama) and to help me see things from a different point of view by stepping far outside my comfort zone.

I was lucky enough to secure a place on The International Exchange (TIE) program, and I have to say, it truly was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

During the application process, CEO Phillipa White reached out and shared a podcast where she interviewed a marvelously magnetic woman called Binka who was the founder of an NGO the upcoming TIE project was going to be focussed on helping. Binka was based in Brazil and had spent the last 20 years saving The Atlantic Rainforest. She shared this story that had such a huge and instant impact on me:

Once upon a time, there was a fire in the forest and all the animals were fleeing. All except the hummingbird. She was flying towards the fire with a drop of water in her beak. “Silly little bird,” shouted the eagle, soaring above her, “Don’t you realize you’ll never put out the fire all by yourself?” The hummingbird flew onto towards the fire and dropped the water. Then she looked up at the eagle. “You’re right,” she said, “I’ll never do it by myself. But I’m doing my part.”

In that moment, my desire for doing something purposeful dropped in from being a dream to a reality. I knew how I was going to do it. I applied to the TIE Accelerator Program.

Sitting in my little apartment, I got a fizzy feeling, I instantly felt goosebumps all over my body and knew this was a little sign from the universe that I was on the right path.

6 of us from all around the World were assembled to partake in a 6-week program where we would learn CPD accredited skills in International Development and How NGO’s work, at the same time as tackling a brief to help Iracambi create a sustainable way to generate revenue.

Our brief was simple: help Iracambi Rainforest Research and Conservation make the regeneration of The Atlantic Rainforest more attractive than its destruction.

I realised very quickly that simple doesn’t mean easy.

Over 6 weeks, we worked together to develop a strategy that would help attract long-term corporate partners. This would help Iracambi even out their cash flow and be less dependant on sporadic donations. We each invested a couple of hours a day on calls, researching and pulling together various parts of the project.

We developed a brand narrative, communications strategy and tiered sponsorship offering, housed within a prospectus for potential corporate partners.

The process was collaborative. Members from the Iracambi team would join our calls and feedback and input on what we were doing. This helped us ensure each part of the prospectus was created to set Iracambi up with something they could use long into the future.

Breaking things down and being transparent were important

I learnt so much throughout the process, not only about NGO’s, international development and how to regenerate the rainforest… my biggest 5 takeaways were not what I was expecting…

1. Don’t assume anything.

The project was complex and it was safe to say that any assumptions I had about Brazil or what we ‘should do’ or what was ‘needed’ was not the best path forward. Local context is absolutely everything and making sure Iracambi were involved, inputting and seeing the value in our work along the journey was crucial.

2. Ask, then listen. Truly listen.

I had so many questions throughout the process — it was refreshing to have so much to learn. Usually a quick decision-maker, throughout the TIE process I was reminded of the importance of deep listening. By holding back from hopping in with my opinions, I found myself more inquisitive and attentive and keen to learn others point of view.

3. Know your strengths and play to them.

It’s not easy to say you think you are great at something, and it took us a while to really play to our strengths. 6 weeks isn’t a huge amount of time to get to know and work with a new group of people with a really broad range of skills and backgrounds. Knowing what we were good at, articulating that and being able to really lean into that meant we could give our very best to each other and the project.

4. Being in ‘flow’ is the most energising thing you can do

When I would hop off the calls at 10pm in Sydney (the only time that would work on all of our 6 time zones!) I would be buzzing with a feeling I had never so intensely experienced before. That feeling was flow:

A flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Time would pass so quickly, and despite the intensity of the time investment, I was so sad at the thought of our project ending.

5. People are generous when you ask for help.

We had to fundraise to help raise awareness of what we were doing and fund our project. I absolutely loved shaping the story and talking to people about Iracambi’s mission, I felt so proud to be part of it. People were so generous when I asked for help, it truly blew me away.

The beautiful Atlantic Rainforest

Our final presentation was emotional, filled with pride that we were leaving something that would tangibly help Iracambi continue to do their incredible work. I can’t wait to go out to Brazil to see the rainforest flourishing.

If reading this inspires you, find out more and apply here: Apply to TIE Accelerator or drop me a note — I’d love to chat more about my experience.