Community Spotlight Series — Coco Wang
EH: Tell us a bit about yourself (i.e., where you’re from, your background, what you’re in school for, etc.)!
CW: My name is Coco and I am someone who is passionate about a wide variety of topics. I am well-versed in DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion), corporate sustainability, and sensible drug policy. I grew up in a coal-mining community in northern China and lived in London, Ontario as an immigrant. My political canvassing experience in the 2015 Canadian federal election initiated my passion for changing the status quo through politics and community organizing. While pursuing a Bachelors in Environmental Sciences from McGill University in Montreal, I developed VoxCann, a youth-led bilingual cannabis education non-profit initiative that has been successfully running for four years. After graduation, I organized a Get Out the Vote campaign in Colorado with Green Corps during the 2020 US election. Furthermore, I joined GreenPAC as a Regional Coordinator for the 100 Debates project during the 2021 Canadian federal election, then coordinated the second edition of the FLIP Summit that engaged hundreds of future environmental leaders in politics. Currently, I am interning at Senator Mary Coyle’s office and assisting with the Senators for Climate Solutions group. Likewise this Fall, I’ll be pursuing a Juris Doctor at Lincoln Alexander School of Law in Toronto.
EH: How did you get involved with Earth Hacks?
CW: I met Sanjana Paul, the ED of Earth Hacks, at the GreenBiz conference in 2021 via a virtual networking session. She followed up after the conference on LinkedIn and recommended that I check out their next hackathon, which was actually held by Canadian organizations. I have always thought that hackathons require participants to code but she made it clear to me that I didn’t need to code to enter. I signed up for the Climate Change-Makers Challenge right away!
EH: What was your experience like at the Climate Change-Makers Challenge hackathon? Can you tell us about the project that you were involved with?
CW: I loved my experience and it went beyond my expectations. This was my first ever hackathon and I learned a lot from my teammates, mentors, organizers, and peers. Our project was called Climate Connection. Through a website and various services, we aimed to empower, support, and inspire disadvantaged youth to become climate leaders in their communities by providing educational resources and training for climate leadership, including mentorship.
EH: What was something interesting that you ended up learning during the event?
CW: The power of personal connection, especially during a global pandemic. Our team came together via the Discord channel — we were diverse and passionate youth and most of our team were first-time hackers. We initially wanted to create a solution that solves a technological issue to win the judges. During our brainstorm, we ended up sharing our personal stories of how we each got into climate action. Connecting with each other on a deeper level created a sense of friendship amongst us and inspired our project. We actually went onto the final round, earned the Team Spirit award, and stayed in touch with each other after the hackathon.
EH: How was it like growing up in a coal-mining community? Do you think that experience shaped your views on environmental sustainability?
CW: It’s heartbreaking watching your community deteriorate before your eyes while you can’t do anything about it. Our river was so clear that my parents used to catch fish there as kids. When I grew up, the river was brown and completely polluted. Ironically, the cause of pollution kept the town running economically- most families including mine worked in the coal mine. I think this experience fundamentally shaped my approach towards environmental sustainability — which is about nuance and sensible solutions.
EH: You mentioned that you are well-versed in Corporate Sustainability, I wonder if Environmental Justice/ Climate Justice is currently being brought up within the space, and what is your take on that?
CW: I can only speak on my experience in corporate sustainability but from my view, environmental justice is not well-incorporated or understood in the corporate world. Environmental Justice is indeed talked about in corporate sustainability conferences, but it’s not well-understood or perhaps even heard of by the majority of the corporate world. Getting buy-in on sustainability initiatives seems to be the challenge. For sustainability advocates in the corporations to push for justice, the rest of the corporations need to understand what this means for their companies and the decisions they make. There is still a lot of work to be done there.
EH: Are you able to tell us more about the kind of work you’re doing with the Senators for Climate Solutions group?
CW: The Senators for Climate Solutions group was formed in 2021 and has primarily been focused on educating Senators on a number of important climate and biodiversity topics. There are climate experts in the Senate but the majority of Senators in the group need resources to better navigate climate-related discussions. I assist Senator Mary Coyle, who co-founded the group, by producing briefing notes that help Senators and staff navigate new findings and events on these topics, such as the latest report released by the IPCC. I also help in providing questions that Senators in the group can ask in the Chamber about Canada’s climate action and its progress.
EH: Everyone seems to inherently bring up policy change when issues arise, however, it often just stops there without any real tangible solutions. Is this something that you’ve experienced while working in government and politics? And do you see a way out of this dormant cycle especially when it comes to climate & environmental policy?
CW: The government is notorious for moving things slowly — I won’t deny some truth to that. To make change happen, and quickly, we have to talk about Power. Power comes in many forms, for example: certain politicians have more power than others, political processes can shift power dynamics or uphold them, non-governmental entities can assert power over political decisions. I believe more environmental action can be achieved by strategically enacting on the existing power structures and pushing for change in those power structures. Environmental organizing is a good example of this, but there’s more that can be done.
EH: What are your career goals after law school?
CW: So far, I would like to pursue a career in public interest law or constitutional law, but I have been told that my interest and career plan will likely change, as they did for many who studied law.
EH: What would you say to someone who has never participated in a hackathon before?
CW: Appreciate the time you spend with your team and mentors — it passes by quickly.
EH: What’s a fun fact about you that not many people know about?
CW: I lived in rural France for three months when I was sixteen.