My climate journey: a reflection and future outlook

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago but felt a bit trapped in high school. My town was small and homogenous, and most people attended state universities and worked downtown after graduation. It was somewhat rare for people to deviate from this preordained path, but as a wide-eyed high schooler, I itched to explore life beyond the Midwest — I just didn’t know where this would lead me at the time, and definitely still don’t have full clarity.

I wound up on the other side of the country attending NYU in the Class of 2020. I studied in a unique degree program called Business and Political Economy (BPE) and chose minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Peace and Conflict Studies. The BPE program was multidisciplinary (covering core courses from politics, economics and business disciplines); global (two required semesters abroad), and unique (specialized courses tailored for a 40-person cohort within a large university).

Out of these three factors, I was (and still am) most influenced by the global nature of my degree. I spent nearly half of college studying abroad: in London and Shanghai with my BPE peers, at HEC Paris in an entrepreneurship exchange program, and in Ghana and Abu Dhabi through short immersion trips. I also worked in Tel Aviv for a summer, and took advantage of the opportunity to backpack through Europe and the Middle East when I wasn’t in class. Traveling overseas broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to new cultures, languages, foods, and areas of business. I may be back at home now, but my travels and studies are why I’m inspired to pursue an international career with a global outlook on climate change and economic development.

My travels also forced me to realize how an event in one country can affect life in another. Viewed through the lens of climate, this global domino effect occurs nearly every day; for instance, natural disasters, sea level rise, and air pollution may be triggered by a local weather event but heightened or prolonged by greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere from around the world. Nowhere is this truer than in Africa, which is home to some of the world’s poorest countries — including those that are least responsible for climate change. However, it is precisely these countries that will be most affected by it in the future. Click here for a visual example of what I mean.

I have been passionate about working within Africa for the last four years. Moving forward, I aspire to focus on work at the nexus between social entrepreneurship and sustainable development on the continent. I have deepened my knowledge in these areas over the last few years through Bridges for Enterprise, a global non-profit that has given me privileged opportunities to support early-stage social enterprises in Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. I loved these experiences so much that I’m now working with others to lead the organization globally, spearheading growth so that more social enterprises can receive free, high-quality, and customizable support to scale their impact.

During my semester at HEC Paris, I worked for a Ugandan-based sustainable agriculture startup called Proteen that uses black soldier flies to repurpose urban food waste into protein feed and fertilizer for livestock farmers. As one of the startup’s first hires, I gained an in-depth look into how an emerging African city like Kampala is adapting to climate risk. With the continent projected to be the world’s fastest growing over the next 100 years — by population, urbanization, and economic dynamism — Africa (and its emerging megacities) are poised to play a bigger role on the world stage. I’m fascinated by Africa’s future trends; for the world to avoid negative climate outcomes, the continent must grow in a sustainable manner that provides job opportunities and improved livelihoods for its growing populace.

To accommodate for population growth, African cities must improve their infrastructure while also providing meaningful jobs for the 12–15 million new people entering the continent’s labor market each year. Most African countries will not follow the industrialization-heavy model that Europe or East Asia followed. This growth model may have worked for countries to become wealthy in the past, but it is not economically viable for most of Africa nor compatible with the global climate crisis we now face.

These considerations surrounding Africa’s sustainable development path are ones that I aim to explore during my career. While I’m unsure where the next few years will take me, I want to continue working in and around the continent’s emerging startup scene to help support an ecosystem of companies that contribute to sustainable development.

Do I know what skills I need to build or how I can accelerate my career? Not completely, but that’s the fun part. I know that gaining a more foundational understanding of climate will benefit me in the long-run, and this is one reason why I recently joined the Terra.do ‘climate school.’ I hope to use this knowledge to better position myself for future graduate studies that lie at the nexus between sustainability, economic development, and African studies. Along the way, I want to build technical skills that are applicable in the workforce and continue to write about topics that interest me. You can follow my journey here on Medium or at jordanwolken.me.

A beautiful rainbow over Wli Waterfalls in Ghana during March 2017

Sherpa Ventures | Bridges for Enterprise | Empowering startups in emerging markets