Note: This was originally written for the WildHub platform in 2021. WildHub is an international community of conservation professionals. It is a space to exchange ideas, create new solutions, and make new partnerships to enable better, faster, and cheaper conservation that helps save more wildlife. If you are a conservation professional, I recommend joining this wonderful community.
Rebecca Hansell talks to Jessie Panazzolo, Founder of Lonely Conservationists.
I recently had the pleasure of learning about the amazing work that, founder of Lonely Conservationists, Jessie Panazzolo does within the conservation sector. From a small child wondering how she could help save orangutans to being a salesperson, before finally realising her dream of working in conservation, the story is a great one and the lessons to be learned are numerous.
Her previous roles outside of the conservation sector gave her valuable experience to get her foot in the door through volunteering. She found a new opportunity through one of her previous jobs, when she got chatting to a ‘Conservation Volunteer’ leading to her joining the volunteer team and developing the skills she needed to enter the sector professionally. If we take a leap forward to the present day, she currently leads a community of 6 thousand global conservationists (and still growing!) and has also led volunteers and staff in field surveys in Madagascar and North Sumatra. Volunteering can be a great start to many exciting careers!
All of her experiences, both personal and professional, eventually led to her becoming the Founder of Lonely Conservations. Here is what she has to say about the amazing community that she has built:
“Here in the Lonely Conservationist family, we pride ourselves on innovating and delivering positive changes for the planet, but now we are striving to create positive change for ourselves too. In the blogs we discuss an array of hurdles we face as conservationists from around the globe. Together as a community, we have determined the following missions for the Lonely Conservationist community to achieve which encompass themes of community, communication, and mental health:
- To ensure long-term community building based on a foundation of empathy, education, and empowerment.
- To give a voice to passionate conservationists who are doing everything they can to enact change for our planet.
- To actively listen to the voices of conservationists in the community to give their voices purpose and value.
- To help conservationists overcome imposter syndrome by valuing them as part of a close-knit community and the work they are doing for our planet.”
And, I don’t know about you, but to me – this is like someone is reading my mind as to what I want to access being new to the sector! What an incredible project to be a part of – thanks so much Jessie for putting this in place.
Jessie has recently been working on 2 books based on the real-life experiences of being a conservationist and helping to get these to print has definitely had its fair share of lessons to be learned! If you are interested in reading more about her work and the community she is building, you can read more about this project on her website.
This is the advice that Jessie had to share regarding these latest projects:
“1: It’s not who you know or what you know that matters. Success is based on how authentic and self-aware you are about what you want and what you’re capable of.
2: Being failure-positive will get you far.
3: Conservation is challenging, but you’re not alone. Find your community and go through it together. “
And, in fear of sounding like a fangirl, can I get that on a t-shirt!?!
Realising Others Are Lonely Too
Lonely Conservationists has grown to become a global community of likeminded people, Jessie clearly hit bang on a feeling that was rife within the sector. Through producing books, podcasts, webinars and weekly blogs, Jessie has been able to fill a gap that was needed for those working in conservation. When asked about her experiences leading up to the creation of the community, she said:
“I spent so much time trying to change systemic issues, which is a large and impossible task as a sole person. In the end, it turned out that creating a community for people to feel less alone in was enough and led to more change for conservationists than I may ever know. Just doing what you can, and doing it well, is often enough to achieve rewarding outcomes. If I had known any of what I know now before I started Lonely Conservationists, it wouldn’t exist as it does today. Lonely Conservationists couldn’t exist unless I wholeheartedly believed that I was alone and about to give up on the industry. It turns out that my community’s existence and everything I have achieved in the past three years with Lonely Conservationists relies on my former ignorance.”
So, sometimes ignorance can drive us towards a passion! What an amazing revelation. This passion, alongside her other strengths including her powerful authenticity and ability to connect meaningfully with those who match her values, has allowed Jessie to build the community to what it is today.
Getting Lonely Conservationists to its current height of success has not been without its challenges. When asked about the obstacles she faced, Jessie had this to say:
“Lonely Conservationists was based on the biggest challenge I have ever had to overcome. I was about to quit the conservation industry after a long road of struggles, until I uncovered that I have a community of hundreds (now thousands!) of individuals that felt the same way that I did! Instead of throwing in the towel, as I had planned, I rose to the challenge, and I created a space for isolated and burnt-out conservationists to feel at home. I created resources to educate others about our plights and I provided spaces for the members of the community to have a voice. Seeing my career thrive now, is a wild juxtaposition from where I started in a very hopeless place.”
To me, this is so inspiring to hear. We have all had days when we can’t see the point of striving towards our goals, where we feel burnt-out, or our mental health has taken a dive. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression for a number of years, it is so reassuring to know that these feelings are felt by a wide array of people within the industry. The ability to give the knowledge that we are not alone in our struggles is a priceless gift that Jessie has been able to share across the sector, on a global scale. No amount of praise or thanks in this article can do that justice really!
Lonely Conservationists Keep Moving Forward
As the world starts to take tentative steps towards life after the pandemic, many of us conservationists have lots of plans for the future, some new and some that have been put on hold whilst the world locked down. So, what is in store for Lonely Conservationists moving forward?
“I‘ve been moving Lonely Conservationists in a more community-driven direction and have plans in place to give back to the community with the funds acquired from the royalties of our new book. I hope that I can continue to facilitate community-driven projects to give new skills and experiences to the conservationists who want them and use the profits to go back into the community for their use.”
Jessie’s career so far has so many highlights that she can be proud of, but there are always projects that speak to us in a different way and for her this is her podcast. She says that the ‘How to Conserve Conservationists Podcast’, in particular the second series which looked at the various blog authors she has worked with, has been a hugely important part of her journey and learning. To be able to engage in important conversations has been a vital part of what makes Lonely Conservationists the success that it is and to have the episodes available as resources for anyone who wants to better understand under-represented topics, like chronic illness, has been so rewarding and meaningful for Jessie, and I am sure to all of her listeners too!
Learning from Lonely Conservationists
There is so much to unpack about the incredible work that Jessie is undertaking with Lonely Conservationists that it’s only right that we take a moment to look back at the important lessons we can takeaway with us from learning about her journey so far.
- Never underestimate the power of transferable skills. Whether it is customer service, people skills, communications, or networking for opportunities – they all have their value in the conservation sector.
- It’s not all about who or what you know, if you are true to yourself and your passions then your authenticity will shine through.
- Reframe failure as a chance to learn and progress.
- Finding your people can help you get through even the hardest of times.
- Acknowledge and be proud of your skills and potential success.
What a wonderful way to end this look at the work of Jessie Panazzolo and Lonely Conservationists! If we can take these lessons into the new year with us, then 2022 will shape up to be something special to conservationists all across the globe.
To read more about Lonely Conservationists then visit the website here.
One More Thing…
This is 2023 Rebecca speaking now, I just thought I would pop in with a few reflections after revisiting the above piece a few years later.
Firstly, the work that Jessie Panazzolo does over at the Lonely Conservationists continues to be vitally important within the sector and her website provides a wealth of stories from those working within the conservation sector who have to face the realities of often difficult work, which is invaluable in showcasing that no matter how hard the days are – we are never alone is our struggle for a better world.
Mental health is hugely important and something very close to my heart. Even in the 2 years since writing this article, I have had ups and downs but knowing that feeling inadequate or like a very small drop in a very big ocean, is felt by others, helps me to overcome imposter syndrome and to face my fears head on.
On a personal note, it was really refreshing for me to go back and re-read this article. I have been doing a lot of work recently on trying to improve my writing skills and to figure out exactly how I want to position myself within the sector. Reading this article showed me how much I have progressed in knowledge, style, and finding my voice. That is a little boost that I needed!
The road to change is long. But if you keep working, I have to believe that you will eventually arrive at the desired destination. You just have to learn to enjoy the journey too.
Regardless of the sector that you work in, I hope that you are chasing the life of your dreams and if your mental health is suffering right now, I hope you find the strength to reach out and talk to someone. Better days are always on the way.
Want More From Rebecca?
If you want more content from The Curious Environmentalist, don’t forget to check out the other pieces on my blog or to check out Series 1 of The Curious Environmentalist Podcast which is available now.
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Until next time, stay curious.