Kian Nikzad was a computer science student at UCLA when he signed up for the Green Foothills Leadership Program to learn how to make a difference for the environment. “I’ve always had a really deep passion for sustainability, but in college I got interested in computer science. I viewed information technology (IT) as a path to a strong income and career opportunities,” he explained. He hoped the Green Foothills Leadership Program would help him connect with local environmental projects in the Bay Area, something that he could work on as a volunteer when he returned home to Los Altos, and maybe even help him find a way to combine his interest in sustainability with his interest in IT as a career.
The program fulfilled his hopes. “I now have an infinite percentage increase in local connections…. It’s helped with both my volunteer work and my career,” he said. “When I started in the Leadership Program, I really didn’t know what grassroots initiatives looked like. In college I had taken some leadership roles in school clubs and we did various sustainability projects, such as trying to reduce the school’s water use for example, but we had no experience (in how to organize). We talked to university administrators and tried to get people on our side, but I realized we really had no idea how to structure a campaign. That’s what I wanted to learn. And I learned how to do that through Green Foothills.”
The Leadership Program gave Kian hands-on experience in how to plan and carry out an environmental advocacy campaign. He had taken a hydrology course in college and had become interested in sustainable water management. So during his time in the Leadership Program, he worked with two other program participants, Rhoda Fry and Manjeet Bhamra, on a capstone project that involved persuading Santa Clara County to consider prohibiting surface mining within 50 feet of groundwater. That project was so successful that County Supervisor Otto Lee asked county staff to develop a draft ordinance for the county to consider. The draft ordinance is expected to be presented by county staff to the County Planning Commission for consideration this summer.
After completing the Leadership Program and graduating from college, Kian moved back to his hometown of Los Altos and began looking for work that would allow him to combine his interest in IT with his interest in the environment. Currently he’s working two jobs, one as a consultant focused on helping organizations to cut their IT costs, and the other as a manager for the California Master Beekeepers Program. That way, he says, “I can satisfy my technical interests and also my environmental justice and conservation interests.”
His experience in the Leadership Program has helped in his work. For instance, “I learned from Green Foothills how to develop relationships with partner organizations,” he said. “Beekeeping varies a lot by geography, so at the local level there’s a lot of opportunity for local organizations to teach beekeeping methods. At the state level we’re more of an accrediting organization. Our role is to say to local organizations, yes, the methods you’re teaching are valid. We want to make sure that local organizations have access to the latest research so they can make that information accessible to backyard beekeepers. I learned directly from the Green Foothills Leadership Program how to develop those partnerships. For example, we started having quarterly satellite leadership meetings (with local beekeeping organizations) where we discuss best practices and educational programs… That strengthens our relationship with local partners because they find a lot of value in being able to connect with other local organizations… That made them more interested in partnering with us and listening to what we had to say, because there was something in it for them, as well as for us.”
The Leadership Program helped Kian in myriad other ways too. “The power-mapping techniques that we learned are something that I often do in my head now, in both my jobs, in figuring out who do I need to get support from and how should I spend my time to move things forward,” he said. “And if I do start working on campaigns, which I want to start doing again, I’ll have people to run ideas by. That’s a really great gift from Green Foothills, and I hope to help others in that way too. I saw others in the (Leadership Program) cohort who were more senior in their careers and were in a position to give back, and I want to do that too someday, with advice and help in making connections for others.”
Kian has already started giving back by serving on the Green Foothills Leadership Program Committee. We look forward to seeing what he does next!