Journey to the ILLUME-iverse

Posted April 14, 2022 By Yasmeen Chánes

The journey to ILLUME looks different for each team member. For some, their technical expertise and passion for solving environmental issues is what has landed them here. For others, their paths may have looked very different and ILLUME is the place where their skills, expertise, and interests merged. In this series, I hope to look at some of our team members at ILLUME to learn how they got here, what impact they hope to leave, and what they would tell their younger selves if they had to do the journey all over.

To start our series, I thought it may make sense to first interview myself to introduce how it is that I got here and what I hope to do at ILLUME.

How did I get here?

Throughout my life, I have been drawn to understanding people. It may have really taken off with Astrology. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my first few questions to you might be “when is your birthday?” Of course, I get every response you can imagine ranging from “Why do you need to know?” to “Astrology isn’t real.” But the why behind that question stems from my curiosity about people – how they think of themselves, how they think others might perceive them, and how they interact with the world. What began as a fun conversation starter turned into a way that I could begin to get to know people better.

Astrology should have been my first clue that centering people would ultimately be the thing I wanted to do most. To know what makes others feel seen, what makes them excited, and what keeps them engaged is really at the heart of how I see my role as the People Champion and how I came to a role like this.

What was the draw towards working in the environmental space?

Throughout my life I have always been invested in social justice. My lived experiences, academic background, and activism have led me to be deeply interested in not only how we can ensure healthy communities, but also how we ensure that equity, inclusion, and justice are present in that journey. Though I spent much of my time invested in learning about international relations, women’s issues, and racial justice, it wasn’t until I began working with students who were deeply invested in environmental justice work within their own communities in sub-Saharan Africa, where I really understood how all these issues converged under the pursuit of healthier communities through equitable and inclusive environmental policy and organizing.

Working with students from diverse backgrounds really allowed me to expand my own world view about what issues I could be part of, even in small ways, that could help shape and change our world. ILLUME really is an example of the values, hope, and change that I hold and want to be part of.

What is your role and what is exciting to you about it?

My role as the People Champion at ILLUME encompasses exciting areas of work including internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) development; employee engagement, wellness, and recognition; and recruitment, hiring, and onboarding. All these areas of work are so exciting to me because they all center people. As someone with a natural interest in understanding people, this role really allows me to connect, imagine, and collaborate with staff across ILLUME. I love being able to know what solutions I can help create and implement to help folks feel more engaged and excited about their work. I also am excited to be able to focus on celebrating people and all the amazing value they bring to our organization.

What do you hope to accomplish at ILLUME?

In short: I hope that the impact I leave is positive. Working today can certainly be challenging as we all navigate through a pandemic, unprecedented world events, and high workloads amidst an ever-changing workforce. Yet, every day I am left with an overwhelming appreciation and excitement for the folks who work here and who bring such an amazing sense of work ethic, knowledge, and authenticity to their role. I hope that I can exude that positive spirit and make others feel welcome and empowered to continue doing what they do best here at ILLUME each day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could give myself advice when just starting out in my career, I would remind myself that while imposter syndrome is real, it does not define you. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of the value that you bring, but your mix of experiences, interests, and enthusiasm is unique to you.