Volunteer Keynote Gigi Santo, December 2022 conference
In this volunteer keynote address, 17-year-old CCL volunteer Giovanna “Gigi” Santo shares what it takes to be a leader, and urges volunteers that anyone can make a difference. Read and watch below as Gigi humbly offers encouragement and shares the successes that her own chapter has seen.
Introduction from Solemi Hernandez
Welcome again everybody, and thank you for taking the time to be with us today. My name is Solemi Hernandez and I’m the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Southeast Regional Coordinator joining you from Naples, Florida, the traditional land of the Calusa tribe. And I’m really proud and excited to introduce an exceptional volunteer in my region, Giovanna Santo, or Gigi, as her friends call her. She’s a 17-year-old senior at West Broward High School who is guiding others to advocate for climate solutions. Gigi now leads our Broward chapter in Florida with over 400 supporters. She just signed up in May and had inspired a 200% increase in active Broward volunteer members. Gigi marshaled members to call on Congress to ask for national climate legislation, meet with them face to face, write letters to the editors calling for climate solutions, host educational events, and much more. The evident reality of the changing climate her generation is facing, along with her life experiences, has bolstered her passion for climate advocacy. So get ready to get inspired. Gigi, the floor is yours.
Keynote address: Gigi Santo
Thank you, Solemi. Hello everyone. Thanks for coming to hear me talk; I hope I say something useful for you guys. As Solemi said, I’ve been the leader of the Broward chapter for about eight months now, and in that time, I’ve learned that leadership is not simple. You know, there’s a lot to learn, a lot to practice, but I’ve also learned that leadership is beyond worth the work and the prep that it takes. The ability to move forward a cause that is so much bigger than oneself is a million times worth it. And the ability to lead others to act on your ideas and your values alongside you is a million times worth it. And this talk is kind of going to explain why I feel that way, and I have to go back to before I even was in CCL to do that.
About a year ago, like many, I was really worried about climate change. I had just watched the documentary, Our Planet, which is amazing, by the way, and I had desperately wanted to do something. I went through that unfortunate phase of acting on climate change by myself, which obviously never amounted to anything. And then I turned to environmental groups, all the typical ones, the popular ones. But I found myself skipping from group to group because each one I had joined had either completely unrealistic goals or goals that were entirely vague or inconsistent. Even back then, I understood real progress couldn’t be made using those tactics. Working with those organizations felt like I was wasting my efforts and my time. The lack of focus or potential was evident, and it was frustrating, and I assumed there were many others like me who felt that same frustration, and they let it drive them away from the climate movement. After a year of joining and fading out of at least five different chapters and groups, I was at a loss.
And then, I learned about CCL. When I first read over the information on the CCL site, I realized I saw a viable solution. I saw a real path forward, which was incredible to me a year ago because I had spent a very long time looking for one. I wanted to put my energy behind something that I knew could work. Something that can actually pass into law. And having that opportunity now is what motivates me to lead, knowing that the work that I do actually has an effect on policy and the world. Other CCL volunteers have proven that it works again and again. And when I got the opportunity to do something like that, I had to take advantage of it. So with that motivation empowering me, I became a leader in a flash.
It was a little bit intimidating since I had only joined a couple of months ago. And before that, I had never had any real leadership position. Like at most, I had led a couple of high school projects. I wasn’t in clubs, I only briefly did sports, and I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly. I was pretty much an average high schooler. And one might think that would make me poorly suited to be a leader, seeing as I didn’t have any, even the tiniest bit of experience leading a group. But even with my lack of experience, my leadership ended up helping my chapter grow in numbers and in strength.
That’s because leadership doesn’t require this innate talent to lead. People think leaders should already be inspiring and charismatic from birth, but that’s untrue. The fact is a lot of people don’t have this so-called natural talent for leadership. They are introverts, or they’re awkward. That’s how I was. I didn’t have any natural-born talent for people or for leadership, but I still had a strong will to help fight climate change.
And I had a vision of action that I believed in. So I led anyways; I kept my chapter running. I strategized, I organized meetings and events, and at the same time, I learned how to empower and inspire and all those other skills I didn’t have experience with. And I managed to do most of it in my bedroom with YouTube on in the background. My leadership may not have been perfect or pretty, but it worked, and it helped my chapter. That is what mattered. If you’re like me, if you want to make a big change but you’re not a natural leader, then I encourage you to lead anyway — as a grass tops team leader, a media manager, a chapter leader, whatever. Yes, it’s a learning process. And yes, you’ll make mistakes, but during that time, you’ll be making a bigger and bigger dent in the climate crisis. You’ll be able to help in ways that you couldn’t before without being a leader.
And best yet, you’ll be helping others to do the same. In the end, you won’t be leading a random group of strangers. You’re leading a group of people who are itching to take action against climate change. And you just need the guidance of a good leader to take that first step. If you can empower your members to believe in the importance of their actions by simply showing examples of real people’s past climate victories, you are leading well. If you can make resources easily accessible to your members who want to learn more, you are leading well. Of course, there’s much more to leadership as a whole, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated and intimidating task. It doesn’t have to be noble or pretty. It can be simple, it can be straightforward. As long as it helps your chapter members, then you are succeeding as a leader.
In my eight months of being a leader, my chapter has grown from three active members to 18 passionate and committed members that have all helped do incredible work. So far, our chapter has been able to meet with two of our house representatives. One of those meetings was with Representative Sheila McCormick; we got her to co-sponsor a bill that a CCL staffer had run along to the lobby meeting. We also held a great tabling event with over 15 volunteers this October, and we bumped up our monthly calling campaign to 20 monthly callers.
To finish off, I want to stress that leadership is a powerful tool. It’s much easier to use than one might think. Truly anyone can be a leader. You hear it all the time, but I really mean it. I wrote this talk in my bed. It does not require a very special person to lead. All that set me apart from others, what sets all of us here apart from others, is that I cared.
I cared deeply about the issue of climate change, and I was willing to work against it. Eight months later, I’m meeting with Congresspeople. I’m organizing events, and I’m here talking to all of you. I hope that highlights how leadership can take you to a whole new level. In honesty, the climate movement is in desperate need of leaders of all kinds. We need more people to guide volunteers, people to make climate action accessible and easy for others. And if you have that will to help, if you have that passion, you can lead. I promise that all of you are capable.
Madeleine Para: Oh, Gigi, thank you so, so much. Gigi, I think you have just inspired a thousand people to try taking on leadership. Just…you’re my hero.