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Daily Dose — WK EcoSociety Executive Director earns National Award

Montana Burgess, Executive Director of the West Kootenay EcoSociety accepts the Clean50 award earlier this year. — Submitted photo

Montana Burgess, Executive Director of the West Kootenay EcoSociety (WKES), says winning the Clean50 award was humbling.

“When I look at the list of people who won the Clean 50 award this year and last year, there are so many people I admire and respect. To feel like they’re my peers made me feel really special and honoured,” says Burgess.

Burgess has built a career on helping people make positive changes from rural and small-towns to build healthier and safer communities. She has been in her role at WKES for four years. Previously, she worked for seven years as the Operations Manager at Climate Action Network. Her educational background is in the sciences, namely Ecology and Biology.

Burgess is quick to acknowledge that this award recognizes her team’s achievements.

“It’s me getting to take credit for all the amazing work the people that have been working so hard for years on our renewable energy campaign.”

There are two reasons why WKES was recognized, says Burgess.

“For the past 5-6 years, we’ve been working across the West Kootenays to find support for the 100% renewable energy transition. That’s shown up as over 15,000 people being supportive, over 120 businesses, and 11 local governments have already said yes they want 100% renewable energy across their communities no later than 2050.”

The second reason for the nomination is a program called Deep Engagement Canvassing.

“We’ve been having deep conversations with people in small-town rural areas,” says Burgess.

“We find out their hopes, fears, who they are and make that common ground connection to understand what’s holding people back and what’s moving them forward. We’ve talked to over 900 people, and one in three of them have become more supportive of the energy transition through those conversations.”

The WKES team is seeing great results so far, says Burgess.

“It’s been so amazing to see people open up and be vulnerable and share their feelings and figure out a way forward. We’re the first group to do it in Canada. In having 10–20-minute conversations with people, we listen and ask curious questions to understand better who people are and what they want. We’re the first group anywhere running a complete climate and energy program.”

Burgess has big dreams for the organizations near future.

“The deep engagement project is so important in this very polarized time, to find common ground on climate and energy but all sorts of other issues. This is something we are doing well, and there’s a lot of need. I’m hopeful this is the beginning of us being able to share this in other places.”

WKES was recently honoured by yet another award, this one from Charity Village, the top source in Canada for non-profit news, jobs, funding, training, and more. Charity village honoured WKES as a 2021 finalist in the category of Best Non-profit Employer Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (under 20 staff).

“I also feel very honoured and proud of that,” says Burgess.

“It’s important for me to make sure that we are bringing in more diverse voices, making sure they feel included and that we are equitably treating everybody and raising voices so we can do the work of justice.”

This has involved hiring more people that reflect our community’s diversity, paying all WKES employees a living wage, and running a wide range of training sessions, says Burgess.

“We’ve done all sorts of anti-oppression, anti-racism, Indigenous relations, and LGBTQ inclusion trainings with our staff and board, so there’s a foundation for a safe space in the organization for people to both work and volunteer.”

She recognizes there is more to be done.

“Change starts from within. If you want to build community sustainably truly, you have to make sure you are elevating the most vulnerable voices.”

Burgess invites the community to check out the online magazine, Living Here, put out by WKES.

“We feature solutions, people-focussed stories about folks across the region and beyond: small towns, big stories," Burgess explains.

"I encourage everyone to go check that out. We’ve got all sorts of great inspiring stories that in the dark days of winter with the ongoing climate disasters, flooding, landslides, and wildfire smoke, it’ll make you feel hopeful and give you motivation to take action together.”