By Dianna Bell, Earthwatch Multimedia Manager
Through collaboration with Earthwatch, EY offers an innovative professional development experience for early-career employees that enables them to support local entrepreneurs, helping to improve their sustainable business practices, while engaging in dynamic scientific field research.
Imagine cruising down a river on a restored riverboat from the Rubber Boom era as it cuts through Peru’s Amazon rainforest. All around you, the trees and waters teem with life. Alligator-like caimans hide in long grasses surrounding lagoons, wading birds hunt for fish in shallow waters, howler monkeys shriek and swing from branches, and giant river otters curiously peek their heads out of the river. But you’re not there simply to observe the incredible landscape and wildlife. Instead, you’ve been tasked with collecting critical data to help solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues and, at the same time, you’re putting your professional skills to use to assist local business owners and nonprofits at the forefront of addressing those very problems.
Such is the experience for EY employees selected for the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program, an early-career professional development opportunity that sends four teams of ten professionals each on a week-long adventure.
“This opportunity is reflective of EY’s breadth and depth because it convenes a group of employees from all of our different geographic regions and from all of our different service lines who otherwise would not have interacted with each other,” says Lindsey Poole, who leads the program and is a member of EY’s Americas Corporate Responsibility team.
Connecting with colleagues from around the world can provide invaluable professional insights, especially at a multinational organization like EY, which has around 270,000 employees.
“We’re in a globally connected world and that’s something many people forget about in in their day-to-day life,” says Adam Gill, a senior consultant in digital practice at EY and EY-Earthwatch Ambassador alumnus.
This globally-minded experience is what initially drew Adam to apply for the program. He was selected as an Ambassador in 2018 and participated in the Earthwatch expedition Conserving Wetlands and Traditional Agriculture in Mexico, where he teamed with EY employees from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Israel, and the U.S.
“You gain so much more value when you have people with different perspectives in a room than if you’ve all come from the same cut of the cloth,” Adam says. “The Earthwatch experience is a great embodiment of that.”
The EY-Earthwatch Ambassador program also provides employees with the opportunity to gain leadership experience outside of the office and to test their skills in a completely new environment.
For Jessica Neumeyer, who traveled to Costa Rica in 2010 to assist local farmers in improving coffee-growing methods, an unexpected benefit of the program was the confidence it instilled in her. “I was able to develop self-identification as a leader,” she says. “EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors absolutely contributed to that part of how I identify.”
Jessica is now in a leadership role at Ernst & Young LLP, serving as Leader for Account Managers in the U.S.-Central Region. She says of her Earthwatch experience, “Given we had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, it was key for us to identify our individual strengths up front and figure out how best to apply them.”
She’s found that this take away from her expedition impacts how she leads those she now manages. “Maximizing each other’s strengths to get the best of what a diverse team can deliver not only creates a space for everyone to add value, but also helps you accelerate and move more quickly,” she says. “I also learned the value of uniting a diverse team to a common purpose. Taking a purpose-driven approach to team building is something I strive to apply in my leadership role today.”
In addition to the personal and professional development of the EY employees who join the program, the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program impacts EY as well.
“Our data indicate that participants in the program are more engaged with EY than their similarly rated peers at the same rank. And ‘engagement’ isn’t some arbitrary term – there’s a specific index for how it’s defined. For example, being proud to work for EY, preferring to remain with EY even if a comparable job were available and recommending EY as a great place to work,” Lindsey said. “Retention is also higher among these employees.”
EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors also bring back the sustainability practices and skills they’ve learned, making their home lives greener and finding ways to share their experience in the office.
“Once you are selected, you’re charged within the Firm to bring your experience back and share it with your own communities and throughout your life, because it’s an investment in you,” Adam says. “As a professional, the experience redefines you as a leader in your market. So it’s a very special program in that sense.”
Because of the support from these EY participants, Earthwatch scientists are able to gather critical environmental data, and business owners receive invaluable consulting to grow and expand their work in a sustainable way. (To date, EY employees have spent more than 25,400 hours in support of impact entrepreneurs and scientific field research.)
Dr. Richard Bodmer, lead scientist on the Earthwatch expedition Amazon Riverboat Exploration, benefits from this program both as a researcher and as a manager of a nonprofit. In addition to practical tools such as marketing and branding, the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors have used their professional skills to help Richard strengthen his business in other ways.
“The results from the skills-based project work and the process of evaluation has given our team new ways to improve and new strategies to explore,” he says. “We are starting to implement the EY employees’ suggestions, which is helping us better understand our operations and how to move forward. The teamwork and process of presenting information, reviewing figures, and answering questions was really useful.”
One more added bonus? The participants make connections and develop bonds that last long after the expedition has ended. Both Jessica and Adam are still in touch with their teammates and others they met on their expeditions.
“Something that I wasn’t expecting was just to build the relationships that we did in the group – not only with the farmers but with Earthwatch and the other nonprofit professionals we worked with day in and day out, as well as the other EY professionals,” says Adam. “I know people toss around the word ‘impact,’ but it truly was an impactful experience that will stay with me for a lifetime”