16 minute read 2 Dec 2019
Identifying and measuring birds brazil team

How EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors strengthen the environment

By Leisha John

EY Americas Director of Environmental Sustainability

Serial Citizen Scientist. Green manicure devotee. Environmental news junkie.

16 minute read 2 Dec 2019
Related topics Corporate Responsibility

EY early-career professionals embark on Earthwatch expeditions to Latin America to provide skills-based services to local communities.

10 years, 326+ career journeys

Since 2009, Ernst & Young LLP has collaborated with the Earthwatch Institute to implement the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program — a signature EY volunteer program that sends high-performing, early-career professionals from the Americas and Israel on week-long expeditions to Mexico or Peru (and Costa Rica and Brazil in the past). Organized in groups of 10, Ambassadors provide skills-based services to a local entrepreneur (at no cost to the organization) and also engage in dynamic scientific field research. Since the inception of the program, 326 Ambassadors representing 74 cities across the Americas have dedicated 25,400+ hours to local businesses and scientists.

Click below to explore our Ambassadors’ career journeys:

  • Dana Aguilar, Assurance

    Mexico City, Mexico
    Assurance Senior, Mancera, S.C. Mexico City

    Consulting… in the middle of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest

    We were a group of 10 early-career professionals, from different service lines and with very different backgrounds, placed in the middle of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest (no, we weren’t playing a game of Survivor).

    Instead of your typical TV game show obstacle course, the assembled EY group was tasked with developing a marketing and financial plan for our new client, a local family-owned bed-and-breakfast.

    The entrepreneur needed major assistance to spread awareness about the business and boost sales. For our group of 10, the resources were limited, and we were all working far beyond our comfort zones. But in the middle of a Brazilian forest, we came together to roll up our sleeves and embrace our differences to achieve an outcome that made our B&B client extremely happy.

    Through the experience, I even had the opportunity to overcome some of my own personal challenges as I was thrust into a situation that forced me to take command of a room. Since returning home, I’ve been more involved in EY entrepreneur-focused efforts, especially with those involving my service line. Not only have I been working with partners and senior managers on sales — I’ve also been more instrumental as a relationship manager and helping my teams during presentations.

    Being an EY-Earthwatch Ambassador also provided an opportunity share my experience as a panelist on a young leaders panel during the 2017 EY International Intern Leadership Conference (IILC). During this conference I shared my thoughts with nearly 4,000 EY interns from around the globe.

    Overall, my experiences in the middle of a Brazilian forest forever changed the way I view myself, my capabilities and the impact that consulting can have on our clients and the world.

  • Christian Bowers, Consulting

    Atlanta, GA US
    Consulting Senior, Ernst & Young LLP Atlanta

    Discovering purpose through global experiences
    Three business lessons I learned while exploring the Amazon rainforest

    As I write this, sitting halfway across the world, on a train traveling from Beijing to Shanghai, I reflect on my global travels, challenges faced, lessons learned and how they have shaped me. 

    One experience in particular has had a profound impact on how I live my life. Through the EY-Earthwatch Ambassador program, I traveled through the Amazon rainforest with 10 colleagues from around the world. We conducted environmental field research during the day and advised a local business owner at night. This once in a life time volunteer trip taught me three lessons that have proven invaluable in my personal development.  

    1. Diverse teams drive superior outcomes

    Our team was tasked with developing a strategy to increase revenue for a hospitality business in Iquitos, Peru. In nine days, we were able to design, develop and deliver a marketing strategy leveraging our unique backgrounds and experience working across various business functions. As my professional responsibilities have grown and I’ve had the opportunity to manage larger teams, I’ve recognized that the best results come from diverse teams that harness their differences to drive superior outcomes. 

    2. Listening to your client or customer is key to delivering successful results 

    Although our marketing strategy was worthy of a Fortune 500 client (social media plan, branding video, pricing model, etc.), we neglected to include our client in discussions and failed to recognize some of the challenges inherent in running a business in the rainforest. However, we were able to revise our recommendations once we brought them into the conversation. This taught me the importance of always listening to the needs of your customer. I continue to focus on the customer in my current project, seeking continuous feedback as I help develop a mobile app for an international cruise line. Whether the ultimate customer is your client or the client’s customers, putting their needs at the center of your solution is key to delivering successful results.

    3. Adaptability can lead to unexpected rewards 

    After the completion of our volunteer expedition, a colleague and I decided to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Machu Picchu. Little did we know that a national railway strike would leave us stranded in a small village in the middle of Peru at midnight. Speaking minimal Spanish, we jumped in a taxi with a group of locals headed in the direction of our next hotel, two hours away. On our journey, through broken Spanish, we learned where to find the best local cuisine and how to bypass the crowds of tourists. By traveling to one of the most remote places on Earth, I learned that sometimes you have to make quick decisions with incomplete information and that staying adaptable can lead to unexpected rewards.  

    Throughout my global travels, I continue to seek opportunities to broaden my perspective, gaining new insights and discovering purpose along the way. How has travel helped shape who you are today?

  • Jessica Costa, Tax

    Denver, US
    Tax Senior, Ernst & Young LLP

    Finding new meaning at work through corporate responsibility

    Being a part of the EY-Earthwatch Ambassador program was a milestone in my career, not just because it was my first international assignment but because it gave new meaning to the work we do in the EY organization

    When I originally signed up for the corporate responsibility program, it was largely because I wanted to fulfill the EY purpose of “building a better working world.” I wanted to see how I could tangibly align the services we provide with improving our world and our communities. Little did I realize at the time how much it would reshape the outlook I had for my own career.

    My expedition took place in 2017 in Xochimilco, Mexico, where I was assigned to help a set of local entrepreneurs in the agriculture business who were struggling with finances, marketing and navigating growth markets. In one week, with 10 EY people from seven different countries, we came together as a team to consult with the clients, brainstorm new approaches and develop a comprehensive set of solutions, which all culminated in a dual-language presentation.

    In response to our efforts, one of our clients’ leaders took the opportunity to express genuine gratitude for the work we accomplished during our time. He explained how much our work meant to them, their community and the future of their economy.

    Our impact was clearly felt by the local people of Xochimilco.

    When I returned home, I also began to realize what an impact our work and program had on me. Not only did I benefit from the opportunity to network with international colleagues, to travel and to improve my Spanish and communication skills, but, unexpectedly, I tested my ability to adapt – a lifelong lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career.

    With time to reflect one year later, I know being an EY-Earthwatch Ambassador has gone far beyond what I had expected.

    • Four months later: I was the office leader in our EY Connect Day firm-wide day of community service.
    • Six months later: I was promoted to senior level, and because of my experience internationally, I was able to better manage my team during this time.
    • One year later: I moved from EY offices in Brazil to the US and am now working with EY Global Services in the EY San Jose office.  

    EY-Earthwatch was truly an experience of a lifetime!

  • Ryan Naranjo, Consulting

    London, UK
    Assurance Manager, Ernst & Young LLP London

    Leveraging a global experience for corporate good

    As I began my EY career in San Francisco, I knew it was important to take advantage of EY's global capabilities. The EY-Earthwatch Ambassador program provided a great opportunity to put my work and life skills to the test on an international stage. The program sends high-performing, early career professionals across the Americas on a week-long expedition to support entrepreneurs on a skills-based project. Ambassadors also conduct environmental field research alongside Earthwatch Institute scientists.

    In 2015, I travelled to Brazil to support local entrepreneurs and perform environmental research. The trip was so rewarding that in 2016 I returned as a team leader for an expedition to Mexico. Both projects helped me advance my career and significantly expand my network across the United States and Latin America. Most importantly, I was able to leverage what I learned on these expeditions to strengthen my connection with both clients and colleagues back in the US.

    A great example of this was when a partner and I began looking for teaming opportunities with the corporate responsibility group at a large FinTech client in the Bay Area. As a result of my involvement with the EY-Earthwatch Ambassador program, I was able to leverage my EY network to arrange deep-dive discussions with EY corporate responsibility professionals to share best practices with their upstart corporate responsibility organization.

    During these discussions, I spoke about my experiences in the program and its positive impact on our employees. As we fostered our relationship with this group, we collaborated with them to provide a measurement of the company’s corporate social and environmental impact.

    I share this experience to highlight the importance of expanding your horizons — whether that be experiences internationally or in your local community. While they can be extremely valuable and rewarding at the time, these experiences also help prepare you for new challenges in your personal and professional life.

    As I sit in the EY London office, I feel ready for my next chapter in the UK, fully armed with a network and experiences to help my clients and shape my career.

  • Joe Raupp, Strategy and Transactions

    Chicago, IL, US
    Strategy and Transactions Senior Manager, Ernst & Young LLP Chicago

    My Earthwatch: embracing diversity to drive business results

    When I started my career at EY eight years ago, I was excited about the unique opportunities available in a large, international organization. Yet, I never would have imagined that those opportunities would include hiking in a Brazilian forest, feeding wild hummingbirds, paddling a canoe through a Mexican chinampa and holding an animal on the endangered species list (the Mexican axolotl salamander) — all of which were made possible for me by the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program. 

    The program sends a few small groups of professionals each year on a week-long expedition to Central or South America with two primary objectives: 1) leverage the skills learned while working in the EY organization to help a local entrepreneur improve their business, and 2) conduct environmental research alongside Earthwatch Institute scientists. New friends, amazing experiences and a new appreciation for sustainability are just a few of the things I got out of my trips to Brazil and Mexico through the program. That said, the most impactful lesson I learned on my trips didn’t have anything to do with endangered species or chinampas or deforestation, but rather something much larger.

    Combined across my two Earthwatch trips, I had team members from across the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Israel, Nicaragua and Guatemala and worked with people with backgrounds in assurance, tax, advisory and transactions. As part of the skills-based objective, our teams were tasked with meeting a local entrepreneur, identifying a business issue and developing a plan to correct or improve the issue. This sounds simple; however, when it all has to be done in a week, with teammates we just met, all with very different experiences, backgrounds and perspectives, it was not an easy task. 

    The diversity of our teams was critical in not only completing the project on time, but also delivering creative, robust solutions that would immediately help these entrepreneurs. Given our own unique set of experiences and backgrounds, there were several creative ideas on how to tackle the issues, many of which I never would have thought of on my own. By embracing diversity, we were able to leverage individual strengths and realize synergies as a team that we otherwise may not have been able to. Diversity is a powerful tool, and something I continuously try to embrace as I’m leading and building my teams today.

  • Tara Servais, Business Development

    Minneapolis, MN, US
    Global Account Manager, Business Development Operations Ernst & Young LLP Minneapolis

    How participating in a corporate responsibility sabbatical completely changed my career

    As part of my organization’s commitment to supporting entrepreneurs and minimizing our environmental footprint, I was selected as a Team Leader for the EY-Earthwatch Ambassador program this past April. The expedition team was composed of nine other EY colleagues selected from across the Americas, representing five countries, all service lines and many native languages.

    My team and I met in Xochimilco, Mexico, where we began the expedition working with local farmers with two main goals in mind: 1) to assist in research, studying environmental impact on local growing communities, and 2) to team together on a skills-based project empowering local farmers to operate more like entrepreneurs and helping them to improve their business operations.

    Our mornings were spent working on plots of farmland called chinampas. There, we helped collect data samples from sediment, vegetation and water. From working on the farm plots firsthand, we gained a true, intimate understanding of the environment and external factors that are impacting the local farmers’ businesses.

    The skills-based project

    Each afternoon and into the late evening hours, our team collaborated in working group sessions, where we discussed the farmers’ goals and the barriers we observed that were inhibiting them from reaching their full potential.

    At the end of the week, we regrouped with the local farmers and presented our business recommendations in three main areas: 1) improving profits through operational excellence, 2) creating new revenue streams with agro-tourism and 3) building a unified brand for the chinampas.

    The conclusion, but not the end

    Ten strangers came together and found commonality: the one EY culture that we share.

    Not one of us experienced this journey the same way. I left with appreciation for the farmers of Xochimillco and a compelling desire to educate others on the importance of preserving our planet. The skills-based project helped advance my adaptability in working with global teams in an unfamiliar setting. I further established confidence in driving a shared vision for creating high-performing team environments. The expedition enhanced my business acumen, which has allowed me to engage more strategically among my teams and peers.

    I am thankful for this amazing opportunity EY has afforded me and will never forget the individuals, whom I now call lifelong friends, that contributed to this incredible experience.

  • Chris Skotarczyk, Consulting

    Montreal, Canada
    Strategy and Transactions Manager, Ernst & Young LLP Montreal

    Fishing for piranhas and profits in the Amazon

    I recently took part in the EY Earthwatch Ambassador program, where I had the pleasure of leading a group of EY staff and seniors on an expedition to Peruvian Amazonia.

    For one week, my team and I lived on a boat surrounded by wildlife on the Amazon River. During this time, we provided pro-bono consulting services to a local organization called Amazoneco. The expedition was phenomenal, and therefore, I’m taking this opportunity to share my experience and encourage others in the EY organization to apply for the program.

    During the afternoons in Amazonia, we worked with the president of Amazoneco and his staff to discuss the issues facing their business. My team and I took the time to analyze their challenges, and as a result, we were able to identify new opportunities they could pursue. On the final day of the expedition, we presented a list of recommendations and an implementation plan for the organization. Our final product included a marketing development plan, a business development strategy, and a financial model and analysis discussing whether the organization should implement a new product onto the market.

    In addition to assisting Amazoneco in the afternoons, our mornings were spent helping local scientists perform environmental research and study wildlife levels in the Amazon. The work included a number of activities, including counting Amazon River dolphins and fishing for piranhas. The scientists then leveraged the data to draft reports on the health of the Amazon wildlife, and they used their findings to help inform government regulation.

    EY-Earthwatch allowed me to improve my leadership, presentation and consulting skills, and build relationships both within and outside of the EY organization. That said, the most rewarding aspect for me was seeing how grateful and satisfied the president of Amazoneco was with our work, and how we were able to help him improve his business.

    The experience was fantastic, and I would encourage other staff and seniors to apply! We forged great relationships, improved our skills, and most of all, helped an extremely passionate entrepreneur whose business represented an amazing cause.

  • Jack Walsh, Assurance

    Portland, OR, US
    Assurance Senior, Ernst & Young LLP Seattle

    How you can simultaneously pursue your passions and build essential career skills

    Working at Ernst & Young LLP (EY) offers many exciting career opportunities, but most people would be surprised to learn that one of those opportunities is conducting climate research in the Amazon. That’s exactly where I found myself once I was accepted into the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program. In 2017, I was selected as one of 40 employees across the Americas region to be part of the annual EY-Earthwatch class. What followed was a story of momentum, friendship, and adventure that would change my life for the better.

    The EY-Earthwatch program offers a path to employees who are interested in uniting their environmental interests with broad-based consulting work and real-world stakeholders. Over the course of one week, I joined 10 teammates from five different countries on a journey to the Peruvian Amazon. There, we worked with climate researcher Dr. Bodmer in gathering data on flooded rain-forest biodiversity while providing business advice for a company running riverboat research expeditions. The team overcame various challenges to produce a professional, tailored deliverable to our client, helping position the company for sustained success. The most enduring image was receiving a salsa lesson from Dr. Bodmer’s team on a 100-year old riverboat, which chugged slowly up the middle of the Amazon River.

    Upon returning home, I brought new momentum and passion to my work in Portland, and later in San Francisco and now Seattle. I gave a 70-person livestreamed speech on the Paris Agreement and how its accounting concepts can be used to solve key issues. I was able to build relationships with new, exciting companies such as Nori, a company dedicated to reversing climate change through asset tokenization of carbon removal. I also formed lasting friendships with leaders in the San Francisco tech assurance practice based on confidence gained as part of the EY-Earthwatch program.

    I encourage all types of career professionals to embrace their skill sets and explore opportunities within their firms, such as the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program, which allow an individual the right to explore his or her dreams without sacrificing an ideal career trajectory. If you’re interested in learning more, send me a message and let’s talk!

  • Nicole Yembra, Consulting

    Atlanta, GA, US
    Risk Manager, Ernst & Young LLP Atlanta

    The Real World: EY Earthwatch Edition

    Let me tell you about the first time in my life where I knew that my purpose fully aligned with my career. It was my third year out of school and I pondered what EY’s purpose of “building a better working world,” meant to me. Through my experience as an EY-Earthwatch Ambassador in 2013, I was finally able to formulate my own definition; We were working to solve problems for the people around us so that the world is a better place for all.  

    When our group first met, it felt like an episode of MTV’s classic reality show, The Real World. I could almost hear it in my head: “This is the true story of 10 top-performing strangers picked to live in a house in the middle of the Atlantic rain forest with no phone, TV, or internet, and forced to work together on biodiversity research and ecotourism. Find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World: Earthwatch!”

    One component of the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program was to develop a pitch to increase ecotourism in the Guaraqueçaba region of Brazil. To meet the tourism board’s goals, we needed to conduct sound research, create revenue projections, and highlight the societal and economic impacts in a strategic plan. This is when things got real! We discovered pretty quickly that this would be difficult with only a couple of laptops and no internet or contact with the outside world.

    To learn about the region, we toured local art shops, tapioca processing plants, natural waterfalls and most notably, incredible restaurants. We ate bananas right off the trees (if you’ve never done this, I guarantee you don’t truly know what a banana tastes like), saw tapioca transformed, and devoured seafood caught minutes before.

    While we loved trail running and swimming in natural pools, we knew without a doubt that the food would be what drew people here. Therefore, we decided to focus on the area’s amazing cuisine in our proposal for the tourism board. The ambassadors teamed together to interview stakeholders and used our exploration of the region to design different time-based tours and experiences.

    The local residents were so incredibly happy with the plan we put together, and we were pleased to learn that they had already begun discussing plans for a food tour. It was a great feeling to know that our work had helped provide them with the tools to deliver on this vision and that we had created something that future visitors would proudly give five-star reviews on TripAdvisor.

    When we left the region, we felt as if we had really contributed to building a better working world — from helping Earthwatch scientists with their environmental research to aiding the incredible people in Brazil’s poorest region to develop a new revenue stream.

    The trip also inspired me to continue volunteering my time following the conclusion of the project. Once I returned home to Atlanta, I re-engaged with Earthwatch and also began working once again with my mentees from College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) — another EY corporate responsibility programs, focused on education — to plant trees around their neighborhoods.

    Although I’ve moved on from EY, the organization’s three tenets of corporate responsibility — education, entrepreneurship and equity in the workplace — still guide how I live my life. Every day, I aim to empower my team so they work better, build up my community to help it harness its youthful and innovative spirit, and support my ecosystem.

    Leveraging many of the skills I learned during my EY employment, and drawing on the courage I gained from my Earthwatch experience, I moved to Nigeria to continue walking in my purpose and perhaps star in a new Real World Episode; Entrepreneurship (insanity) in Nigeria. I now work with a group of FinTech entrepreneurs to support and invest in 21 companies and counting. We have built our own business worth over $70 million dollars, which develops solutions for Nigeria’s aviation, power, education, financial services and social investment sectors. 

    Today, I know I’m helping to build a better working Nigeria, Africa and world.

Summary

EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors provide skills-based services to a local entrepreneur at no cost while engaging in dynamic scientific field research. Since 2009, 326 Ambassadors from across the Americas have dedicated 25,400+ hours to local businesses and scientists in Latin America.

About this article

By Leisha John

EY Americas Director of Environmental Sustainability

Serial Citizen Scientist. Green manicure devotee. Environmental news junkie.

Related topics Corporate Responsibility