Written by Jessie Panazzolo
On the 29th of January 2019, Lonely Conservationists was born. I was lying on my couch, devastated that an organisation I was working with would never pay me for the work I was doing. When I was lying there moping, a conservationist friend messaged me and told me that she was also struggling with aspects of the industry. Lonely Conservationists was literally a cry for help to see if anyone else was out there feeling the way I did, or to know definitively that it was just me. That fateful day, I created the Instagram page and the Website and published my story- the very first Lonely Conservationist blog.
In the next two days that remained of January, four people submitted blogs that were published instantly and I had confirmation that I was definitely not alone.
By the 5th of February, I had recruited 200 Lonely Conservationists and another hundred in the next ten days. As the blogs piled in, we all decided on a once a week posting schedule, and the Wednesday blogs were born. I chose Wednesday because I was applying for a job at a fruit and veg shop which wasn’t open on Wednesdays- I got the job and everything worked out nicely.
The Lonely Conservationists blogs started being supplemented by my own tid-bits in Food For Thought blogs where I discussed my own thoughts and topics in amongst the stories from others. I also created the story prompts for those conservationists who needed a helping hand in crafting their stories. Shortly after, I met my first Lonely Conservationist in real life, and then another one soon after that- both of which I have continued to be friends with.
By March we had over 400 Lonely Conservationists in our community and we started getting to know each other and recognising others who were also in the community. We started a highlight on the Instagram page to showcase everyone’s pages so we could all find each other but as we kept growing, this became unreasonable and we outgrew the highlight system. The community expanded as I created our Twitter account and I sent a book to a Lonely Conservationist in America, which started my personal relationships with members of the community on a more global scale.
Come April, I was realising how many people were impacted by obstacles faced within the conservation industry and I felt very responsible in doing something about it, especially now that I had gathered all these Lonely Conservationists together.
I reached out to a professional contact on LinkedIn and sought his advice on what I should do to help this community of Lonely Conservationists, and he suggested that I create a Patreon page. I shared my doubts about not being a “big enough” community yet, but he reassured me that I had nothing to lose. I began uploading weekly videos from then on about my journey in building Lonely Conservationists and started making some money to support projects to help the community grow.
In May we hit 1000 Lonely conservationists and we celebrated by saying thank you to all the people in our lives that have supported us along our conservation journeys. We also had our first article published about us on CoalitionWILD which brought us into the public eye. We all had a laugh when the draft sent to me had every picture of all the multicultural conservationists labelled as me.
It was now that I started to realise how intense everyone’s impostor syndrome was and I started to focus around ensuring people knew their thoughts and feelings were valid, no matter where they were along their conservation journey. In May the fruit and veg shop went bankrupt and I was once again unemployed, so my feelings of worth were also not outrageously strong during this time.
June was mental health month for Lonely Conservationists after I realised that I might not be equipped to handle all of the content raised in the blogs. This started a conversation around mental health and as a result, we partnered with Headspace Australia and comprised a list of mental health resources for Lonely Conservationists all over the world.
Thanks to the Patreons, I could afford to commission an incredible Lonely Conservationist for a logo to represent our community. She delivered it in black and white and made an appearance on all our social media. We had our second article published with Youth for our Planet and it really felt like we were shaping into a properly established force of nature.
Thanks to another Lonely Conservationist, I had applied to the Wild Idea environmental business incubator program, with the hopes of turning this community into a business that could give back to the people involved. I ended up getting accepted and I headed off to the first intensive program in New South Wales, Australia. Throughout this program I realised that my community could provide affordable biodiversity monitoring skills to property owners and I started to develop this program.
In July I also spent some time talking with a PhD student about Conservation Psychology after someone told her to get in touch with me during her research. We also released the black and white logo as stickers, just before being presented with a colour version of our logo which has represented us ever since.
Oh, and I started a new job teaching environmental excursions to students. Everything was happening at once!
With August came a Kathmandu sponsorship which gave five Lonely Conservationists significant discounts on their outdoor gear. I got very sick, but still ended up having my first podcast experiences talking on the Ecoscientist Podcast and the Sustainability Kink Podcast. Through these experiences, I realised that my own personal impostor syndrome comes from the things I know, and knowing I could know more which was very important for me to learn moving forward.
With my new job, new business venture and all the commitments of this community which had started to pile up, I was completely sick and burnt out by the time I arrived at the second intensive. Luckily, the amazing people, good food and a new breakthrough idea set me in good stride in continuing to manage my life in a healthier way.
When I got home I said goodbye to any commitments that weren’t paying me or related to Lonely Conservationists and I started to really focus all my attention on delivering positive outputs for this community…..oh and looking after myself.
After my intervention to myself to live life in a more self sustaining fashion, I spent most of September hanging out with a bunch of Lonely Conservationists and really immersing myself in the amazing community I had created. After the global climate strike, a lot of us from Victoria met up in St Kilda to hang out with the penguins and it made me realise how amazing it was to know so many like-minded people.
It was during this month that I also walked into someone’s office and declared that I wasn’t business woman material. This was the day that he told me the good news that I didn’t need to build an empire, but just like this community, I could run it myself from the ground up and expand as need be. This really changed my mindset from that point onward and in that moment I was transformed from a doubtful Caterpillar into a confident butterfly.
In October I took my new confident attitude about my work for a spin at the Private Land Conservation Conference in my home town of Adelaide. It was at this conference that I ran out of business cards from talking to so many interested people which gave me validation for the new confident attitude I was rocking.
That conference was just a test run though, before I had to present my business pitch at the final Wild Idea event, to a room packed full of professionals. I spoke with the authentic passion that has carried me through every other task this year and It ended in success. I was invited to involve Lonely Conservationists in the workings of businesses around Australia who I continued to meet with throughout the following months. It must be noted that I had to step out of the event many times to pinch myself and reassure myself that this was all very real and I was actually doing it.
Also someone created the very first, and possibly only Lonely Conservationist meme featuring a squirrel. It was extremely wholesome.
High on invincibility, I decided now was the time to do a lot of things without fear. I had the business side of Lonely Conservationists sorted for the new year so now I wanted to focus on the community side and our global reach. A Lonely Conservationist from North Sumatra and I decided to create the Srikandi Women Empowerment Fellowship to help conservationists in a place dear to both of our hearts, to be held in 2020.
I also decided to transform all of the blogs from this year into a book and I started getting contacted by people who had heard of me through contacts at the pitch event. More requests to work with different people came trickling in and many incredible conversations were had with many like-minded professionals.
Through my journey this year I had learnt the importance of sticking to the core values of my beliefs and work, which made it easy to tell people how I see myself operating into the future. I tried very hard to make decisions that would only end in myself and other conservationists being valued for our work. The time of being taken advantage of was over.
I could have never imagined what this December would be like as mopey January Jessie-she would definitely be in shock and awe if she knew. Firstly, we rounded out the year’s blogs with fifty submissions and grew to two thousand global conservationists in our community.
I teamed up with a scientist from Colorado State University to write a paper about the stories submitted and what that tells us about how people are treated globally in the conservation space. In the beginning, I wanted to help conservationists by giving them a voice, and now as a scientist, I want to use this information to show why their voice matters.
I also got my first quote approved to work with local Victorian Lonely Conservationists in 2020 to conduct biodiversity surveys and showcase how local feral proofing and restoration efforts are impacting biodiversity. How crazy is it that I created Lonely Conservationists because nobody would pay me to work, and now I get to pay myself and others to work on projects that I am passionate about.
As you can see, I personally, and we as a community have had a totally wild ride this year. I have learnt so much, connected with so many people and have found opportunities I never knew existed.
My infinite gratitude goes out toward each and every Lonely Conservationist for making this community so much larger and more incredible than just me sitting on my couch. My gratitude also extends to everyone who has supported us with advice, guidance, patronage, and belief this year. Without a combination of our community structure and a supporting foundation, it would not be where it is today.
I hope this journey sends a message to you all that your life is never as over as you think it is. Be honest with yourself and others about what you actually want out of life and do many things that scare you in order to make your wildest dreams a reality.
When this year started, I thought my whole conservation career was over, but now the year has passed, I am proudly calling myself a conservationist conservationist- and I am dedicating my life to saving those who are saving the world.